Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Translations
From the French.
The Blind Girl of Castèl Cuillè
 
        
By Jacques Jasmin
  
        Only the Lowland tongue of Scotland might
Rehearse this little tragedy aright;
Let me attempt it with an English quill;
And take, O Reader, for the deed the will.
  
  On the 30th of September, 1849, Mr. Longfellow wrote in his diary: “I think I shall translate Jasmin’s Blind Girl of Castèl Cuillè,—a beautiful poem, unknown to English ears and hearts, but well deserving to be made known.”

I
    At the foot of the mountain height
    Where is perched Castèl cuillè,
When the apple, the plum, and the almond tree
    In the plain below were growing white,
    This is the song one might perceive        5
On a Wednesday morn of St. Joseph’s Eve:
 
The roads should blossom, the roads should bloom,
So fair a bride shall leave her home!
Should blossom and bloom with garlands gay,
So fair a bride shall pass to-day!        10
 
This old Te Deum, rustic rites attending,
    Seemed from the clouds descending;
    When lo! a merry company
Of rosy village girls, clean as the eye,
    Each one with her attendant swain,        15
Came to the cliff, all singing the same strain;
Resembling there, so near unto the sky,
Rejoicing angels, that kind heaven had sent
For their delight and our encouragement.
        Together blending,        20
        And soon descending
        The narrow sweep
        Of the hillside steep,
        They wind aslant
        Towards Saint Amant,        25
        Through leafy alleys
        Of verdurous valleys
        With merry sallies,
        Singing their chant:
 
The roads should blossom, the roads should bloom,        30
So fair a bride shall leave her home!
Should blossom and bloom with garlands gay,
So fair a bride shall pass to-day!
 
It is Baptiste, and his affianced maiden,
With garlands for the bridal laden!        35
 
The sky was blue; without one cloud of gloom,
  The sun of March was shining brightly,
  And to the air the freshening wind gave lightly
Its breathings of perfume.
 
When one beholds the dusky hedges blossom,        40
  A rustic bridal, ah! how sweet it is!
  To sounds of joyous melodies,
That touch with tenderness the trembling bosom,
    A band of maidens
    Gayly frolicking,        45
    A band of youngsters
    Wildly rollicking!
      Kissing,
      Caressing,
    With fingers pressing,        50
      Till in the veriest
    Madness of mirth, as they dance,
    They retreat and advance,
      Trying whose laugh shall be loudest and merriest;
    While the bride, with roguish eyes,        55
Sporting with them, now escapes and cries:
    “Those who catch me
        Married verily
        This year shall be!”
 
    And all pursue with eager haste,        60
    And all attain what they pursue,
    And touch her pretty apron fresh and new,
    And the linen kirtle round her waist.
 
    Meanwhile, whence comes it that among
    These youthful maidens fresh and fair,        65
    So joyous, with such laughing air,
    Baptiste stands sighing, with silent tongue?
    And yet the bride is fair and young!
Is it Saint Joseph would say to us all,
That love, o’er-hasty, precedeth a fall?        70
    Oh no! for a maiden frail, I trow,
    Never bore so lofty a brow!
What lovers! they give not a single caress!
To see them so careless and cold to-day,
    These are grand people, one would say.        75
What ails Baptiste? what grief doth him oppress?
 
    It is, that, half-way up the hill,
    In you cottage, by whose walls
    Stand the cart-house and the stalls,
    Dwelleth the blind orphan still,        80
    Daughter of a veteran old;
    And you must know, one year ago,
    That Margaret, the young and tender,
    Was the village pride and splendor,
    And Baptiste her lover bold.        85
    Love, the deceiver, them ensnared;
    For them the altar was prepared;
    But alas! the summer’s blight,
    The dread disease that none can stay,
    The pestilence that walks by night,        90
    Took the young bride’s sight away.
 
