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At Vaucluse poem – Alfred Austin


By Avignon’s dismantled walls,

Where cloudless mid-March sunshine falls,

Rhone, through broad belts of green,

Flecked with the light of almond groves,

Upon itself reverting, roves

Reluctant from the scene.

Yet from stern moat and storied tower,

From sprouting vine, from spreading flower,

My footsteps cannot choose

But turn aside, as though some friend

Were waiting for my voice, and wend

Unto thy vale, Vaucluse!

For here, by Sorgue’s sequestered stream,

Did Petrarch fly from fame, and dream

Life’s noonday light away;

Here build himself a studious home,

And, careless of the crowns of Rome,

To Laura lend his lay:

Teaching vain tongues that would reward

With noisy praise the shrinking bard,

Reminding thus the proud,

Love’s sympathy, to him that sings,

Is more than smiles of courts and kings,

Or plaudits of the crowd.

For poor though love that doth not rouse

To deeds of glory dreaming brows,

What but a bitter sweet

Is loftiest fame, unless it lay

The soldier’s sword, the poet’s bay,

Low at some loved one’s feet?

Where are his books? His garden, where?

I mount from flowery stair to stair,

While fancy fondly feigns

Here rose his learned lintel, here

He pondered, till the text grew clear,

Of long-forgotten strains.

On trackless slopes and brambled mounds

The laurel still so thick abounds,

That Nature’s self, one deems,

Regretful of his vanished halls,

Still plants the tree whose name recalls

The lady of his dreams.

Aught more than this I cannot trace.

There is no footstep, form, nor face

To vivify the scene;

Save where, but culled to fling away,

Posies of withering wildflowers say,

“Here children’s feet have been.”

Yet there’s strange softness in the skies:

The violet opens limpid eyes,

The woodbine tendrils start;

Like childhood, winning without guile,

The primrose wears a constant smile,

And captive takes the heart.

All things remind of him, of her.

Stripped are the slopes of beech and fir,

Bare rise the crags above;

But hillside, valley, stream, and plain,

The freshness of his muse retain,

The fragrance of his love.

Why did he hither turn? Why choose

Thy solitary gorge, Vaucluse?

Thy Fountain makes reply,

That, like the muse, its waters well

From source none ne’er can sound, and swell

From springs that run not dry.

Or was it he might drink the air

That Laura breathed in surging prayer

Or duty’s stifled sigh;

Feel on his cheek the self-same gale,

And listen to the same sweet wail

When summer nights are nigh?

May-be. Of Fame he deeply quaffed:

But thirsting for the sweeter draught

Of Love, alas for him!

Though draining glory to the dregs,

He was like one that vainly begs,

And scarcely sips the brim.

Is it then so, that glory ne’er

Its throne with happiness will share,

But, baffling half our aim,

Grief is the forfeit greatness pays,

Lone places grow the greenest bays,

And anguish suckles fame?

Let this to lowlier bards atone,

Whose unknown Laura is their own,

Possessing and possest;

Of whom if sooth they do not sing,

‘Tis that near her they fold their wing,

To drop within her nest.

Adieu, Vaucluse! Swift Sorgue, farewell!

Thy winding waters seem to swell

Louder as I depart;

But evermore, where’er I go,

Thy stream will down my memory flow

And murmur through my heart.


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