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



By Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)

TO these dark groves a royal footstep came,

And all the woods awoke. Huge stems were felled

To let in vistas of the winding Seine,

While midway on the hill the walls arose

Of the king’s house, and round about his own

Were twelve pavilions set, zodiacal

Unto the king’s, which was the central sun!

’T was Mansard built them, and Lebrun who wrought

Devices for the walls, while every grove,

And every alley double-lined with limes,

Had its own white-limbed god; and in the sun

A hundred fountains played, whose waters leapt

Rejoicing down the slope. A hundred years

The sister arts held sway. Here Louis reigned

With that strong hand of his; strong in despite

Of much mistake and failure. The grave wife,

Who ruled the ruler in his older years,

Kept solemn state amidst the whispering court;

And when the pageant vanished, and the times

Changed with the men, here the gay Regent played;

And here the child, the little lovely child,

Who was the heir to France and ruined her,

Played with his mates, Desired and Well-beloved,

Through all those early years. St. Simon paced

Those double alleys, with a prudent tongue,

And still more prudent ear; and the sweet bride,

Marie Leczinska, mother of a son

Too early lost, for whom that mother prayed,—

“Take him, O God, and spare his father’s fate,

The shameful license of a shameless age,”—

Mourned through long years of worse than widowhood.

And here the blue-eyed woman with the brow

Which never blenched before the angriest mob,

Held “mon gros Normandie” upon her knees,—

Poor pretty infant! ne’er to be a man,—

And pressed him to her heart.

Is utterly desolate now; and not a trace

Of the Pavilion of the Central Sun,

Nor of the other twelve,—zodiacal,—

Exists above the soil, save the hard lines

Of strong foundations bedded in the grass.

There are no fountains shining in the light,

Nor any waters leaping down the hill.

The marble gods are gone; but still the woods

Sweep with a certain curve majestical

About the empty space, as if they held

A viewless memory in their wide embrace,

And were too loath to lose it and encroach

Upon the ancient sites. On either hand

The double alleys put forth patient leaves,

Season by season, though no courtiers come

To plot and gossip there; the hand of man

Has ruined what he raised; but Nature, hard

To fashion at his will, retains his mark,

And witnesses with her persistent forms

The changes of his purpose.