All at the father’s stern command was changed;
Their peace was gone, but not their love estranged.
Wearied at home, erelong the lover fled;
    Returned but three short days ago,        95
    The golden chain they round him throw,
    He is enticed, and onward led
    To marry Angela, and yet
    Is thinking ever of Margaret.
 
    Then suddenly a maiden cried,        100
    “Anna, Theresa, Mary, Kate!
Here comes the cripple Jane!” And by a fountain’s side
    A woman, bent and gray with years,
    Under the mulberry trees appears,
    And all towards her run, as fleet        105
    As had they wings upon their feet.
 
  It is that Jane, the cripple Jane,
    Is a soothsayer, wary and kind.
She telleth fortunes, and none complain.
    She promises one a village swain,        110
    Another a happy wedding-day,
    And the bride a lovely boy straight-way.
    All comes to pass as she avers;
    She never deceives, she never errs.
 
    But for this once the village seer        115
    Wears a countenance severe,
And from beneath her eyebrows thin and white
    Her two eyes flash like cannons bright
    Aimed at the bridegroom in waistcoat blue,
    Who, like a statue, stands in view;        120
    Changing color, as well he might,
    When the beldame wrinkled and gray
    Takes the young bride by the hand,
    And, with the tip of her reedy wand
    Making the sign of the cross, doth say:—        125
    “Thoughtless Angela, beware!
    Lest, when thou weddest this false bridegroom,
    Thou diggest for thyself a tomb!”
And she was silent; and the maidens fair
Saw from each eye escape a swollen tear;        130
But on a little streamlet silver-clear,
    What are two drops of turbid rain?
    Saddened a moment, the bridal train
    Resumed the dance and song again;
The bridegroom only was pale with fear;—        135
    And down green alleys
    Of verdurous valleys,
    With merry sallies,
    They sang the refrain:—
 
The roads should blossom, the roads should bloom,        140
So fair a bride shall leave her home!
Should blossom and bloom with garlands gay,
So fair a bride shall pass to-day!
 
II
And by suffering worn and weary,
But beautiful as some fair angel yet,        145
Thus lamented Margaret,
In her cottage lone and dreary:—
 
    “He has arrived! arrived at last!
Yet Jane has named him not these three days past;
    Arrived! yet keeps aloof so far!        150
And knows that of my night he is the star!
Knows that long months I wait alone, benighted,
And count the moments since he went away!
Come! keep the promise of that happier day,
That I may keep the faith to thee I plighted!        155
What joy have I without thee? what delight?
Grief wastes my life, and makes it misery;
Day for the others ever, but for me
    Forever night! forever night!
When he is gone ’t is dark! my soul is sad!        160
I suffer! O my God! come, make me glad.
When he is near, no thoughts of day intrude;
Day has blue heavens, but Baptiste has blue eyes!
Within them shines for me a heaven of love,
A heaven all happiness, like that above,        165
    No more of grief! no more of lassitude!
Earth I forget,—and heaven, and all distresses,
When seated by my side my hand he presses;
    But when alone, remember all!
Where is Baptiste? he hears not when I call!        170
A branch of ivy, dying on the ground,
    I need some bough to twine around!
In pity come! be to my suffering kind!
True love, they say, in grief doth more abound!
    What then—when one is blind?        175
 
    “Who knows? perhaps I am forsaken!
Ah! woe is me! then bear me to my grave!
    O God! what thoughts within me waken!
Away! he will return! I do but rave!
    He will return! I need not fear!        180
    He swore it by our Saviour dear;
    He could not come at his own will;
    Is weary, or perhaps is ill!
    Perhaps his heart, in this disguise,
    Prepares for me some sweet surprise!        185
But some one comes! Though blind, my heart can see!
And that deceives me not! ’t is he! ’t is he!”
    And the door ajar is set,
    And poor, confiding Margaret
Rises, with outstretched arms, but sightless eyes;        190
’T is only Paul, her brother, who thus cries:—
    “Angela the bride has passed!
    I saw the wedding guests go by;
    Tell me, my sister, why were we not asked?
    For all are there but you and I!”        195
 
    “Angela married! and not sent
    To tell her secret unto me!
    Oh, speak! who may the bridegroom be?”
    “My sister, ’t is Baptiste, thy friend!”
 
