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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Blind Girl of Castèl-Cuillè
By Jacques Jasmin (1798–1864)
 
  
Translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  
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.

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