Wednesday, May 9, 2018

An Inscription - Ambrose Bierce

     For a statue of Napoleon

A conqueror as provident as brave,
He robbed the cradle to supply the grave.
His reign laid quantities of human dust:
He fell upon the just and the unjust.

While Ambrose Bierce's mysterious disappearance and uncertain fate remain a mystery even today, it is no mystery why he is still held in high regard in the world of American literature.  His short stories are held in esteem nearly to Poe's, and his first-hand accounts of the American Civil War.  While other authors wrote movingly about the American Civil War, Bierce fought on the front lines for the Union for the duration of the war, including some of its bloodiest battles.  From all accounts, he acted heroically, rescuing wounded men despite being under heavy gunfire.  He spent the duration of the war in almost continuous combat, and he said of himself, "When I ask of myself what has become of Ambrose Bierce the youth, who fought at Chickamauga, I am bound to answer that he is dead."  His essays detailing his experiences in the War are essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.

This poem, written in 1910, three years before his disappearance,  shows the world weariness and cynicism that marked much of his writing.  Speaking on Napoleon, he casts harsh indictment upon the strife and violence he brought to the world.  "He robbed the cradle to supply the grave" is as damning a line as I can imagine.  Napoleon is spoken of here almost as a plague, laying down "quantities of human dust" upon the just and unjust alike.  I am not certain, but I imagine that this is in reference to Napoleon Bonaparte, not Napoleon III, though it seems fitting for both men.

I admire short form poetry that manages to have such a strong impact in so few lines.  Bierce may be best known for his essays and short stories, but his poetry remains modern and worthwhile, and I encourage you to look up more of it if you had your interested piqued by this little poem, or the brief biographical information I provided.

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