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


The Column of July

By George Gordon McCrae (1833–1927)

(From Man in the Iron Mask)

STRANGE Old-World tale!—we know the Bastille fell

Ages ago. We ’ve stood upon its site,

And, gazing heavenward, through the silver mists

Of falling stars infinitesimal,

That slowly hovered toward the earth and formed

In dreamy atmospheres that painters love

The soft embodiment of morning air,

Saw thy sky-piercing column. O July!

A tall and stately shaft with classic scrolls

Wrought on its antique capital where stands

Poised airily a-tiptoe on one foot,

That scarcely presses on the golden globe;

A mighty-winged divinity!

Not crowned with petasus, nor bound about

As to his ankles with talares swift,

Nor sceptred with caduceus,—serpent-twined,

Borne gayly out arm’s-length, and held on high,

The wingéd symbol of ethereal sway,

But grasping in one hand a torch, whose flame

Flares back upon him as he seems to fly,

Through realms of air above distracted worlds,

And in the other a great broken chain,

An outwrenched bolt, and fetter-lock therewith.

We, viewing thus the golden god aloft

(Our thoughts reverting to the olden days),

Cried out, with sudden impulse, as we gazed,—

Eidolon! sprung from Liberty and Light!

Poised in thy beauty o’er the vaults of doom;

Time was, ere thy bright presence bathed the “Place”

In borrowed sunshine, when the Bastille towers

Frowned on the passer-by; and silence reigned

Supremely sad, save where the night-bird cries

Of sentinels beat back the crowding air;

Or where the booming clock, with sullen tones,

Proclaimed the lapse, the wane, the death of hours;

Or where the low cadenzas of a lute,

Borne through a loop-hole’s gush of whirling wind,

And mingled with strange murmurs, tranced the ear,

Saddening all souls that felt the harmony.

Too late! too late thy brandished blazing torch

Flamed like a glory through those darkened cells;

Too late the might of thine herculean arm

Wrested, O golden angel! from those doors

The bolts and staples, hinges, massy chains,

Setting the captives free, mid warlike din,

And voices of a populace that roared,

“Down with the Bastille! Over with it! Down!”

Another angel, with a sadder face,

Descended like a dart, still angel-like,

Through clouds of air, stout roofs, and floors of stone,

Into the masked one’s cell, and sate with him.

Looked the unutterable mystery

Into the weary eyes that followed his,

Content to be absorbed; then vanishing,

Fled out into the night,—and not alone.