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

Père la Chaise

In Père la Chaise

By Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)

AN AVENUE of tombs! I stand before

The tomb of Abelard and Eloise.

A long, a dark bent line of cypress-trees

Leads past and on to other shrines; but o’er

This tomb the boughs hang darkest and most dense,

Like leaning mourners clad in black. The sense

Of awe oppresses you. This solitude

Means more than common sorrow. Down the wood

Still lovers pass, then pause, then turn again,

And weep like silent, unobtrusive rain.

’T is but a simple, antique tomb that kneels

As one that weeps above the broken clay.

’T is stained with storms, ’t is eaten well away,

Nor half the old-new story now reveals

Of heart that held beyond the tomb to heart.

But O, it tells of love! And that true page

Is more to me in this commercial age,

When love is calmly counted some lost art,

Than all man’s mighty monuments of war

Or archives vast of art and science are.

Here poets pause and dream a listless hour,

Here silly pilgrims stoop and kiss the clay,

Here sweetest maidens leave a cross or flower,

While vandals bear the tomb in bits away.

The ancient stone is scarred with name and scrawl

Of many tender fools. But over all

And high above all other scrawls is writ

One simple thing, most touching and most fit.

Some pitying soul has tiptoed high above,

And with a nail has scrawled but this: “O Love!”

O Love!—I turn; I climb the hill of tombs,

Where sleeps the “bravest of the brave,” below

His bed of scarlet blooms in zone of snow;

No cross or sign save this red bed of blooms.

I see grand tombs to France’s lesser dead;

Colossal steeds, white pyramids, still red

At base with blood, still torn with shot and shell,

To testify that here the Commune fell;

And yet I turn once more from all of these,

And stand before the tomb of Eloise.