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



By Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)

AS I walked in the grass-green alleys

Where fringes of beech-trees grow,

I thought of the close-cut lindens,

And the fishes of Fontainebleau,

The lazy fins of the old gray carp,

Almost too idle to eat their bread,

And the turreted roofs, so fine and sharp,

Cutting into the blue sky overhead.

The suites of rooms both large and small,

And the lofty gloom of St. Louis Hall,

Mirrored again in the shining floor;

And the thick walls pierced for the crusted door,

With traceried panels and ponderous lock,

Which opens heavily, shuts with shock,

If the hand unwarily lets it fall.

The great square courts are still as the grave,

Once so joyous with hunting horn,

When the princely hunter, eager and brave,

Rode to the chase at the first of morn.

The grand old courts of Francis the First,

Neither the ugliest nor the worst

Of that kingly race who hunted the deer

All day long in the forest wide,

Which stretches for miles on every side.

Music and feasting closed the day

When the king was tired with his hunting play,

And had chased the deer to his heart’s desire,

Where the sunshine glows, like soft green fire,

Under the trees in the month of May.

We were there in the month of May,

When the quaint inn garden was filled with flowers.

Roses and lilies are passed away,

And I write in the dark December hours.

But I will not believe (and a woman, you know,

Will never believe against her will!)

That there ever is snow at Fontainebleau.

I fancied then, I will hold to it still,

That place of the ancient kings doth wear

A sort of enchanted fairy-tale air;

And that roses blossom the whole year through,

And soft green sunshine glows on the dew;

That the breath of the forest is soft and sweet;

That dulcimers play in the open street,

And the people actually waltz to the sound,

Like the queer little folks that turn round and round

In the travelling organs you chance to meet.

At Fontainebleau, in the month of May,

You just might fancy some amiable gnome

Or intelligent fairy had whisked you away

A thousand miles from your northern home,

And planted you safe on the hills near Rome.

It only wanted the olive-trees,

And the purple breadth of the southern seas,—

Only a few little things of the kind,

To make you doubly sure in your mind.

For there were the roses and there the skies,

And the wonderful brightness to fill your eyes,

And the people singing and dancing away,

As if constantly making a scene in a play.

And there was the moon when the sun went down,

And in silver and black she clothed the town,

As if half masked for a holiday!

Then the Royal Chapel of Fontainebleau

Is Roman quite in its taste, you know;

Exceedingly white, and gold, and red,

With a legion of cherubim overhead.

But there the innermost heart is moved,

Not by sculptured or painted frieze,

But by thoughts of a life perfumed with prayer,

Of a saintly woman who worshipped there,

The wife of Louis the well-beloved,

And mother of Madame Louise.

And then the Forest! What pen shall paint

The gates of brickwork, solid and quaint,

Which opened on it from every side;

And the sweeping circles whose vistas wide

Narrow away to a point of space,

Like the rays of a star from its central place.

Wherever you turn it is just the same,

Whither you go or whence you came,

To the right, to the left, behind, before,

An ocean of trees for six leagues and more.

From the brow of the rocks (all purple and green,

Or damply shining with silver sheen)

You see what looks like a mystical floor,

A glorious level of green and gray,

Till the uttermost distance melts away,

Where satyrs and fauns might nimbly play,

Swinging along by the tops of the trees,

Like dolphins out on the crested seas.

And where the Forest is melting away,

And drops to the brink of the winding Seine,

A vine-clad village, open and gay,

Tempted our feet,—but our quest was vain.

We eagerly knocked,—but polite despair

Opened the gate of the porte-cochère,

And a chorus of quadruped, white and brown,

Barked affirmative, “Gone to town,”

With affable bursts of French bow-wow;

(As part of the family they knew how!)

So we gazed at the house through that porte-cochère,

With its tall new tower so straight and fair,

Its mouldings of brickwork quaint and free,

And under the date a firm “R. B.”

O royal Forest of Fontainebleau,

Be kind, be kind to this artist dear;

And if (which I don’t believe!) you ’ve snow,

Be silver-fretted, be crystal clear.

Be tender, O Spring, to her gentle kine,

To her lambs with coats so close and fine,

To the king of the herd, with hornéd brow,

To her rough-haired dogs, with their wise bow-wow;

Nurture them, comfort them, give your best

To the family friends of your famous guest.

Thou, rose-clad Summer, temper your beams

With leaping fountains and gurgling streams.

Autumn, ripen your largest grapes,

Of richest color and moulded shapes.

Rain, fall soft on her garden bower;

Sunshine, melt on the bricks of her tower;

Nature and Art, alike bestow

Blessing and beauty on Fontainebleau!