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



By Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914)

Translated by Harriet W. Preston

TO-DAY, fair Arles, a harvester thou seemest,

Who sleepest on thy threshing-floor, and dreamest

Of glories past; but a queen wert thou then,

And mother of so brave seafaring men,

The noisy winds themselves aye lost their way

In the great harbor where thy shipping lay.

Rome had arrayed thee in white marble newly,

As an imperial princess decked thee duly.

Thy brow a crown of stately columns wore;

The gates of thy arenas were sixscore;

Thou hadst thy theatre and hippodrome,

So to make mirth in thy resplendent home!

We pass within the gates. A crowd advances

Toward the theatre, with songs and dances.

We join them; and the eager thousands press

Through the cool colonnades of palaces;

As thou, mayhap, a mighty flood hast seen

Rush through a maple-shaded, deep ravine.

Arrived,—O, shame and sorrow!—we saw there

On the proscenium, with bosoms bare,

Young maidens waltzing to a languid lyre,

And high refrain sung by a shrill-voiced choir.

They in the mazes of their dance surrounded

A marble shape, whose name like “Venus” sounded.

The frenzied populace its clamor adds

Unto the cries of lasses and of lads,

Who shout their idol’s praises o’er and o’er,—

“Hail to thee, Venus, of joy the bestower!

Hail to thee, Venus, goddess of all grace!

Mother of earth and of the Arlesian race!”

The statue, myrtle-crowned, with nostrils wide

And head high-borne, appears to swell with pride

Amid the incense-clouds; when suddenly,

In horror of so great audacity,

Leaps Trophimus amid the maddened wretches,

And o’er the bewildered throng his arms outstretches.

“People of Arles!” in mighty tones he cried,

“Hear me, even for the sake of Christ who died!”

No more. But, smitten by his shaggy frown,

The idol groaned and staggered, and fell down,

Headlong, from off its marble pedestal.

Fell, too, the awe-struck dancers, one and all.

Therewith went up, as ’t were, a single howl;

Choked were the gateways with a rabble foul,

Who through all Arles spread terror and dismay,

So that patricians tore their crowns away;

And all the enraged youth closed round us there,

While flashed a thousand poniards in the air.

Yet they recoiled;—whether it were the sight

Of us, in our salt-crusted robes bedight;

Or Trophimus’ calm brow which beamed on them,

As wreathed with a celestial diadem;

Or tear-veiled Magdalen, who stood between us,

How tenfold fairer than their sculptured Venus!