The Execution of Maximillian by Rebekah Bartlett

The Execution of Maximillian
by Rebekah Bartlett

They caught him at Querétaro;
Juarez was fair: there must be a trial
Although there could be but one sentence.
A deluge of cables rained down from Europe.

They took him to the Hill of Bells,
Juarez was fair: he would die with honor
together with his generals, Miramón and Mejía.
It was June nineteenth, 1867.

They stood him against a broken wall,
Juarez was fair: they would die together
but he would not take the place of honor.
"It belongs to a better soldier," he said.

Their long rifles nearly touched his chest;
Juarez was fair: they let him speak
"Let my blood bring an end to Mexico's sorrows."
Then the soldiers fired: he died first.

Manet did not paint it the way it happened:
The Emperor stands as Christ between thieves.
Their faces are dark, perhaps hooded
while his is pale; they are bareheaded,
he is crowned with a sombrero.

The soldiers crowd together, intent
over their guns; as these spurt fire
the billowing smoke obscures his face.
A motley crowd watches, an NCO waits
to deliver the coup de grace.

Manet did not finish the first version.
The second he cut into a puzzle.
The Salon banned the third (and final),
anathema in an age of kings. When he died,
It still hung above the doorway of his studio.

Note: Maximillian, the brother of Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, was installed as the puppet "Emperor of Mexico" in 1864 by the French. His brief reign was a disaster: When the French withdrew their troops from Mexico a few years later, Maximillian refused to abdicate and was executed by Republican forces led by General Juarez. The first version of Manet's painting of this event hangs in the MFA, Boston; incomplete portions of the second are in the National Gallery, London; the final painting hangs in the Stadtische Kunsthalle, Mannheim.

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Rebekah E. Bartlett is a consulting editor, writer, photographer, and amateur astronomer. She lives near and works in Boston, MA and has a master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts.

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