Glory and Obscurity

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.”

Who do you suppose said that? An obscure figure unknown by history? A great historical figure whose glory fled? 

It was the latter – Napoléon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), glorious military conqueror, political hero of the French Revolution, and Emperor, who died ingloriously in exile on the Isle of Saint Helena.

Napoleon and the Napoleonic Code

Napoleon and the Napoleonic Code

The Napoleonic Code, which forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified, remains his legacy. Upon his death, more than 1,000,000 people are said to have viewed his remains when he was brought home to Paris.

Obscurity: “the state of being unknown, inconspicuous, or unimportant.”

Might Napoleon have endorsed Nelson Mandela‘s sentiment, spoken when Mandela was leaving behind a glorious career and office in South Africa:  “I would like to rest, and welcome the possibility of reveling in obscurity”?

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, November 4, 2015


Steve Shoemaker wrote this lovely verse after reading Alexander Pope’s Ode on Solitude.

On Reading “Solitude,” written at age 12 by Alexander Pope.

In our time of celebrity
adulation, we all want fame.
To die unknown, not on TV,
will bring us shame.

Pope seems to love obscurity,
yet he is known 300 years
later for his great poetry.
I write with tears

my words will not ever be read
except on FaceBook by 10 friends.
No one will know me when I’m dead:
pride even ends.


– Steve Shoemaker, July 15, 2014

Editor’s Note: Steve’s verse arrives two weeks after his first cataract surgery and the morning after my latest hearing test. His eyesight is better than it’s been since he was eight, but he has no illusions of a return to the tender years when life lay all ahead waiting to unfold. Unlike Steve’s corrected eyesight, my hearing will not get better; it moves me ever deeper into silence and solitude, a gentle sort of preparation for the acceptance of death (obscurity) when there is no pride.

That Alexander Pope could write this at the age of 12 is astonishing. I’m going back to the Poetry Foundation for more of him, but today I’ll feast on Steve’s reading of him and the first stanza of Pope’s Ode to Solitude:

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Click the link above (Ode on Solitude) for Pope’s poem on the site of The Poetry Foundation.

Thanks for coming by!

Gordon and Steve