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



By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

(From The Cathedral)

ELUDING these, I loitered through the town,

With hope to take my minster unawares

In its grave solitude of memory.

A pretty burgh, and such as Fancy loves

For bygone grandeurs, faintly rumorous now

Upon the mind’s horizon, as of storm

Brooding its dreamy thunders far aloof,

That mingle with our mood, but not disturb.

Its once grim bulwarks, tamed to lovers’ walks,

Look down unwatchful on the sliding Eure,

Whose listless leisure suits the quiet place,

Lisping among his shallows homelike sounds

At Concord and by Bankside heard before.

Chance led me to a public pleasure-ground,

Where I grew kindly with the merry groups,

And blessed the Frenchman for his simple art

Of being domestic in the light of day.

His language has no word, we growl, for Home;

But he can find a fireside in the sun,

Play with his child, make love, and shriek his mind,

By throngs of strangers undisprivacied.

He makes his life a public gallery,

Nor feels himself till what he feels comes back

In manifold reflection from without;

While we, each pore alert with consciousness,

Hide our best selves as we had stolen them,

And each bystander a detective were,

Keen-eyed for every chink of undisguise.

So, musing o’er the problem which was best,—

A life wide-windowed, shining all abroad,

Or curtains drawn to shield from sight profane

The rites we pay to the mysterious I,—

With outward senses furloughed and head bowed

I followed some fine instinct in my feet,

Till, to unbend me from the loom of thought,

Looking up suddenly, I found mine eyes

Confronted with the minster’s vast repose.

Silent and gray as forest-leaguered cliff

Left inland by the ocean’s slow retreat,

That hears afar the breeze-borne rote and longs,

Remembering shocks of surf that clomb and fell,

Spume-sliding down the baffled decuman,

It rose before me, patiently remote

From the great tides of life it breasted once,

Hearing the noise of men as in a dream.

I stood before the triple northern port,

Where dedicated shapes of saints and kings,

Stern faces bleared with immemorial watch,

Looked down benignly grave and seemed to say,

“Ye come and go incessant; we remain

Safe in the hallowed quiets of the past;

Be reverent, ye who flit and are forgot,

Of faith so nobly realized as this.”

I seem to have heard it said by learned folk

Who drench you with æsthetics till you feel

As if all beauty were a ghastly bore,

The faucet to let loose a wash of words,

That Gothic is not Grecian, therefore worse;

But, being convinced by much experiment

How little inventiveness there is in man,

Grave copier of copies, I give thanks

For a new relish, careless to inquire

My pleasure’s pedigree, if so it please,

Nobly, I mean, nor renegade to art.

The Grecian gluts me with its perfectness,

Unanswerable as Euclid, self-contained,

The one thing finished in this hasty world,

Forever finished, though the barbarous pit,

Fanatical on hearsay, stamp and shout

As if a miracle could be encored.

But ah! this other, this that never ends,

Still climbing, luring fancy still to climb,

As full of morals half divined as life,

Graceful, grotesque, with ever new surprise

Of hazardous caprices sure to please,

Heavy as nightmare, airy-light as fern,

Imagination’s very self in stone!

With one long sigh of infinite release

From pedantries past, present, or to come,

I looked, and owned myself a happy Goth.

Your blood is mine, ye architects of dream,

Builders of aspiration incomplete,

So more consummate, souls self-confident,

Who felt your own thought worthy of record

In monumental pomp! No Grecian drop

Rebukes these veins that leap with kindred thrill,

After long exile, to the mother-tongue.

Ovid in Pontus, puling for his Rome

Of men invirile and disnatured dames

That poison sucked from the Attic bloom decayed,

Shrank with a shudder from the blue-eyed race

Whose force rough-handed should renew the world,

And from the dregs of Romulus express

Such wine as Dante poured, or he who blew

Roland’s vain blast, or sang the Campeador

In verse that clanks like armor in the charge,—

Homeric juice, if brimmed in Odin’s horn.

And they could build, if not the columned fane

That from the height gleamed seaward many-hued,

Something more friendly with their ruder skies:

The gray spire, molten now in driving mist,

Now lulled with the incommunicable blue;

The carvings touched to meanings new with snow,

Or commented with fleeting grace of shade;

The statues, motley as man’s memory,

Partial as that, so mixed of true and false,

History and legend meeting with a kiss

Across this bound-mark where their realms confine;

The painted windows, freaking gloom with glow,

Dusking the sunshine which they seem to cheer,

Meet symbol of the senses and the soul;

And the whole pile, grim with the Northman’s thought

Of life and death, and doom, life’s equal fee,—

These were before me: and I gazed abashed,

Child of an age that lectures, not creates,

Plastering our swallow-nests on the awful Past,

And twittering round the work of larger men,

As we had builded what we but deface.

Far up the great bells wallowed in delight,

Tossing their clangors o’er the heedless town,

To call the worshippers who never came,

Or women mostly, in loath twos and threes.

I entered, reverent of whatever shrine

Guards piety and solace for my kind

Or gives the soul a moment’s truce of God,

And shared decorous in the ancient rite

My sterner fathers held idolatrous.

The service over, I was tranced in thought:

Solemn the deepening vaults, and most to me,

Fresh from the fragile realm of deal and paint,

Or brick mock-pious with a marble front;

Solemn the lift of high-embowered roof,

The clustered stems that spread in boughs disleaved,

Through which the organ blew a dream of storm,—

Though not more potent to sublime with awe

And shut the heart up in tranquillity,

Than aisles to me familiar that o’erarch

The conscious silences of brooding woods,

Centurial shadows, cloisters of the elk:

Yet here was sense of undefined regret,

Irreparable loss, uncertain what:

Was all this grandeur but anachronism,—

A shell divorced of its informing life,

Where the priest housed him like a hermit-crab,

An alien to that faith of elder days

That gathered round it this fair shape of stone?

Is old Religion but a spectre now,

Haunting the solitude of darkened minds,

Mocked out of memory by the sceptic day?

Is there no corner safe from peeping Doubt,

Since Gutenberg made thought cosmopolite

And stretched electric threads from mind to mind?

Nay, did Faith build this wonder? or did Fear,

(Blockish or metaphysic, matters not),

That makes a fetish and misnames it God

Contrive this coop to shut its tyrant in,

Appeased with playthings, that he might not harm?


I walked forth saddened; for all thought is sad,

And leaves a bitterish savor in the brain,

Tonic, it may be, not delectable,

And turned, reluctant, for a parting look

At those old weather-pitted images

Of bygone struggle, now so sternly calm.

About their shoulders sparrows had built nests,

And fluttered, chirping, from gray perch to perch,

Now on a mitre poising, now a crown,

Irreverently happy. While I thought

How confident they were, what careless hearts

Flew on those lightsome wings and shared the sun,

A larger shadow crossed; and looking up,

I saw where, nesting in the hoary towers,

The sparrow-hawk slid forth on noiseless air,

With sidelong head that watched the joy below,

Grim Norman baron o’er this clan of Kelts.