A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Peasant Girl of the Rhone" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 97-102.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 97] 

THE PEASANT GIRL OF THE RHONE.


There is but one place in the world:
–Thither where he lies buried!
       *        *        *        *        *        *        *
There, there is all that still remains of him,
That single spot is the whole earth to me.
                                            COLERIDGE's Wallenstein.

Alas! our young affections run to waste,
Or water but the desert.
                                            Childe Harold.


THERE went a warrior's funeral thro' the night,
A waving of tall plumes, a ruddy light
Of torches, fitfully and wildly thrown
From the high woods, along the sweeping Rhone,
Far down the waters. Heavily and dead,
Under the moaning trees, the horse-hoof's tread

[Page 98] 

In muffled sounds upon the greensward fell,
As chieftains pass'd; and solemnly the swell
Of the deep requiem, o'er the gleaming river
Borne with the gale, and with the leaves' low shiver
Floated and died. Proud mourners there, yet pale,
  Wore man's mute anguish sternly;–but of one,
Oh! who shall speak? What words his brow unveil?
  A father following to the grave his son!
That is no grief to picture! Sad and slow,
  Thro' the wood-shadows, moved the knightly train,
With youth's fair form upon the bier laid low,
  Fair even when found, amidst the bloody slain,
Stretch'd by its broken lance. They reached the lone
  Baronial chapel, where the forest gloom
Fell heaviest, for the massy boughs had grown
  Into thick archways, as to vault the tomb.
Stately they trod the hollow ringing aisle,
A strange deep echo shuddered thro' the pile,
Till crested heads at last, in silence bent
Round the De Coucis' antique monument,

[Page 99] 

When dust to dust was given:–and Aymer slept
  Beneath the drooping banners of his line,
Whose broider'd folds the Syrian wind had swept
  Proudly and oft o'er fields of Palestine:
So the sad rite was clos'd. The sculptor gave
Trophies, ere long, to deck that lordly grave,
And the pale image of a youth, arrayed
As warriors are for fight, but calmly laid
  In slumber on his shield.–Then all was done,
All still around the dead.–His name was heard
Perchance when wine-cups flow'd, and hearts were stirr'd
  By some old song, or tale of battle won,
Told round the hearth: but in his father's breast
Manhood's high passions woke again, and press'd
On to their mark; and in his friend's clear eye
There dwelt no shadow of a dream gone by;
And with the brethren of his fields, the feast
Was gay as when the voice whose sounds had ceas'd

[Page 100] 

Mingled with theirs.–Ev'n thus life's rushing tide
Bears back affection from the grave's dark side:
Alas! to think of this!–the heart's void place
  Fill'd up so soon!–so like a summer-cloud,
All that we lov'd to pass and leave no trace!–
  He lay forgotten in his early shroud.
Forgotten?–not of all!–the sunny smile
Glancing in play o'er that proud lip erewhile,
And the dark locks whose breezy waving threw
A gladness round, whene'er their shade withdrew
From the bright brow; and all the sweetness lying
  Within that eagle-eye's jet radiance deep,
And all the music with that young voice dying,
  Whose joyous echoes made the quick heart leap
As at a hunter's bugle:–these things lived
Still in one breast, whose silent love survived
The pomps of kindred sorrow.–Day by day,
On Aymer's tomb fresh flowers in garlands lay,
Thro' the dim fane soft summer-odours breathing,
And all the pale sepulchral trophies wreathing,

[Page 101] 

And with a flush of deeper brilliance glowing
In the rich light, like molten rubies flowing
Thro' storied windows down. The violet there
Might speak of love–a secret love and lowly,
And the rose image all things fleet and fair,
And the faint passion-flower, the sad and holy,
Tell of diviner hopes. But whose light hand,
As for an altar, wove the radiant band?
Whose gentle nurture brought, from hidden dells.
That gem-like wealth of blossoms and sweet bells,
To blush through every season?–Blight and chill
Might touch the changing woods, but duly still.
For years, those gorgeous coronals renewed,
  And brightly clasping marble spear and helm,
Even thro' mid-winter, filled the solitude
  With a strange smile, a glow of summer's realm.
–Surely some fond and fervent heart was pouring
Its youth's vain worship on the dust, adoring
In lone devotedness!

[Page 102] 

                          One spring-morn rose,
  And found, within that tomb's proud shadow laid–
Oh! not as midst the vineyards, to repose
  From the fierce noon–a dark-hair'd peasant maid:
Who could reveal her story?–That still face
  Had once been fair; for on the clear arch'd brow,
And the curv'd lip, there lingered yet such grace
  As sculpture gives its dreams; and long and low
The deep black lashes, o'er the half-shut eye–
For death was on its lids–fell mournfully.
But the cold cheek was sunk, the raven hair
Dimm'd, the slight form all wasted, as by care.
Whence came that early blight? Her kindred's place
Was not amidst the high De Couci race;
Yet there her shrine had been!–She grasp'd a wreath–
The tomb's last garland!–This was love in death.

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom