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

La Crau

La Crau

By Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914)

  • (From Mirèio)
    Translated by Harriet W. Preston
  • La Crau is a vast stony plain, bounded on the north by the Alpines (Lower Alps), on the east by the meres of Martigue, west by the Rhone, and south by the sea. It is the Arabia Petræa of France.

  • AND now she passes

    Curlews in flocks asleep amid the grasses

    Under the oaks, who, roused from slumber soft,

    Arise in haste, and wing their flight aloft

    Over the sad and barren plain; and all

    Together “Cour’li! cour’li! cour’li!” call,

    Until the Dawn, with her dew-glittering tresses,

    From mountain-top to level slow progresses,

    Sweetly saluted by the tufted lark,

    Soaring and singing o’er the caverns dark

    In the great hills, whose pinnacles each one

    Appear to sway before the rising sun.

    Then was revealed La Crau, the bare, the waste,

    The rough with stones, the ancient, and the vast,

    Whose proud old giants, if the tale be true,

    Once dreamed, poor fools, the Almighty to subdue

    With but a ladder and their shoulders brave;

    But He them ’whelmed in a destroying wave.

    Already had the rebels dispossest

    The Mount of Victory of his tall crest,

    Lifted with lever from its place; and sure

    They would have heaped it high upon Ventour,

    As they had piled the rugged escarpment

    They from the Alpine range had earlier rent.

    But God his hand extended o’er the plain:

    The northwest wind, thunder, and hurricane

    He loosed; and these arose like eagles three

    From mountain clefts and caverns and the sea,

    Wrapped in thick fog, with fury terrible,

    And on the marble pile together fell.

    Then were the rude Colossi overthrown;

    And a dense covering of pudding-stone

    Spread o’er La Crau, the desolate, the vast,

    The mute, the bare to every stormy blast;

    Who wears the hideous garment to this day.

    Meanwhile Mirèio farther speeds away

    From the home-lands, while the sun’s ardent glare

    Makes visible all round the shimmering air;

    And shrill cicalas, grilling in the grass,

    Beat madly evermore their tiny brass.

    Nor tree for shade was there, nor any beast:

    The many flocks that in the winter feast

    On the short, savory grasses of the moor,

    Had climbed the Alps, where airs are cool and pure,

    And pastures fadeless. Yet the maid doth fly

    Under the pouring fire of a June sky,—

    Fly, fly, like lightning. Lizards large and gray

    Peep from their holes, and to each other say:

    “She must be mad who thus the shingle clears,

    Under a heat that sets the junipers

    A-dancing on the hills; on Crau, the sands.”

    The praying mantes lift beseeching hands,

    “Return, return, O pilgrim!” murmuring,

    “For God hath opened many a crystal spring;

    “And shady trees hath planted, so the rose

    To save upon your cheeks. Why, then, expose

    Your brow to the unpitying summer heat?”

    Vainly as well the butterflies entreat.

    For her the wings of love, the wind of faith,

    Bear on together, as the tempest’s breath

    White gulls astray over the briny plains

    Of Agui-Morto. Utter sadness reigns

    In scattered sheep-cots of their tenants left,

    And overrun with salicorne. Bereft

    In the hot desert, seemed the maid to wake,

    And see nor spring nor pool her thirst to slake.