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

Ste. Marguerite, the Island

The Man in the Iron Mask

By George Gordon McCrae (1833–1927)


“BOUNDS within bounds, and everlasting bars

Sunk in deep sockets of unyielding stone;

Bars on the seaward face, and these I touch;

The space between,—a Temple of the Winds,

Where eyes, and eyes alone, may venture in,

Set in the castle’s wall, through which I view,

As through the chamber of a telescope,

The seemingly illimitable sea,—

A sight I never tire of,—whose expanse

Is endless in its aspects and its tints;

To-day all crisply curled in clear green waves

Where the blue rolls, above the yellow sands,

And topped with creamy foam and delicate bells

And bubbles of transparent hues, mid which

Float lazily the tangles and brown sheaves

Of kelp that weltering lie beneath the sun,—

The wrecked and scattered harvest of the storm;

Mid these the sea-grape’s clusters idly hang

And sway and waver in the ripple’s light,

As sun-empurpled bunches ’tween sere leaves

On Southern hillsides, swing in balmy air.

O’er these, loud screaming wheels a flight of gulls,

In gradual widening spirals of approach,

With balanced wings, and low-dropped hanging feet

That skim the crystal surface as they pass,—

All glancing sidelong, with keen amber eyes.

Beyond, and yet beyond, lie belts of calm

With milky streaks between; and passing flaws,—

The transient footprints of a vagrant breeze;

There mid broad shadows on the dark blue field

Tacks the tall ship,—the high-sterned caravel,—

The quaint carrack,—the argosy of Ind;

With fisher boats between, whose sails of tan

Glow into golden chestnut in the sun,

Their leaning gunwales hung with dark festoons

Of nets and cordage, corks and tiny buoys.

And last! between us and yon gloomy rock,

Whose brow is garlanded with wind-blown weed,

Starts out our villain prison-barge, whose crew

Pulls a slow, solemn stroke, of hollow sound.

While the sun flashes on the musquetoons

Two listless soldiers bear, but never use.

Thus much the eye takes in,—blue sea, blue sky,

But less of sky than sea, and little land.”


So saying, he lay down upon his bed,

Beneath the loop-holed window of the room,

His gray head pillowed on his woven hands,

Each in the other clasped behind his neck,

In mutual help and brotherly support.

And as he lay he slept, and while he slept,

Or seemed to sleep, in that mysterious mood

Which hangs upon the skirts of waking thought

He dreamed.

It was a vivid dream of sunny Cannes,

Cannes on the mainland shore just opposite,

Now near and clear, so late invisible,

Saw jutting towards him, ’tween the twin blue bays

Of Napoule and Jouan,—the Point Croisette,

And Jouan and Napoule sweep grandly thence

In graceful curves, all edged with terraces,

While from their feet hung terraces as fair,

Glassed in the perfect calm of azure seas.

Behind all these uprose gray Gothic towers,

And campanilés tall, whose shapely shafts

Reared up their rosy-wrinkled roofs to heaven,

And long-backed houses with the formal line

Of ridge just gently broken here and there

By knots of chimneys and flag-flaunting staves,

Anon a spire or two,—and windmill arms,

That circled slowly over sweet La Grasse,

Amid the bosky olive yards and groves,

Where the pale citron ripens in the sun,

And vines run riot in luxuriant joy.

O’er this (upon the left) the Esterel

He saw soar heavenward, all her crags and peaks

Cut clear and sharply out against the sky,

While on the right, their summits lost in snow,

The snow half merged in mist, towered up to heaven,

With awful brows those Alps called Maritime.


I ’ll venture to be rash,

Creating circumstance, though hazardous,

Wherewith to play my play. Shrewd written words.

Silvern the tablet be,—the stylus steel,

The tablet this bright dish,—my pocket-knife

A stylus to my hand.

And now, to grave my name,—my qualities,

My kingly parentage,—my prison-house,

My living burial, and my inner tomb.

Come!” Thus he cried, and drew the dish to him,

And laid the grapes and vine-leaves on a shelf

That jutted from the wall above his couch,

And, taking up the burnished piece of plate

That bore the crest and impress of St. Mars,

Wrote words upon ’t (as ’t were a tablet made

Just for his purpose) with his knife, the style,

Six lines exact, and then his signature,

All written clear and rapidly,—the point

Smoothly and flowingly defining sense,

In spun-out flourishes of silver thread:

“Here, in this castle of Ste. Marguerite, wastes

His weary life away (close prisoner),

The brother, passing Frenchman! of thy king.

In God’s name help! shall not my people save?

Help! ere I fade and rot, and pass away,

Unchallenged, to oblivion, past the tomb.”

Then pausing for an instant, slowly signed

“Philippe” (the name they gave him in their fraud),

Thereby confounding him with Philippe born

To Louis and to Ann, but after him;

So that if news of prisoned Philippe flew

Forth from the donjon to the world beyond,

The world should wag its head and wink and laugh,

Saying “Prince Philippe hunted yesterday,

Or rode a-hawking with his gentlemen

This very morn.” And then again, “We know

But one Prince Philippe, brother to the king.”


He held the dish before him like a glass,

Which flashed the sun-rays back upon his mask,

And turned to diamond both the piercing eyes,

That beamed like starlight through two gaping rifts,

Then setting it on edge, like one who spins

A coin, or hurls a discus through the air,

Sent it loud-ringing down the stony slope

That floored the loop-hole, through a vista formed

Of upright iron bars, not grazing one!

And now with one gay bound it seaward sprang

Out o’er the window-ledge,—one blaze of light,

And struck, in falling, on a corbel, or

Mayhap some course of masonry that stood

Projected past its fellows,—like the bulk

Of some grim giant’s eyebrow, knit in gloom,

Clashed on ’t like cymbal, and with blaring jar

Of sudden stricken silver, trembling rang

Sweetly sonorous,—leapt again,—and sang

A pæan-song mid-air, which tranced the bees

That thronged the blooming ivy on the wall,

Tranced them,—then died away.


Much wash of waters on the rocky shore,

Faint cries of passing seamen swung mid-air,

Like birds amid a forestry of spars,

And cobwebbed crossings of a corded maze.

These sounds, and those of feet, as swift the “Mask”

Paced the cold flagstones muttering to himself,—

These were what most prevailed. But—hark! again,

What sudden noise is this?

An earnest stranger comes, and loudly knocks

With ruddy knuckles on the postern door,

Jarring the massy oak and ponderous bolts

Which groan and rattle ’neath the lusty fist,

Rousing the guard within.

A burly fisher-youth, and roughly clad,

But yet with golden ear-rings in his ears;

Bare-legged, bare-armed, bare-breasted, and who wore

(Askew) a sailor’s cap, of scarlet wool.

This pulled ’most to his eyes,—whose frolic fire

Lighted the clear bronze-olive of a cheek

The salt breeze netted o’er with crossed red veins.

Two musqueteers conducting him, he came

Into the presence-chamber of St. Mars,

Bearing a silver dish beneath his arm,

Which he hugged closely to his bosom warm,—

His treasure-trove, expectant of reward.