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


On the Church of the Madeleine

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

THE ATTIC temple whose majestic room

Contained the presence of Olympian Jove,

With smooth Hymettus round it and above,

Softening the splendor by a sober bloom,

Is yielding fast to Time’s irreverent doom;

While on the then barbarian banks of Seine

That nobler type is realized again

In perfect form, and dedicate—to whom?

To a poor Syrian girl, of lowliest name,

A hapless creature, pitiful and frail

As ever wore her life in sin and shame,

Of whom all history has this single tale,—

“She loved the Christ, she wept beside his grave,

And He, for that Love’s sake, all else forgave.”

If one, with prescient soul to understand

The working of this world beyond the day

Of his small life, had taken by the hand

That wanton daughter of old Magdala;

And told her that the time was ripe to come

When she, thus base among the base, should be

More served than all the gods of Greece and Rome,

More honored in her holy memory,

How would not men have mocked and she have scorned

The fond diviner? Plausible excuse

Had been for them, all moulded to one use

Of feeling and of thought, but we are warned

By such ensamples to distrust the sense

Of Custom proud and bold Experience.

Thanks to that element of heavenly things,

That did come down to earth, and there confound

Most sacred thoughts with names of usual sound,

And homeliest life with all a poet sings,

The proud Ideas that had ruled and bound

Our moral nature were no longer kings,

Old Power grew faint and shed his eagle-wings,

And gray Philosophy was half uncrowned.

Love, Pleasure’s child, betrothed himself to Pain;

Weakness, and poverty, and self-disdain,

And tranquil sufferance of repeated wrongs,

Became adorable; Fame gave her tongues,

And Faith her hearts to objects all as low

As this lorn child of infamy and woe.