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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Introductory to Syria

On Leaving France for the East

By Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869)

Anonymous translation

IF to the fluttering folds of the quick sail

My all of peace and comfort I impart;

If to the treacherous tide and wavering gale

My wife and child I lend, my soul’s best part;

If on the seas, the sands, the clouds, I cast

Fond hopes, and beating hearts I leave behind,

With no returning pledge beyond a mast

That bends with every blast of wind,—

’T is not the paltry thirst of gold could fire

A heart that ever glowed with holier flame,

Nor glory tempt me with the vain desire

To gild my memory with a fleeting fame.

I go not, like the Florentine of old,

The bitter bread of banishment to eat;

No wave of faction, in its wildest roar,

Broke on my calm paternal seat.


But in the soul’s unfathomable wells,

Unknown, inexplicable longings sleep;

Like that strange instinct which the bird impels

In search of other food athwart the deep.

What from those orient climes have they to gain?

Have they not nests as mossy in our eaves,

And, for their callow progeny, the grain

Dropped from a thousand golden sheaves?

I too, like them, could find my portion here,

Enjoy the mountain slope, the river’s foam,—

My humble wishes seek no loftier sphere;

And yet like them I go, like them I come.

Dim longings draw me on and point my path

To Eastern sands, to Shem’s deserted shore,

The cradle of the world, where God in wrath

Hardened the human heart of yore.

I have not yet felt on the sea of sand

The slumberous rocking of the desert bark;

Nor quenched my thirst at eve with quivering hand

By Hebron’s well, beneath the palm-trees dark;

Nor in the pilgrim’s tent my mantle spread,

Nor laid me in the dust where Job hath lain,

Nor, while the canvas murmured overhead,

Dreamed Jacob’s mystic dreams again.

Of the world’s pages one is yet unread:

How the stars tremble in Chaldea’s sky,

With what a sense of nothingness we tread,

How the heart beats, when God appears so nigh;

How on the soul, beside some column lone,

The shadows of old days descend and hover,—

How the grass speaks, the earth sends out its moan,

And the breeze wails that wanders over.

I have not heard in the tall cedar-top

The cries of nations echo to and fro,

Nor seen from Lebanon the eagles drop

On Tyre’s deep-buried palaces below;

I have not laid my head upon the ground

Where Tadmor’s temples in the dust decay,

Nor startled, with my footfall’s dreary sound,

The waste where Memnon’s empire lay.

I have not stretched where Jordan’s current flows,

Heard how the loud-lamenting river weeps,

With moans and cries sublimer even than those

With which the mournful Prophet stirred its deeps;

Nor felt the transports which the soul inspire

In the deep grot, where he, the bard of kings,

Felt, at the dead of night, a hand of flame

Seize on his harp, and sweep the strings.

I have not wandered o’er the plain whereon,

Beneath the olive-tree, the Saviour wept;

Nor traced his tears the hallowed trees upon,

Which jealous angels have not all outswept;

Nor, in the garden, watched through nights sublime,

Where, while the bloody sweat was undergone,

The echo of his sorrows and our crime

Rung in one listening ear alone.

Nor have I bent my forehead on the spot

Where his ascending footstep pressed the clay;

Nor worn with lips devout the rock-hewn grot

Where, in his mother’s tears embalmed, he lay;

Nor smote my breast on that sad mountain-head

Where, even in death, conquering the Powers of Air,

His arms, as to embrace our earth, he spread,

And bowed his head, to bless it there.

For these I leave my home; for these I stake

My little span of useless years below:

What matters it where winter-winds may shake

The trunk that yields nor fruit nor foliage now?

Fool! says the crowd. Theirs is the foolish part!

Not in one spot can the soul’s food be found;

No!—to the poet thought is bread, his heart

Lives on his Maker’s works around.