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

Gaube, the Lake

The Tragedy of the Lac de Gaube in the Pyrenees

By Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)

THE MARRIAGE blessing on their brows,

Across the Channel seas

And lands of gay Garonne, they reach

The pleasant Pyrenees,—

He into boyhood born again,

A son of joy and life;

And she a happy English girl,

A happier English wife.

They loiter not where Argelés,

The chestnut-crested plain,

Unfolds its robe of green and gold

In pasture, grape, and grain;

But on and up, where Nature’s heart

Beats strong amid the hills,

They pause, contented with the wealth

That either bosom fills.

There is a lake, a small round lake,

High on the mountain’s breast,

The child of rains and melted snows,

The torrent’s summer rest,—

A mirror where the veteran rocks

May glass their peaks and scars,

A nether sky where breezes break

The sunlight into stars.

O, gayly shone that little lake,

And Nature, sternly fair,

Put on a sparkling countenance

To greet that merry pair;

How light from stone to stone they leapt,

How trippingly they ran;

To scale the rock and gain the marge

Was all a moment’s span!

“See, dearest, this primeval boat,

So quaint and rough, I deem

Just such an one did Charon ply

Across the Stygian stream:

Step in,—I will your Charon be,

And you a Spirit bold,—

I was a famous rower once

In college days of old.

“The clumsy oar! the laggard boat!

How slow we move along,—

The work is harder than I thought,—

A song, my love, a song!”

Then, standing up, she carolled out

So blithe and sweet a strain

That the long-silent cliffs were glad

To peal it back again.

He, tranced in joy, the oar laid down,

And rose in careless pride,

And swayed in cadence to the song

The boat from side to side:

Then clasping hand in loving hand,

They danced a childish round,

And felt as safe in that mid-lake

As on the firmest ground.

One poise too much!—He headlong fell,—

She, stretching out to save

A feeble arm, was borne adown

Within that glittering grave;—

One moment, and the gush went forth

Of music-mingled laughter,—

The struggling splash and deathly shriek

Were there the instant after.

Her weaker head above the flood,

That quick engulfed the strong,

Like some enchanted water-flower,

Waved pitifully long:—

Long seemed the low and lonely wail

Athwart the tide to fade;

Alas! that there were some to hear,

But never one to aid.

Yet not alas! if Heaven revered

The freshly spoken vow,

And willed that what was then made one

Should not be sundered now,—

If she was spared, by that sharp stroke,

Love’s most unnatural doom,

The future lorn and unconsoled,

The unavoided tomb!

But weep, ye very rocks! for those

Who, on their native shore,

Await the letters of dear news

That shall arrive no more;

One letter from a stranger hand,—

Few words are all the need;

And then the funeral of the heart,

The course of useless speed!

The presence of the cold dead wood,

The single mark and sign

Of her so loved and beautiful,

That handiwork divine!

The weary search for his fine form

That in the depth would linger,

And late success,—O, leave the ring

Upon that faithful finger!

And if in life there lie the seed

Of real enduring being,

If love and truth be not decreed

To perish unforeseeing,

This youth the seal of death has stamped

Now time can wither never,

This hope that sorrow might have damped

Is fresh and strong forever.