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.
 
Versailles
On Three Steps of Rose-colored Marble
Alfred de Musset (1810–1857)
 
Translated by S. B. W.

SINCE erst that garden, known to fame,
Was lost by Adam,—cruel man!—
Where without a skirt his dame
Round an apple frisked and ran,
I do not think that on this earth,        5
Mid its most notable plantations,
Has been a spot more praised, more famed,
More choice, more cited, oftener named,
Than thy most tedious park, Versailles!
O gods! O shepherds! rocky vales!        10
O sulky Termes, satyrs old!
O pleasing scenes! O charming views!
Sweet landscape, where one may behold,
Ranged onion-wise, the little yews;
O quincunx! fountain, bowling-green,        15
Where every summer Sabbath-e’en,
On pleasure bent, one yawning sees
So many honest families.
And ye, imperial Roman shades!
Ye naiads, pale and stony maids,        20
Holding your hands outstretched to all
And shivering in your waterfall!
Stiles, modelled in obliging bushes;
Ye formal groves, wherein the thrushes
Seek plaintively their native cry;        25
Ye water-gods, who vainly try
Beneath your fountains to be dry;
Ye chestnut-trees, be not afraid
That I shall vex your ancient shade,
Knowing that at sundry times        30
I have perpetrated rhymes:
No such ruthless thought is mine.
No! I swear it by Apollo,
I swear it by the sacred Nine,
By nymphs within their basins hollow,        35
Who softly on three flints recline,
By yon old faun, quaint dancing-master,
Who trips it on the sward in plaster,
By thee thyself, august abode,
Who know’st save Art no other guest,        40
I swear by Neptune, watery god,
My verses shall not break your rest!
I know too well what is the matter;
The god of song has plagued you sore;
The poets, with their ceaseless chatter,        45
You brood in mournful silence o’er;
So many madrigals and odes,
Songs, ballads, sonnets, and epodes,
In which your wonders have been sung
Your tired ears have sadly wrung,        50
Until you slumber to the chimes
Of these interminable rhymes.
 
  Amid these haunts where dwells ennui
For mere conformity I slept,
Or ’t was not sleep that o’er me crept,        55
If, dreaming, one awake may be.
O, say, my friend, do you recall
Three marble steps, of rosy hue,
Upon your way toward the lake,
When that delicious path you take        60
That leads the orangery through,
Left-turning from the palace wall?
I would wager it was here
Came the monarch without peer,
In the sunset, red and clear,        65
Down the forest dim to see
Day take flight and disappear,—
If the day could so forget
What was due to etiquette.
But what pretty steps are those!        70
Cursed be the foot, said we,
That would stain their tints of rose,—
Say, do you remember yet?
 
  With what soft shades is clouded o’er
This defaced and broken floor!        75
See the veins of azure deep
Through the paler rose-tints creep;
Trace the slender, branching line
In the marble, pure and fine;
So through huntress Dian’s breast        80
White and firm as Alpine snows,
The celestial ichor flows;
Such the hand, and still more cold,
Led me leashed in days of old.
Don’t confound these steps so rare        85
With that other staircase where
The monarch grand, who could not wait,
Waited on Condé, stair by stair,
When he came with weary gait,
War-worn and victorious there.        90
Near a marble vase are these,
Of graceful shape and white as snow,
Whether ’t is classic or Chinese,
Antique or modern, others know.
I leave the question in their hands;        95
It is not Gothic, I can swear;
Much I like it where it stands,
Worthy vase, and neighbor kind,
And to think it I ’m inclined
Cousin to my rosy stair,        100
Guarding it with jealous care.
O, to see in such small space
So much beauty, so much grace!
 
  Lovely staircase, tell us true,
How many princes, prelates proud,        105
Kings, marquises,—a pompous crowd,—
And ladies fair, have swept o’er you?
Ah, these last, as I should guess,
Did not vex thee with their state,
Nor didst thou groan beneath the weight        110
Of ermine cloak or velvet dress:
Tell us of that ambitious band
Whose dainty footstep lightest fell;
Was it the regal Montespan?
Hortense, a novel in her hand?        115
De Maintenon, with beads to tell?
Or gay Fontanges, with knot and fan?
Didst ever look on La Vallière?
And tell us, marble, if you can,
Which of the twain you thought most fair—        120
De Parabère or De Sabran?
’Twixt Sabran and De Parabère
The very Regent could not choose
When supper did his wits confuse.
Didst ever see the great Voltaire,        125
Who waged such war on superstition,
Who to defy the Christ did dare;
He, who aspired to the position
Of sexton to Cytherea’s fane,
When to the Pompadour he brought        130
His compliments, and fulsome strain,
The holy water of the court.
Hast beheld the plump Dubarry
Accoutred like a country lass,
Sipping milk, beside thee tarry,        135
Or tripping barefoot through the grass?
 
  Stones who know our country’s story,
What a variegated throng
In your bygone days of glory
Down your steps have swept along!        140
The gay world lounged beneath these trees,
Lords and lackeys drank the breeze;
There was every sort of cattle;
O the duchesses! the tattle,
O the brave red heels that dangled        145
Round the ladies, flounced and spangled!
O the gossip! O the sighs!
O the flash of brilliant eyes!
O the feathers! O the stoles!
O the powder on their polls!        150
O the furbelows and breeches
Underneath those spreading beeches!
How many folk—not counting fools—
By the ancient fountain-pools!
Ah! it was the good old time        155
Of the periwig sublime;
Lives the cockney who dares grudge
One iota of its state,
He deserves, as I adjudge,
On his thick plebeian pate        160
Now and evermore to wear
Other ornament than hair.
Century of mocking wood,
Age of powder and of paste,
He who does not find thee good        165
Writes himself devoid of taste,
Lacking sentiment, and stupid,
Votary abhorred by Cupid.
Rosy marble, is ’t not so?
Yet, despite myself, I trow        170
Though here thy fate is fixed by chance,
Other destiny was thine;
Far away from cloudy France,
Where a warmer sun doth shine,
Near some temple, Greek or Latin,        175
The fair daughters of the clime
With the scent of heath and thyme
Clinging to their sandalled feet,
Treading thee in rhythmic dance,
Were a burden far more sweet        180
Than court-ladies, shod with satin.
Could it be for this alone
Nature formed thee in the earth,
In whose beauteous, virgin stone
Genius might have wrought a birth        185
Every age had joyed to own?
When with trowel and with spade
In this muddy, modern park
Thou in solemn state wert laid,
Then the outraged gods might mark        190
What the times had brought about,—
Mansard, in his triumph, flout
Praxiteles’ injured shade
There should have come forth of thee
Some new-born divinity.        195
When the marble-cutters hewed
Through thy noble block their way,
They broke in, with footsteps rude,
Where a Venus sleeping lay;
And the goddess’ wounded veins        200
Colored thee with roseate stains.
 
 
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