Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Stanzas Composed at Carnac

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


Stanzas Composed at Carnac

By Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)

FAR on its rocky knoll descried

Saint Michael’s chapel cuts the sky.

I climbed;—beneath me, bright and wide,

Lay the lone coast of Brittany.

Bright in the sunset, weird and still,

It lay beside the Atlantic wave,

As if the wizard Merlin’s will

Yet charmed it from his forest grave.

Behind me on their grassy sweep,

Bearded with lichen, scrawled and gray,

The giant stones of Carnac sleep,

In the mild evening of the May.

No priestly stern procession now

Streams through their rows of pillars old;

No victims bleed, no Druids bow;

Sheep make the furze-grown aisles their fold.

From bush to bush the cuckoo flies,

The orchis red gleams everywhere;

Gold broom with furze in blossom vies,

The bluebells perfume all the air.

And o’er the glistening, lonely land

Rise up, all round, the Christian spires.

The church of Carnac, by the strand,

Catches the westering sun’s last fires.

And there across the watery way,

See, low above the tide at flood,

The sickle-sweep of Quiberon bay

Whose beach once ran with loyal blood!

And beyond that, the Atlantic wide!—

All round, no soul, no boat, no hail!

But, on the horizon’s verge descried,

Hangs, touched with light, one snowy sail!

Ah, where is he, who should have come

Where that far sail is passing now,

Past the Loire’s mouth, and by the foam

Of Finistere’s unquiet brow,

Home, round into the English wave?—

He tarries where the Rock of Spain

Mediterranean waters lave;

He enters not the Atlantic main.

O, could he once have reached this air

Freshened by plunging tides, by showers!

Have felt this breath he loved, of fair

Cool Northern fields and grass and flowers!

He longed for it,—pressed on!—In vain.

At the Straits failed that spirit brave.

The South was parent of his pain,

The South is mistress of his grave.