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Poem for The General's Mistress

So what's the poem that will open The General's Mistress?

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
Hath elsewhere had its setting
And cometh from afar.

This is from William Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality which I will link instead of post in full, as the poem is 208 lines! Wordsworth is talking about how a child comes into life with the memory of the divine, but it gradually dissipates as they grow up, until it "fades into the light of common day." And yet, for some, the connection remains, like music barely heard.

This is what saves Elza. What keeps her from a terrible and short life is what a friend of mine calls "the deep keel of her soul." No matter what happens to her, there is an inner strength that comes from who she really is, from the experiences that have shaped her even if she does not remember them. She is Gull, even if she doesn't remember that. She is Charmian. She is Lydias, with his fighting skills and tactical knowledge buried deep within her. She is Georg, hard bitten and hard biting. Birth has caused her to forget, but it has not erased. The data is all there on the hard drive even if it's not in the index. (Which means it can be recovered, doesn't it?)

The second book, The Emperor's Companion, opens with a poem by W.B. Yeats.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face

With this we switch perspective. Elza is the pilgrim soul, always changing and always changeless. No matter how many have loved her, no matter how many she has loved, Neas promised Gull that he would remember her until the end of the world. He has.

But can love survive time? Can it survive so many changes and bad choices and so much water under the bridge? Will memory bring peace, or only make it harder?

And for Elza the question is this, the central question of the book -- can she choose to believe, to embrace that she is both oracle and companion, in the modern world? Or is that madness? Are you insane to choose your life, to risk your life, based on past life memories? Isn't that nutty as a fruitcake? This is the modern world, and there are no such things as oracles or companions. Are there? How far can she go without leaping into the abyss, trusting only her own internal rudder to steer her?

The third book, The Marshal's Lover, also opens with a quotation from Yeats.

I have lived many lives. I have been a slave and a prince. Many a beloved has sat upon my knee and I have sat upon the knees of many a beloved. Everything that has been shall be again.

In the third book Elza takes charge. She has chosen to embrace who she is, to accept the things she remembers and the things she can do as literal truth. So what does that do? How does she use that to change the world?

"Everything that has been shall be again." Is it possible to fix the mistakes of the past? Is it possible to repair things that have been lost? What is the best that we can be? How do you make all promises manifest?

The fourth book opens instead with lines from Victor Hugo's L'Expiation.

C'était un rêve errant dans la brume, un mystère,
Une procession d'ombres sous le ciel noir.

It was a wandering dream in the mist, a mystery
A procession of shadows under a black sky.

The full poem is here and yes, you can get google to translate it, though it's not a very good translation. Here is a better English translation. It's about the retreat from Moscow, which is indeed part of the book. The title of the poem is The Expiation, which is also entirely appropriate, especially for Michel. Can Agrippa at last earn forgiveness?

And what of Elza? What has she learned since Charmian, and can she survive despite all odds?

I don't have the epigrams yet for the fifth and sixth books. I'm considering a Denon quote and a Dumas quote. Oh, and perhaps this:

And still later as a General
Have I galloped with Murat
When we laughed at death and numbers
Trusting in the Emperor’s Star.

Till at last our star faded,
And we shouted to our doom
Where the sunken road of Ohein
Closed us in its quivering gloom.

In any event, I hope you'll stick around with me for the ride! I'd love to hear what you think about anything!


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2012 12:16 am (UTC)
You didn't close a tag.

Go ahead and delete this comment once you've fixed.

Mar. 8th, 2012 10:21 am (UTC)
Thank you! All fixed.
Mar. 12th, 2012 08:55 am (UTC)
Lovely poems and very fitting for Elza's journey.

Where the sunken road of Ohein
You wouldn't know where/what Ohein is? Google only gives me references to the poem.
Mar. 12th, 2012 12:00 pm (UTC)
Ohein is an archaic spelling of Ohain, a small town in Belgium. The road that led to Ohain was critical during the battle of Waterloo.

Wiki says, "The Waterloo position was a strong one. It consisted of a long ridge running east-west, perpendicular to, and bisected by, the main road to Brussels. Along the crest of the ridge ran the Ohain road, a deep sunken lane. Near the crossroads with the Brussels road was a large elm tree that was roughly in the centre of Wellington's position and served as his command post for much of the day. Wellington deployed his infantry in a line just behind the crest of the ridge following the Ohain road. Using the reverse slope, as he had many times previously, Wellington concealed his strength from the French, with the exception of his skirmishers and artillery."

Late in the battle, this was the site of fierce fighting as Ney's cavalry, involving divisions under General Reille, were mired in hand to hand fighting in the sunken road. This is where Jean-Baptiste Corbineau was shot.
Mar. 12th, 2012 01:00 pm (UTC)
Ohein is an archaic spelling of Ohain
Well, that would explain my lack of google-fu...

Thanks for the info!
Mar. 12th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
I admit, it took me a while myself, several years as I recall. But then I was reading about Ney at Waterloo, and suddenly it was all clear!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )