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.
 
Ploërmel
The Curé of Ploërmel
Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)
 
JUST ere the stroke of midnight fell,
The ancient priest of Ploërmel
Sat by his fire one Christmas night.
Still as the grave the frosty air,—
His lips were murmuring a prayer,        5
The while his heart was softly moved
With thoughts of many a youth he loved
In college days, at peaceful Vannes,
Beside the Sea of Morbihan.
Now some were old and far away,        10
And some had spent their little day
In wondrous Paris on the Seine;
And some amidst the stormy main
Which sweeps round Brittany were lost;
Thinking of such, his brow he crossed,        15
And bowed the head whose locks were white.
Sudden, amidst the hush profound,
The far faint echo of a sound,
Stole to his ear; ’t was such as springs
From the slow beat of countless wings,        20
Or rustle of a multitude
That softly pace a moss-grown wood.
Noiseless he crossed his earthen floor,
And looked into the silvery light
Along the road which passed his door,        25
And saw—a strange and awful sight!
Far as his aged eyes could reach,
With sound of neither tread nor speech,
Stretched the long files of gray and white.
All silent in the moonshine went        30
Each cloaked and hooded penitent,
Bearing a torch which burnt upright.
The trembling Curé made the Sign,
Each phantom bent in grave incline,
As when that wind of summer sweet        35
Bows all the rippling rants of wheat!
The foremost, as he passed the door,
Motioned the Curé on before,
Who mute obeyed; some ghostly spell
Moved the good priest of Ploërmel.        40
And so the mighty multitude,
Across the moor and through the wood,
Followed, yet guided him, until
His feet by that same spell stood still
Before the open porch, which yet        45
In a long roofless wall was set.
The ruined church was one which long
Had only heard the night bird’s song,
But still the altar-steps were there,
And a wild rose in festoons fair        50
Graced it in summer; now the fern
And ivy draped it in their turn.
Then all that mighty multitude
Within the vast enclosure stood,
The moonlight on their garments shone,        55
And still their torches burned; whilst one
Mounted the mossy steps, and took
Stained vestments and an ancient book,
And old chased chalice from the stone.
With silent awe the saintly priest        60
Robed for the wonted Christmas feast;
And every shrouded penitent,
On humble knees devoutly bent.
One served the Mass, and all intent
Responded with the mystic tone        65
Of winds and waves together blent.
But when he raised the sacred Host
The vague, uncertain tone was lost
In sweetest music of the upper spheres;
And when the Curé raised his hand and blest        70
The kneeling flock, with Ite, missa est,
The shrouded penitents were seen to softly rise
Like a white shining cloud to his astonished eyes;
And ere the last sweet gospel words were done,
The nave was empty,—the good priest alone        75
Invoked the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;
While from the distant skies a heavenly host
Of souls, set free from purgatorial pain,
Sang, as they took their flight, the sweet refrain,
“Hath been, is now, and evermore shall be,        80
World without end! Amen!”
 
 
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