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


The Plague of Elliant

By Ballads of Brittany

  • Translated by Tom Taylor
  • The plague that the ballad commemorates ravaged Brittany in the sixth century. The Book of Llandaff (in Jesus College, Oxford) contains an account of this plague, in an abridgment of the life of Saint Gwenolé, made in the ninth century by Gurdestin, abbot, of the convent. In this account special mention is made of the ravages of the plague in the parish of Elliant, though the country immediately round about it is said to have been preserved from the scourge by the prayers of a saintly hermit named Rasian.

  • ’TWIXT Faoüet and Llangolan

    There lives a bard, a holy man,—

    His name is Father Rasian.

    On Faoüet his hest he laid:

    “Let every month a mass be said,

    And bells be rung, and prayers be read.”

    In Elliant the plague is o’er,

    But not till it had raged full sore:

    It slew seven thousand and fivescore.

    Death unto Elliant hath gone down,

    No living soul is in the town,—

    No living soul but two alone.

    A crone of sixty years is one,

    The other is her only son.

    “The Plague,” quoth she, “is on our door-sill;

    ’T will enter if it be God’s will;

    But till it enter bide we still.”

    Through Elliant’s streets who wills to go,

    Everywhere will find grass to mow,—

    Everywhere, save in two wheel-ruts bare,

    Where the wheels of the dead-cart wont to fare.

    His heart were flint that had not wept,

    Through Elliant’s grass-grown streets who stept,

    To see eighteen carts, each with its load,—

    Eighteen at the graveyard, eighteen on the road.

    Nine children of one house there were

    Whom one dead-cart to the grave did bear;

    Their mother ’twixt the shafts did fare.

    The father, whistling, walked behind,

    With a careless step and a mazy mind.

    The mother shrieked and called on God,

    Crushed, soul and body, beneath her load.

    “God, help me bury my children nine,

    And I vow thee a cord of the wax so fine,—

    “A cord of the wax so long and fine,

    To go thrice round the church and thrice round the shrine.

    “Nine sons I had; I bare them all;

    Now Death has ta’en them, great and small,—

    “Hath ta’en them all from my own door-stone;

    None left, e’en to give me to drink,—not one!”

    The churchyard to the walls brims o’er,

    The church is full to the steps of the door:

    They must bless fields, if they ’d bury more.

    There grows an oak by the churchyard wall,

    From the top bough hangs a white grave pall;—

    The plague hath taken one and all!