by Rudyard Kipling
This is Kipling's biography of Napoleon Bonaparte. "Gay go up, gay go down" in the third stanza is a rhyme that was used at the time by children on seesaws. Can anyone explain the odd stress pattern on "Trafalgar" in the fifth stanza?
"How far is St. Helena from a little child at play?"
What makes you want to wander there with all the world between?
Oh, Mother, call your son again, or else he'll run away.
(No one thinks of winter when the grass is green!)
"How far is St. Helena from a fight in Paris street?"
I haven't time to answer now– the men are falling fast.
The guns begin to thunder, and the drums begin to beat.
(If you take the first step, you will take the last!)
"How far is St. Helena from the field of Austerlitz?"
You couldn't hear me if I told– so loud the cannons roar.
But not so far for people who are living by their wits.
("Gay go up" means "Gay go down" the wide world o'er!)
"How far is St. Helena from the Emperor of France?"
I cannot see– I cannot tell– the crowns they dazzle so.
The Kings sit down to dinner, and the Queens stand up to dance.
(After open weather, you may look for snow!)
"How far is St. Helena from the Capes of Trafalgar?"
A longish way– a longish way– with ten year more to run.
It's South across the water underneath a setting star.
(What you cannot finish, you must leave undone!)
"How fair is St. Helena from the Beresina ice?"
An ill way– a chill way– the ice begins to crack.
But not so far for gentlemen who never took advice.
(When you can't go forward, you must e'en come back!)
"How far is St. Helena from the field of Waterloo?"
A near way– a clear way– the ship will take you soon.
A pleasant place for gentlemen with little left to do.
(Morning never tries you till the afternoon!)
"How far from St. Helena to the Gate of Heaven's Grace?"
That no one knows– that no one knows– and no one ever will.
But fold your hands across your heart and cover up your face,
And after all your trapesings, child, lie still!