Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


Agnes Sorel

By Jean Antoine de Baïf (1532–1589)

Translated by Louisa Stuart Costello

THIS then is Mesnil, named from her whose charms

Above all other themes the poet warms:

Agnes, the star of Charles, whose early fate

Left his fond heart forlorn and desolate.

Here perfumed airs amidst each secret shade

Tell of their ancient loves that cannot fade;

These ruined walls seem mourning in decay

That worth and beauty should be swept away;

The wind moans round them sad and heavily,—

An echo of fair Agnes’ latest sigh.

She bright as Grecian Helen, famed in song,

Whose eyes held Charles in love’s devotion long,—

Another Paris, who would fain have been

A shepherd youth with her his rural queen:

To live for her was all he cared to do,

She his ambition and his glory too.

From wars and high contentions he removed,

Content with her to love and be beloved.

But envious rumor whispered of disgrace,

Of tarnished name and of degenerate race;

Of one who at his lady’s feet bowed down,

Forgot his country, honor, and renown.

Without a blush such words could Agnes hear,

And bear reproaches on a name so dear?

With tender eloquence she woke the theme,

And bade her lover rouse him from his dream:

“Since, lowly as I am, on me thy light

Has shone so fondly and so purely bright,

And I have dared to answer to thy flame,

Ill it becomes me to eclipse thy fame.

Shall it be said, effeminate and base,

Bowed to my will, enamored of my face,

Thou canst forget thy honor for my sake?

My king, my friend, my love, arise!—awake!

Arm! arm! and lead thy subjects forth once more,

And drive the haughty English from thy shore.

Let my ambition and thine own agree,

To see a hero and my love in thee.

O, let my words dispel this idle trance,

Let Agnes be esteemed in grateful France.

I would not honor made thee love forego,

But let love teach thee honor’s laws to know!”

She spoke: her generous zeal the monarch moved,

And virtue wakened at the voice he loved:

A brighter flame in his roused bosom burst

From the same torch which had effaced it first;

And by the love for which reproach he bore,

He vowed the English pride should be no more.

Then Victory, that, untrue to friend or foe,

With restless flight had hovered to and fro,

Declared for us at last, and rescued France

Beheld her banners to the skies advance!

’T was then, with conquered Normandy his prize,

The lover from long battles turned his eyes,

And midst the shades of lone Jumiége sought

The lovely object of his tenderest thought.

Then Agnes came,—she heard of treachery,

And flew to warn him of the danger nigh.

But Fate had led her to this holy fane,

And doomed her ne’er to quit those walls again.

Alas! fond lover, after all thy care,

Thy toil, thy valor, was all hope but air?

All thy heart promised void? The trial past,

Is death and sorrow thy reward at last!

O Death! has beauty, then, no power to move?

Deaf art thou thus to constancy and love?

But great although thy power, and fell thy sway,

And in her youthful prime she fell thy prey,

The wrong is less than if, as Fortune willed,

The days by Nature granted had been filled;

And those soft features and those eyes so bright

In dim and faded age had lost their light;

And that renown of Beauty’s Queen no more

The world would give her, since its power was o’er.

No! to the last so lovely and so dear,

Her peerless star shone ever bright and clear!

Fair Agnes lives in never-ending fame

As long as Beauty shall be Beauty’s name!