A cry the blind girl gave, but nothing said;        200
A milky whiteness spreads upon her cheeks;
    An icy hand, as heavy as lead,
    Descending, as her brother speaks,
    Upon her heart, that has ceased to beat,
    Suspends awhile its life and heat.        205
She stands beside the boy, now sore distressed,
A wax Madonna as a peasant dressed.
  At length, the bridal song again
  Brings her back to her sorrow and pain.
 
    “Hark! the joyous airs are ringing!        210
    Sister, dost thou hear them singing?
    How merrily they laugh and jest!
    Would we were bidden with the rest!
    I would don my hose of homespun gray,
    And my doublet of linen striped and gay;        215
    Perhaps they will come; for they do not wed
    Till to-morrow at seven o’clock, it is said!”
    “I know it!” answered Margaret;
Whom the vision, with aspect black as jet,
    Mastered again; and its hand of ice        220
Held her heart crushed, as in a vice!
    “Paul, be not sad! ’T is a holiday;
    To-morrow put on thy doublet gay!
    But leave me now for awhile alone.”
    Away, with a hop and a jump, went Paul,        225
    And, as he whistled along the hall,
    Entered Jane, the crippled crone.
 
    “Holy Virgin! what dreadful heat!
    I am faint, and weary, and out of breath!
    But thou art cold,—art chill as death;        230
    My little friend! what ails thee, sweet?”
“Nothing! I heard them singing home the bride;
    And, as I listened to the song,
    I thought my turn would come erelong,
    Thou knowest it is at Whitsuntide.        235
    Thy cards forsooth can never lie,
    To me such joy they prophesy,
    Thy skill shall be vaunted far and wide
    When they behold him at my side.
    And poor Baptiste, what sayest thou?        240
It must seem long to him;—methinks I see him now!”
    Jane, shuddering, her hand doth press:
    “Thy love I cannot all approve;
We must not trust too much to happiness;—
Go, pray to God, that thou mayest love him less!”        245
    “The more I pray, the more I love!
It is no sin, for God is on my side!”
It was enough; and Jane no more replied.
 
Now to all hope her heart is barred and cold;
    But to deceive the beldame old        250
    She takes a sweet, contented air;
    Speak of foul weather or of fair,
    At every word the maiden smiles!
    Thus the beguiler she beguiles;
So that, departing at the evening’s close,        255
    She says, “She may be saved! she nothing knows!”
 
    Poor Jane, the cunning sorceress!
Now that thou wouldst, thou art no prophetess!
This morning, in the fulness of thy heart,
    Thou wast so, far beyond thine art!        260
 
III
Now rings the bell, nine times reverberating,
And the white daybreak, stealing up the sky,
Sees in two cottages two maidens waiting,
How differently!
 
Queen of a day, by flatterers caressed,        265
    The one puts on her cross and crown,
    Decks with a huge bouquet her breast,
    And flaunting, fluttering up and down,
    Looks at herself, and cannot rest.
    The other, blind, within her little room,        270
    Has neither crown nor flower’s perfume;
But in their stead for something gropes apart,
    That in a drawer’s recess doth lie,
And, ’neath her bodice of bright scarlet dye,
    Convulsive clasps it to her heart.        275
 
    The one, fantastic, light as air,
      ’Mid kisses ringing,
      And joyous singing,
    Forgets to say her morning prayer!
 
