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


The Bastille

By George Gordon McCrae (1833–1927)

(From Man in the Iron Mask)

A DAY of driving sleet, with hail and rain

That hissed and splashed, and sprayed against the walls,

Urged by the eastern wind, that, wolf-like, howled

Along the leaden ledges of the roof,

Or screamed through loopholes of the masonry,

Or hoarsely rumbled in the sooty throats.

(Cimmerian)—of the chimneys of the keep,

Rattling the vexed and rusty vanes about,

That veered and creaked, and creaked and veered again

A most tempestuous whirl (and icy chill),

Where groans and shrieks and sobbing airs and moans

Prevailed, according to the fantasy

That drave the wild and whistling storm along.

The dark foundations of the Bastille walls

Were banked with lengthy, crisp, white, sloping drifts

Of hailstones multitudinous, that lay

Thick as the pebbles on a moonlit beach,

That binds itself a silvern sandal on,

To grace the foot some towering cliff has given,

In queenly form, to subject waves to kiss.

Crowded together close, the starlings crept

For mutual shelter ’neath the leeward wall,

With tiny plumes awry, or else on end,

While ’neath the blind-arch of a Seine-washed bridge

Some wretched outcast from the storm would cower,

With chin on knees, and icy fingers thrust

Deep in his ragged bosom, seeking warmth;

And in the crowded faubourg girls would creep

To bed in wet and windy garret-nooks,

Where drops the rain upon the wretched floor

In sullen plashes, or else fiercely stabs

With icy needles into shivering flesh,

And these in their storm-broken slumbers dream

Of folks that sit with heavy shutters barred,

And thick warm curtains drawn, and fires ablaze,

And children playing round them; where the hours

Glide gayly on, with lighted lamps and song.

This side the dream,—the real was wretchedness,

The skin upon the body crept, each hair

Was stiffened to a spine, and nature’s life

Shrank back within itself, and feigned to die,

As the anemone in ocean depths

Draws in its tender arms, and hides itself

Within itself, till dread or danger ’s past.