Friday, July 01, 2016

Poetry Friday: Henri Christophe

Photo Source:

Earlier this summer, we visited the north of Haiti and toured Henri Christophe's ruined palace, Sans-Souci, and his Citadelle.  I wrote this poem about Henri Christophe.

Sans-Souci, Milot, Haiti

Henri Christophe named his palace Sans-Souci, carefree,
but he was never carefree,
even for a moment,
as he scanned the horizon for the return of the French,
and gathered 365 cannons, just in case,
for his Citadelle higher up the mountain.

People compared his palace to Versailles,
but he was never satisfied;
he rushed around improving and building and defending.
Even when he sat under his favorite tree,
the giant caimit,
it wasn’t to rest and sample the luscious star apples,
but to judge his people,
figuring out their problems,
which I assume were as intractable then as people’s problems are now.

Now the tree is held up by scaffolding.
It’s more than three hundred years old,
which means it had already been there a while
when Henri Christophe was born a slave.
And of course it was there when, a few hundred yards away,
Henri Christophe,
King of Haiti,
shot himself with a silver bullet
so that he wouldn’t live longer than his glory.
When an earthquake knocked down the palace
twenty-two years later,
the tree stood firm.

Henri Christophe,
I wish you’d relaxed a bit,
Stopped worrying about the French
And your glory
And controlling the world,
by the way,
(I guess you noticed)
you couldn’t do.

Ruth, from


Tabatha said...

A cannon for every day of the year?
Sounds like maybe he was a Type A personality! I always figure that when people who want to control everything have kids, they will realize that it's just not going to work...

Tara Smith said...

Henri Christophe sounds like quite a guy - controlling and over prepared...and then he shoots himself.

Violet Nesdoly said...

What a fascinating setting and story. Love how you put word-painted details of the place, and then described the action that happened there. Thanks for this little insight into Haiti and its history!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

From his portrait to his palace, Henri sounds like a formal kind of guy, so I really enjoyed your conversational tone throughout and especially as you address him at the end. Ruth, every time I read your posts I think of visiting Haiti...

Sally Murphy said...

I knew nothing about Henri till I read this, but feel like I really do now :)

Bridget Magee said...

Your poem captured Henri's tragic life. The fact that the giant caimit tree in his yard is still standing is such a juxtaposition to his wound-tight short life. Well done!

Mary Lee said...

I like how your poem comes to a point at the make an important point!