Littell's Living Age/Volume 136/Issue 1755/At Rouen

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The aisles grow dim, and as by winding ways
I eager climb St. Ouen's stately height
The silver censers vanish from my gaze,
As shooting stars upon a dusky night;
I hear the chanted vespers at my feet
Like wordless water-music faint and sweet.

On priest and acolyte and people fall
From western windows many a sapphire ray.
The sculptured knights within the nichèd wall
Look not more marble-like and mute than they.
Living arid dead, with fingers clasped, seem praying,
Christ and the angels hear what they are saying.

Where am I now? As if a dream went by,
And dream still fairer came, I breathless gaze,
Fearing to break by whispered word or sigh
The rapture of my spirit's deep amaze.
The sleeping world beneath my vision lies,
Only the stars divide me from the skies.

The city gleams with lights that come and go,
The hills stand out against the opal west,
The river hath a soft and onward flow
As some tired spirit fain to seek its rest,
Whilst from outlying valleys deep between
Tinkles some vesper bell of church unseen.

Monk, martyr, saint, and paladin arise
Around me in a pinnacled array;
An hour ago they seemed to touch the skies,
And now I stand as near to heaven as they.
And mid this mute companionship of stone
I cannot feel that I am quite alone.

For who is quite alone? In solitude,
Things that would else be dumb discourse to men,
Leading the mind to an ecstatic mood
That hath no name and cannot come again.
These sculptured saints and martyrs seemed to be
Spirits that claimed a brotherhood with me.

O life! take back thy burden. I am free.
Pain, sorrow, fruitless toil, love ill-bestowed,
Are as they were not; and the mystery
Of death is as a star that leaves a cloud.
What matters where I go or whence I come?
Spring and the daisies far outlive the tomb.

O, Nature ! if I strayed from thy control,
Resume thy empire now, and with delights
Unspeakable, conduct my dreaming soul
From sordid things unto sublimest heights.
Give back the thoughts that once aspired in vain,
New joyful wings with which to mount again!

Ah me! the curfew with its silvery chime
Too swiftly breaks the witchery of the hour;
With clanging keys I hear the beadle climb
The cobwebbed mazes of the belfry tower.
I quit with wistfulness akin to pain
My visionary world for that of men.

The stars are out; gargoyle and image quaint,
Rare ogive, frieze fantastic, oriel,
Hero and martyred monk and virgin saint,
Make up a world where mortals cannot dwell.
Why do I linger? What so chaineth me
Unto this mute and mystic company?

Good Words.M. B. E..

  1. Visitors to Rouen are, or were, permitted to make the circuit of the superb church of St. Ouen, on the somewhat giddy balustrade girdling it immediately below the tower.