The other, with cold drops upon her brow,        280
  Joins her two hands, and kneels upon the floor,
And whispers, as her brother opes the door,
      “O God! forgive me now!”
    And then the orphan, young and blind,
    Conducted by her brother’s hand,        285
    Towards the church, through paths unscanned,
    With tranquil air, her way doth wind.
Odors of laurel, making her faint and pale,
    Round her at times exhale,
And in the sky as yet no sunny ray,        290
    But brumal vapors gray.
 
    Near that castle, fair to see,
Crowded with sculptures old, in every part,
    Marvels of nature and of art,
    And proud of its name of high degree,        295
    A little chapel, almost bare
    At the base of the rock, is builded there;
    All glorious that it lifts aloof,
    Above each jealous cottage roof,
Its sacred summit, swept by autumn gales,        300
    And its blackened steeple high in air,
    Round which the osprey screams and sails.
 
    “Paul, lay thy noisy rattle by!”
Thus Margaret said. “Where are we? we ascend!”
“Yes; seest thou not our journey’s end?        305
Hearest not the osprey from the belfry cry?
The hideous bird, that brings ill luck, we know!
Dost thou remember when our father said,
The night we watched beside his bed,
’O daughter, I am weak and low;        310
Take care of Paul; I feel that I am dying!’
And thou, and he, and I, all fell to crying?
Then on the roof the osprey screamed aloud;
And here they brought our father in his shroud.
There is his grave; there stands the cross we set;        315
Why dost thou clasp me so, dear Margaret?
    Come in! the bride will be here soon:
Thou tremblest! O my God! thou art going to swoon!”
 
She could no more,—the blind girl, weak and weary!
A voice seemed crying from that grave so dreary,        320
“What wouldst thou do, my daughter?”—and she started,
    And quick recoiled, aghast, faint-hearted;
But Paul, impatient, urges evermore
    Her steps towards the open door;
And when, beneath her feet, the unhappy maid        325
Crushes the laurel near the house immortal,
And with her head, as Paul talks on again,
    Touches the crown of filigrane
    Suspended from the low-arched portal,
    No more restrained, no more afraid,        330
    She walks, as for a feast arrayed,
And in the ancient chapel’s sombre night
    They both are lost to sight.
 
        At length the bell,
        With booming sound,        335
        Sends forth, resounding round,
Its hymeneal peal o’er rock and down the dell.
  It is broad day, with sunshine and with rain;
    And yet the guests delay not long,
    For soon arrives the bridal train,        340
    And with it brings the village throng.
 
In sooth, deceit maketh no mortal gay,
For lo! Baptiste on this triumphant day,
Mute as an idiot, sad as yester-morning,
Thinks only of the beldame’s words of warning.        345
 
And Angela thinks of her cross, I wis;
To be a bride is all! the pretty lisper
Feels her heart swell to hear all round her whisper,
“How beautiful! how beautiful she is!”
 
    But she must calm that giddy head,        350
    For already the Mass is said;
    At the holy table stands the priest;
The wedding ring is blessed; Baptiste receives it;
  Ere on the finger of the bride he leaves it,
    He must pronounce one word at least!        355
’T is spoken; and sudden at the grooms-man’s side
“’T is he!” a well-known voice has cried.
“And while the wedding guests all hold their breath,
Opes the confessional, and the blind girl, see!
“Baptiste,” she said, “since thou hast wished my death,        360
As holy water be my blood for thee!”
And calmly in the air a knife suspended!
Doubtless her guardian angel near attended,
    For anguish did its work so well,
    That, ere the fatal stroke descended,        365
        Lifeless she fell!
 
    At eve, instead of bridal verse,
    The De Profundis filled the air;
    Decked with flowers a simple hearse
    To the churchyard forth they bear;        370
    Village girls in robes of snow
    Follow, weeping as they go;
    Nowhere was a smile that day,
No, ah no! for each one seemed to say:—
 
The road should mourn and be veiled in gloom,        375
So fair a corpse shall leave its home!
Should mourn and should weep, ah, well-away!
So fair a corpse shall pass to day!
 
 
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