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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

Père la Chaise

By Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)

I STOOD amid the dwellings of the dead,

And saw the gayest city of the earth

Spread out beneath me. Cloud and sunlight lay

Upon her palaces and gilded domes,

In slumbrous beauty. Through the streets flowed on,

In ceaseless stream, gay equipage and throng,

As fashion led the way. Look up! look up!

Mont Louis hath a beacon. Wheresoe’er

Ye seem to tend, so lightly dancing on

In your enchanted maze, a secret spell

Is on your footsteps, and unseen they haste

Where ye would not, and whence ye ne’er return.

Blind pilgrims are we all! We close our eyes

On the swift torrent that o’erwhelms our race,

And in our spanlike path the goal forget,

Until the shadows lengthen, and we sink

To rise no more.
Methinks the monster Death

Wears not such visage here, so grim and gaunt

With terror, as he shows in other lands.

Robing himself in sentiment, he wraps

His dreary trophies in a maze of flowers,

And makes his tombs like temples, or a home

So sweet to love, that grief doth fleet away.

I saw a mother mourning. The fair tomb

Was like a little chapel, hung with wreath

And crucifix. And there she spread the toys

That her lost babe had loved, as if she found

A solace in the memory of its sports.

Tears flowed like pearl-drops, yet without the pang

That wrings and rends the heart-strings. It would seem

A tender sorrow, scarce of anguish born,

So much the influence of surrounding charms

Did mitigate it.
Mid the various groups

That visited the dead, I marked the form

Of a young female winding through the shades.

Just at that point she seemed where childhood melts

But half away, like snows that feel the sun,

Yet, shrinking closer to their shaded nook,

Delay to swell the sparkling stream of youth.

She had put off her sabots at the gate,

Heavy with clay, and to a new-made grave

Hasted alone. Upon its wooden cross

She placed her chaplet, and with whispering lips,

Perchance in prayer, perchance in converse low

With the loved slumberer, knelt, and strewed the seeds

Of flowers among the mould. A shining mass

Of raven tresses ’scaped amid the toil

From their accustomed boundary; but her eyes,

None saw them, for she heeded not the tread

Of passers-by. Her business was with those

Who slept below. ’T would seem a quiet grief,

And yet absorbing; such as a young heart

Might for a sister feel, ere it had learned

A deeper love.
Come to yon stately dome,

With arch and turret, every shapely stone

Breathing the legends of the Paraclete,

Where slumber Abelard and Heloise,

’Neath such a world of wreaths, that scarce ye see

Their marble forms recumbent, side by side.

On! on! this populous spot hath many a fane,

To win the stranger’s admiration. See

La Fontaine’s fox-crowned cenotaph; and his

Whose “Mécanique Celeste” hath writ his name

Among the stars; and hers who, soaring high

In silken globe, found a strange death by fire

Amid the clouds.
The dead of distant lands

Are gathered here. In pomp of sculpture sleeps

The Russian Demidoff, and Britain’s sons

Have crossed the foaming sea, to leave their dust

In a strange soil. Yea, from my own far land

They ’ve wandered here, to die. Were there not graves

Enough among our forests, by the marge

Of our broad streams, amid the hallowed mounds

Of early kindred, that ye needs must come

This weary way, to share the strangers’ bed,

My people? I could weep to find ye here!

And yet your names are sweet, the words ye grave,

In the loved language of mine infancy,

Most pleasant to the eye, involved so long

Mid foreign idioms.
Yonder height doth boast

The warrior-chiefs, who led their legions on

To sack, and siege; whose flying tramp disturbed

The Cossack in his hut, the Alpine birds,

Who build above the cloud, and Egypt’s slaves,

Crouching beneath their sky-crowned pyramids.

How silent are they all! No warning trump

Amid their host! No steed! No footstep stirs

Of those who rushed to battle! Haughtily

The aspiring marble tells each pausing group

Their vaunted fame. O shades of mighty men!

Went these proud honors with you, where the spear

And shield resound no more? Cleaves the blood-stain

Around ye there? Steal the deep-echoing groans

Of those who fell, the cry of those who mourned,

Across the abyss that bars you from our sight,

Waking remorseful pangs?
We may not ask

With hope of answer. But the time speeds on,

When all shall know.
There is the lowly haunt

Where rest the poor. No towering obelisk

Beareth their name. No blazoned tablet tells

Their joys or sorrows. Yet ’t is sweet to muse

Around their pillow of repose, and think

That Nature mourns their loss, though man forget.

The lime-tree and acacia, side by side,

Spring up, in haste to do their kindly deed

Of sheltering sympathy, as though they knew

Their time was short.
Sweet Nature ne’er forgets

Her buried sons, but cheers their summer-couch

With turf and dewdrops, bidding autumn’s hand

Drop lingering garlands of its latest leaves,

And glorious spring from wintry thraldom burst,

To bring their type of Immortality.