Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > France
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X.  1876–79.
 
Père la Chaise
Père la Chaise
Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)
 
I STOOD amid the dwellings of the dead,
And saw the gayest city of the earth
Spread out beneath me. Cloud and sunlight lay
Upon her palaces and gilded domes,
In slumbrous beauty. Through the streets flowed on,        5
In ceaseless stream, gay equipage and throng,
As fashion led the way. Look up! look up!
Mont Louis hath a beacon. Wheresoe’er
Ye seem to tend, so lightly dancing on
In your enchanted maze, a secret spell        10
Is on your footsteps, and unseen they haste
Where ye would not, and whence ye ne’er return.
Blind pilgrims are we all! We close our eyes
On the swift torrent that o’erwhelms our race,
And in our spanlike path the goal forget,        15
Until the shadows lengthen, and we sink
To rise no more.
                Methinks the monster Death
Wears not such visage here, so grim and gaunt
With terror, as he shows in other lands.
Robing himself in sentiment, he wraps        20
His dreary trophies in a maze of flowers,
And makes his tombs like temples, or a home
So sweet to love, that grief doth fleet away.
I saw a mother mourning. The fair tomb
Was like a little chapel, hung with wreath        25
And crucifix. And there she spread the toys
That her lost babe had loved, as if she found
A solace in the memory of its sports.
Tears flowed like pearl-drops, yet without the pang
That wrings and rends the heart-strings. It would seem        30
A tender sorrow, scarce of anguish born,
So much the influence of surrounding charms
Did mitigate it.
                Mid the various groups
That visited the dead, I marked the form
Of a young female winding through the shades.        35
Just at that point she seemed where childhood melts
But half away, like snows that feel the sun,
Yet, shrinking closer to their shaded nook,
Delay to swell the sparkling stream of youth.
She had put off her sabots at the gate,        40
Heavy with clay, and to a new-made grave
Hasted alone. Upon its wooden cross
She placed her chaplet, and with whispering lips,
Perchance in prayer, perchance in converse low
With the loved slumberer, knelt, and strewed the seeds        45
Of flowers among the mould. A shining mass
Of raven tresses ’scaped amid the toil
From their accustomed boundary; but her eyes,
None saw them, for she heeded not the tread
Of passers-by. Her business was with those        50
Who slept below. ’T would seem a quiet grief,
And yet absorbing; such as a young heart
Might for a sister feel, ere it had learned
A deeper love.
                Come to yon stately dome,
With arch and turret, every shapely stone        55
Breathing the legends of the Paraclete,
Where slumber Abelard and Heloise,
’Neath such a world of wreaths, that scarce ye see
Their marble forms recumbent, side by side.
On! on! this populous spot hath many a fane,        60
To win the stranger’s admiration. See
La Fontaine’s fox-crowned cenotaph; and his
Whose “Mécanique Celeste” hath writ his name
Among the stars; and hers who, soaring high
In silken globe, found a strange death by fire        65
Amid the clouds.
                The dead of distant lands
Are gathered here. In pomp of sculpture sleeps
The Russian Demidoff, and Britain’s sons
Have crossed the foaming sea, to leave their dust
In a strange soil. Yea, from my own far land        70
They ’ve wandered here, to die. Were there not graves
Enough among our forests, by the marge
Of our broad streams, amid the hallowed mounds
Of early kindred, that ye needs must come
This weary way, to share the strangers’ bed,        75
My people? I could weep to find ye here!
And yet your names are sweet, the words ye grave,
In the loved language of mine infancy,
Most pleasant to the eye, involved so long
Mid foreign idioms.
                    Yonder height doth boast
        80
The warrior-chiefs, who led their legions on
To sack, and siege; whose flying tramp disturbed
The Cossack in his hut, the Alpine birds,
Who build above the cloud, and Egypt’s slaves,
Crouching beneath their sky-crowned pyramids.        85
How silent are they all! No warning trump
Amid their host! No steed! No footstep stirs
Of those who rushed to battle! Haughtily
The aspiring marble tells each pausing group
Their vaunted fame. O shades of mighty men!        90
Went these proud honors with you, where the spear
And shield resound no more? Cleaves the blood-stain
Around ye there? Steal the deep-echoing groans
Of those who fell, the cry of those who mourned,
Across the abyss that bars you from our sight,        95
Waking remorseful pangs?
                    We may not ask
With hope of answer. But the time speeds on,
When all shall know.
                There is the lowly haunt
Where rest the poor. No towering obelisk
Beareth their name. No blazoned tablet tells        100
Their joys or sorrows. Yet ’t is sweet to muse
Around their pillow of repose, and think
That Nature mourns their loss, though man forget.
The lime-tree and acacia, side by side,
Spring up, in haste to do their kindly deed        105
Of sheltering sympathy, as though they knew
Their time was short.
                Sweet Nature ne’er forgets
Her buried sons, but cheers their summer-couch
With turf and dewdrops, bidding autumn’s hand
Drop lingering garlands of its latest leaves,        110
And glorious spring from wintry thraldom burst,
To bring their type of Immortality.
 
 
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