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


The Curé of Ploërmel

By Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)

JUST ere the stroke of midnight fell,

The ancient priest of Ploërmel

Sat by his fire one Christmas night.

Still as the grave the frosty air,—

His lips were murmuring a prayer,

The while his heart was softly moved

With thoughts of many a youth he loved

In college days, at peaceful Vannes,

Beside the Sea of Morbihan.

Now some were old and far away,

And some had spent their little day

In wondrous Paris on the Seine;

And some amidst the stormy main

Which sweeps round Brittany were lost;

Thinking of such, his brow he crossed,

And bowed the head whose locks were white.

Sudden, amidst the hush profound,

The far faint echo of a sound,

Stole to his ear; ’t was such as springs

From the slow beat of countless wings,

Or rustle of a multitude

That softly pace a moss-grown wood.

Noiseless he crossed his earthen floor,

And looked into the silvery light

Along the road which passed his door,

And saw—a strange and awful sight!

Far as his aged eyes could reach,

With sound of neither tread nor speech,

Stretched the long files of gray and white.

All silent in the moonshine went

Each cloaked and hooded penitent,

Bearing a torch which burnt upright.

The trembling Curé made the Sign,

Each phantom bent in grave incline,

As when that wind of summer sweet

Bows all the rippling rants of wheat!

The foremost, as he passed the door,

Motioned the Curé on before,

Who mute obeyed; some ghostly spell

Moved the good priest of Ploërmel.

And so the mighty multitude,

Across the moor and through the wood,

Followed, yet guided him, until

His feet by that same spell stood still

Before the open porch, which yet

In a long roofless wall was set.

The ruined church was one which long

Had only heard the night bird’s song,

But still the altar-steps were there,

And a wild rose in festoons fair

Graced it in summer; now the fern

And ivy draped it in their turn.

Then all that mighty multitude

Within the vast enclosure stood,

The moonlight on their garments shone,

And still their torches burned; whilst one

Mounted the mossy steps, and took

Stained vestments and an ancient book,

And old chased chalice from the stone.

With silent awe the saintly priest

Robed for the wonted Christmas feast;

And every shrouded penitent,

On humble knees devoutly bent.

One served the Mass, and all intent

Responded with the mystic tone

Of winds and waves together blent.

But when he raised the sacred Host

The vague, uncertain tone was lost

In sweetest music of the upper spheres;

And when the Curé raised his hand and blest

The kneeling flock, with Ite, missa est,

The shrouded penitents were seen to softly rise

Like a white shining cloud to his astonished eyes;

And ere the last sweet gospel words were done,

The nave was empty,—the good priest alone

Invoked the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;

While from the distant skies a heavenly host

Of souls, set free from purgatorial pain,

Sang, as they took their flight, the sweet refrain,

“Hath been, is now, and evermore shall be,

World without end! Amen!”