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

Rhone, the River

The Descent of the Rhone

By Richard Chenevix Trench (1807–1886)


FAIRER scene the opening eye

Of the day can scarce descry,

Fairer sight he looks not on

Than the pleasant banks of Rhone;

Where in terraces and ranks,

On those undulating banks,

Rise by many a hilly stair

Sloping tiers of vines, where’er

From the steep and stony soil

Has been won by careful toil,

And with long, laborious pains

Fenced against the washing rains,—

Fenced and anxiously walled round,

Some small patch of garden-ground.

Higher still some place of power,

Or a solitary tower,

Ruined now, is looking down

On the quiet little town

In a sheltered glen beneath,

Where the smoke’s unbroken wreath,

Mounting in the windless air,

Rests, dissolving slowly there,

O’er the housetops like a cloud,

Or a thinnest vaporous shroud.

Morn has been,—and lo! how soon

Has arrived the middle noon,

And the broad sun’s rays do rest

On some naked mountain’s breast,

Where alone relieve the eye

Massive shadows, as they lie

In the hollows motionless;

Still our boat doth onward press:

Now a peaceful current wide

Bears it on an ample tide;

Now the hills retire, and then

Their broad fronts advance again,

Till the rocks have closed us round,

And would seem our course to bound,

But anon a path appears,

And our vessel onward steers,

Darting rapidly between

Narrow walls of a ravine.

Morn has been and noon,—and now

Evening falls about our prow:

Mid the clouds that kindling won

Light and fire from him, the Sun

For a moment’s space was lying,

Phœnix in his own flames dying!

And a sunken splendor still

Burns behind the western hill:

Lo! the starry troop again

Gather on the ethereal plain;

Even now and there were none,

And a moment since but one;

And anon we lift our head,

And all heaven is overspread

With a still-assembling crowd,

With a silent multitude,—

Venus, first and brightest set

In the night’s pale coronet,

Armed Orion’s belted pride,

And the Seven that by the side

Of the Titan nightly weave

Dances in the mystic eve,

Sisters linked in love and light.

’T were in truth a solemn sight,

Were we sailing now as they,

Who upon their western way

To the isles of spice and gold,

Nightly watching, might behold

These our constellations dip,

And the great sign of the Ship

Rise upon the other hand,

With the Cross, still seen to stand

In the vault of heaven upright,

At the middle hour of night,—

Or with them whose keels first prest

The huge rivers of the West,

Who the first with bold intent

Down the Orellana went,

Or a dangerous progress won

On the mighty Amazon,

By whose ocean-streams they told

Of the warrior-maidens bold.