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

Père la Chaise

Thoughts at the Grave of Eloisa and Abelard, in Père la Chaise

By Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)


FAIR, saint of passion, placidly reclining,

Thy glowing breast contained in marble death,

While Love’s soft planet on thy brow is shining,

A sister heart to thine would lend its breath.

’T is with a thrill of joy I see beside thee

The form that might not pass the convent grate,

And gather that the happiness denied thee

On earth makes blessed thine immortal state.

Not as Love’s votary do I invoke thee,

Nor as the glorious sibyl of despair;

But as the nun, when deeper voices woke thee

From thy wild fever-dream to toil and prayer.


And here begins to mine thy spirit’s mission:

How fared it with thee, in thy cloister cell?

Did heaven console thee with its dreams elysian,

Or felt thy plundered heart the flames of hell?

When thy first force of agony went from thee,

And left thee stunned and swooning, faint and dull,

How did thy garb of holiness become thee?

Was it ennobling? was it weariful?

The saints who were thy refuge, grew they vengeful,

Or smiled they mournfully on thy retreat?

Hadst thou repose after a fate so changeful?

Did God’s dear love make expiation sweet?

Say, did that soul of temper so elastic,

Like a bent bow, of its own tension break;

Or did the chaos of thy thoughts grow plastic,

And from the hand divine new moulding take?

For it was long,—through many a tedious morrow

Thy wildered mind its task austere pursued,

Scourged on by conscience, driven back by sorrow,

A Queen of Phantoms, ruling solitude.