Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > France
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X.  1876–79.
 
Mont Valérien
The Chapel of the Hermits
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
 
(Excerpt)

IN Mount Valerien’s chestnut wood
The Chapel of the Hermits stood;
And thither, at the close of day,
Came two old pilgrims, worn and gray.
 
One, whose impetuous youth defied        5
The storms of Baikal’s wintry side,
And mused and dreamed where tropic day
Flamed o’er his lost Virginia’s bay.
 
His simple tale of love and woe
All hearts had melted, high or low;—        10
A blissful pain, a sweet distress,
Immortal in its tenderness.
 
Yet, while above his charméd page
Beat quick the young heart of his age,
He walked amidst the crowd unknown,        15
A sorrowing old man, strange and lone.
*        *        *        *        *
Who sought with him, from summer air,
And field and wood, a balm for care;
And bathed in light of sunset skies
His tortured nerves and weary eyes?        20
 
His fame on all the winds had flown;
His words had shaken crypt and throne;
Like fire, on camp and court and cell
They dropped, and kindled as they fell.
*        *        *        *        *
Forth from the city’s noise and throng,        25
Its pomp and shame, its sin and wrong,
The twain that summer day had strayed
To Mount Valerien’s chestnut shade.
 
To them the green fields and the wood
Lent something of their quietude,        30
And golden-tinted sunset seemed
Prophetical of all they dreamed.
 
The hermits from their simple cares
The bell was calling home to prayers,
And, listening to its sound, the twain        35
Seemed lapped in childhood’s trust again.
 
Wide open stood the chapel door;
A sweet old music, swelling o’er
Low prayerful murmurs, issued thence,—
The Litanies of Providence!        40
 
Then Rousseau spake: “Where two or three
In His name meet, He there will be!”
And then, in silence, on their knees
They sank beneath the chestnut-trees.
 
As to the blind returning light,        45
As daybreak to the Arctic night,
Old faith revived; the doubts of years
Dissolved in reverential tears.
 
That gush of feeling overpast,
“Ah me!” Bernardin sighed at last,        50
“I would thy bitterest foes could see
Thy heart as it is seen of me!
 
“No church of God hast thou denied;
Thou hast but spurned in scorn aside
A base and hollow counterfeit,        55
Profaning the pure name of it!
 
“With dry dead moss and marish weeds
His fire the western herdsman feeds,
And greener from the ashen plain
The sweet spring grasses rise again.”
*        *        *        *        *
        60
So speaking, through the twilight gray
The two old pilgrims went their way.
What seeds of life that day were sown
The heavenly watchers knew alone.
 
Time passed, and Autumn came to fold        65
Green Summer in her brown and gold;
Time passed, and Winter’s tears of snow
Dropped on the grave-mound of Rousseau.
 
“The tree remaineth where it fell,
The pained on earth is pained in hell!”        70
So priestcraft from its altars cursed
The mournful doubts its falsehood nursed.
 
Ah! well of old the Psalmist prayed,
“Thy hand, not man’s, on me be laid!”
Earth frowns below, Heaven weeps above,        75
And man is hate, but God is love!
 
No hermits now the wanderer sees,
Nor chapel with its chestnut-trees;
A morning dream, a tale that ’s told,
The wave of change o’er all has rolled.        80
 
Yet lives the lesson of that day;
And from its twilight cool and gray
Comes up a low, sad whisper, “Make
The truth thine own, for truth’s own sake.”
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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