For Sunday: “archy at the tomb of napoleon,” by Don Marquis

The first time I went to Paris was in March 1984. I was hopping from the USA to Morocco and had only about six hours to waste, so I raced into the city from the airport, had a cup of coffee and a brioche, and visited the Hotel des Invalides, which houses the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Why? Because Archy the Cockroach went there back in the 1920s and wrote a whopping good poem about it.

Partner and I visited the Invalides again in October. Napoleon is still there, in his gigantic stone tomb that looks like a cross between an overstuffed sofa and an enormous old-fashioned radio. And, like Archy, we left feeling “solemn but likewise uplifted.”

Herewith: “archy at the tomb of napoleon,” by Don Marquis.

paris france

i went over to

the hotel des invalides

today and gazed on

the sarcophagus of the

great napoleon

and the thought came

to me as i looked

down indeed it

is true napoleon

that the best goods

come in the smallest

packages here are

you napoleon with

your glorious course

run and here is

archy just in the

prime of his career

with his greatest

triumphs still before

him neither one of us

had a happy youth

neither one of us

was welcomed socially at

the beginning of his

career neither one of

us was considered much

to look at

and in ten thousand years from

now perhaps what you said and did

napoleon will be

confused with what

archy said and did

and perhaps the burial

place of neither will be

known napoleon looking

down upon you

I wish to ask you now

frankly as one famous

person to another

has it been worth

all the energy

that we expended all the

toil and trouble and

turmoil that it cost us

if you had your life

to live over

again bonaparte would

you pursue the star

of ambition

i tell you frankly

bonaparte that i myself

would choose the

humbler part

i would put the temptation

of greatness aside

and remain an ordinary

cockroach simple

and obscure but alas

there is a destiny that

pushes one forward

no matter how hard

one may try to resist it

i do not need to

tell you about that

bonaparte you know as

much about it as i do

yes looking at it in

the broader way neither

one of us has been to blame

for what he has done

neither for his great

successes nor his great mistakes

both of us napoleon

were impelled by some

mighty force external to

ourselves we are both to

be judged as great forces of

nature as tools in the

hand of fate rather than as

individuals who willed to

do what we have done

we must be forgiven


you and i

when we have been

different from the common

run of creatures

i forgive you as i know

that you would forgive

me could you speak to me

and if you and i

napoleon forgive and

understand each other

what matters it if all

the world else find

things in both of us that

they find it hard

to forgive and understand

we have been

what we have been

napoleon and let them laugh that off

well after an hour or so of

meditation there i left

actually feeling that i

had been in communion

with that great spirit and

that for once in my

life i had understood and been


and i went away feeling

solemn but likewise

uplifted mehitabel the

cat is missing


The travel checklist


About ten years ago, an Internet acquaintance came to visit New England.  He was a San Franciscan, very funny and witty (on the Internet, at least), and wanted to see Boston.



And he had a list.



He wanted to see the State House.  He wanted to see Mother Goose’s gravesite.  He wanted to see the Old North Church.



Literally.  See them. I still remember: we walked in front of the State House, and he said “check.”



See, he’d asked Internet “friends” what he should see in Boston.  They’d volunteered ideas, and he had made a list. And he was literally just “seeing” them. Mostly from a distance.



Recently, on Facebook, I saw this thing called “100 Places To See Before You Die.”  Being a world traveler and a sophisticate, I took the quiz.  I got 10%.  I have seen 10 of the 100 places they listed.



And then I thought: Well, Jesus!  I have seen Casablanca, and Tunis, and the Tophet in Carthage.  I have seen the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington state.  I have visited Cabo Rojo in Puerto Rico, and I have looked across the Caribbean at the misty shore of Hispaniola.  I’ve looked across from a café in Tangiers at the Rock of Gibraltar.  I have gone to the Hotel des Invalides in Paris and looked down at the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte.



Aren’t these enough?



Why do I need to check things off a generic list?  I’ve seen some amazing things that most people will probably never see.



And I didn’t just walk past them.  I stood and marveled at them. Most of the time I actually touched them.



So nyah.


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