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.
 
Calais
Calais
Lydia Huntley Sigourney (1791–1865)
 
Queen Philippa

EDWARD was fired with wrath.
                        “Bring forth,” he said,
“The hostages, and let their death instruct
This contumacious city.”
                    Forth they came,
The rope about their necks, those patriot men,
Who nobly chose an ignominious doom        5
To save their country’s blood. Famine and toil
And the long siege had worn them to the bone;
Yet from their eye spoke that heroic soul
Which scorns the body’s ill. Father and son
Stood side by side, and youthful forms were there,        10
By kindred linked, for whom the sky of life
Was bright with love. Yet no repining sigh
Darkened their hour of fate. Well had they taxed
The midnight thought, and nerved the wearied arm,
While months and seasons thinned their wasting ranks.        15
The harvest failed, the joy of vintage ceased;—
Vine-dresser and grape-gatherer manned the walls,
And when they sank with hunger, others came,
Of cheek more pale, perchance, but strong at heart.
Yet still those spectres poured their arrow-flight,        20
Or hurled the deadly stone, while at the gates
The conqueror of Cressy sued in vain.
“Lead them to die!” he bade.
                            In nobler hearts
There was a throb of pity for the foe
So fallen and so unblenching; yet none dared        25
Meet that fierce temper with the word, Forgive!
 
Who comes with hasty step, and flowing robe,
And hair so slightly bound? The Queen! the Queen!
An earnest pity on her lifted brow,
Tears in her azure eye, like drops of light.        30
What seeks she with such fervid eloquence?
Life for the lost! And ever as she fears
Her suit in vain, more wildly heaves her breast,
In secrecy of prayer, to save her lord
From cruelty so dire, and from the pangs        35
Of late remorse. At first, the strong resolve
Curled on his lip, and raised his haughty head,
While every firm-set muscle prouder swelled
To iron rigor. Then his flashing eye
Rested upon her, till its softened glance        40
Confessed contagion from her tenderness,
As with a manly and chivalrous grace
The boon he gave.
                    O woman! ever seek
A victory like this; with heavenly warmth
Still melt the icy purpose, still preserve        45
From error’s path the heart that thou dost fold
Close in thine own pure love. Yes, ever be
The advocate of mercy, and the friend
Of those whom all forsake; so may thy prayer
In thine adversity be heard of Him,        50
Who multiplies to pardon.
                            Still we thought
Of thee, Philippa, and thy fervent tone
Of intercession, and the cry of joy,
Which was its echo from the breaking heart,
In many a mournful home. Of thee we thought,        55
With blessings on thy goodness, as we came
All chill and dripping from the salt sea wave,
Within the gates of Calais, soon to wend
Our onward course.
                    The vales of France were green,
As if the soul of summer lingered there,        60
Yet the crisp vine-leaf told an autumn tale,
While the brown windmills spread their flying arms
To every fickle breeze. The singing-girl
Awoke her light guitar, and featly danced
To her own madrigals; but the low hut        65
Of the poor peasant seemed all comfortless,
And his harsh-featured wife, made swarth by toils
Unfeminine, with no domestic smile
Cheered her sad children, plunging their dark feet
Deep in the miry soil.
                    At intervals
        70
Widely disjoined, where clustering roofs arose,
The cry of shrill mendicity was up,
And at each window of our vehicle,
Hand, hat, and basket thrust, and the wild eye
Of clamorous children, eager for a coin,        75
Assailed our every pause. At first, the pang
Of pity moved us, and we vainly wished
For wealth to fill each meagre hand with gold;
But, oft besought, suspicion steeled the heart,
And ’neath the guise of poverty we deemed        80
Vice or deception lurked. So on we passed,
Save when an alms some white-haired form implored,
Bowed down with age, or some pale, pining babe,
Froze into silence by its misery,
Clung to the sickly mother. On we passed,        85
In homely diligence, like cumbrous house,
Tripartite and well peopled, its lean steeds
Rope-harnessed and grotesque, while the full moon
Silvered our weary caravan, that wrought
Unresting, night and day, until the towers        90
Of fair St. Denis, where the garnered dust
Of many a race of Gallic monarchs sleeps,
Gleamed through the misty morning, and we gained
The gates of Paris.
 
 
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