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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 Roman Cities of the Rhone

By Bessie Rayner Parkes (1829–1925)

THE RAIN had ceased, and in the watery west

Enough of daylight lingered to beguile

A traveller’s footsteps from the narrow town

And past the mighty wall, beneath whose shade

The streets have clustered, to the tranquil road

Which leads to Orange from the distant north.

And there, on my amazed and ignorant eyes,

Rose the fair span of a triumphal arch,—

A strange pathetic witness of the chains

Which Cæsar fixed on Gaul, and bound her fast

With network of his causeways, east and west.

I passed beneath it, as the evening fell

Misty and golden-green with southern March;

And looked up at the sculptures undecayed,

And at the vast proportions, square and strong,

In which Rome wrought her masonry. It seemed

A strange, sad exile from that dearest land

Where stand the other three, beneath the crests

Of Capitol and Palatine, and groves

Which crown the churches on the Cœlian Hill.

But Nismes I saw in sunshine, when the light

Flooded the great steps of the Golden House,

And painted it against the tender sky,

As any time within this thousand years

And half as much again. And all the Place

By which the Golden House is girt about,

Was thronged with citizens’ feet, which have not ceased

Their hurrying tread since first that house was built

In honor of a god.
With Arles the same,—

Whose accents yet retain a Roman note,

Whose dark-eyed women smile with Julia’s eyes

And grave Cornelia’s pride; whose people sit

Unto this hour upon their seats of stone,

Spectators of the game;
For far and wide

Within the valley of the rushing Rhone,

Beneath her stony hills, and where the vine

Mates with the olive on the sunburnt slopes,

This mighty Nation of the seven mounts

Planted her eagles; and her legions laid

Their arms together while she built in peace,

And dwelt in peace for centuries.
All the land

Is vocal with her presence; the swift streams

Are spanned by her embrace, and as the Rhone

Bursts from the snow-fed crescent of the lake

Which cradles his young streams, he sweeps his course

Through famous memories, second but to those

Which Tiber bears to Ostia, where the waves

Of yellow water whisper to the sea

The latest word from Rome.