Poems and Prose Remains, Vol II

Mari Magno

Tales on Board

My Tale

A la Banquette, or a Modern Pilgrimage.

Arthur Hugh Clough

I STAYED at La Quenille, ten miles or more
From the old-Roman sources of Mont Dore;
Travellers to Tulle this way are forced to go,
—An old high-road from Lyons to Bordeaux,—
From Tulle to Brives the swift Corrèze descends,
At Brives you’ve railway, and your trouble ends;
A little bourg La Quenille; from the height
The mountains of Auvergne are all in sight;
Green pastoral heights that once in lava flowed,
Of primal fire the product and abode;
And all the plateaux and the lines that trace
Where in deep dells the waters find their place;
Far to the south above the lofty plain,
The Plomb du Cantal lifts his towering train.
    A little after one, with little fail,
Down drove the diligence that bears the mail;
The courier therefore called, in whose banquette
A place I got, and thankful was to get;
The new postillion climbed his seat, allez,
Off broke the four cart-horses on their way.
Westward we roll, o’er heathy backs of hills,
Crossing the future rivers in the rills;
Bare table-lands are these, and sparsely sown,
Turning their waters south to the Dordogne.
    Close-packed we were, and little at our ease.
The conducteur impatient with the squeeze;
Not tall he seemed, but bulky round about,
His cap and jacket made him look more stout;
In grande tenue he rode of conducteur;
Black eyes he had, black his moustaches were,
Shaven his chin, his hair and whiskers cropt;
A ready man; at Ussel when we stopt,
For me and for himself, bread, meat, and wine,
He got, the courier did not wait to dine;
To appease our hunger, and allay our drouth,
We ate and took the bottle at the mouth;
One draught I had, the rest entire had he,
For wine his body had capacity.
    A peasant in his country blouse was there,
He told me of the conseil and the maire.
Their maire, he said, could neither write nor read,
And yet could keep the registers, indeed;
The conseil had resigned—I know not what.—
Good actions here are easily forgot:
He in the quarante-huit had something done,
Were things but fair, some notice should have won.
    Another youth there was, a soldier he,
A soldier ceasing with to-day to be;
Three years had served, for three had bought release:
From war returning to the arts of peace,
To Tulle he went, as his department’s town,
To-morrow morn to pay his money down.
    In Italy, his second year begun,
This youth had served, when Italy was won.
He told of Montebello, and the fight,
That ended fiercely with the close of night.
There was he wounded, fell, and thought to die,
Two Austrian cones had passed into his thigh;
One traversed it, the other, left behind,
In hospital the doctor had to find:
At eight of night he fell, and sadly lay
Till three of morning of the following day,
When peasants came and put him on a wain,
And drove him to Voghera in his pain;
To Alessandria thence the railway bore,
In Alessandria then two months and more
He lay in hospital; to lop the limb
The Italian doctor who attended him
Was much disposed, but high above the knee;
For life an utter cripple he would be.
Then came the typhoid fever, and the lack
Of food. And sick and hungering, on his back,
With French, Italians, Austrians as he lay,
Arrived the tidings of Magenta’s day,
And Milan entered in the burning June,
And Solferino’s issue following soon.
Alas, the glorious wars! and shortly he
To Genoa for the advantage of the sea,
And to Savona, suffering still, was sent
And joined his now returning regiment.
Good were the Austrian soldiers, but the feel
They did not well encounter of cold steel,
Nor in the bayonet fence of man with man
Maintained their ground, but yielded, turned and ran.
Les armes blanches and the rifled gun
Had fought the battles, and the victories won.
The glorious wars! but he, the doubtful chance
Of soldiers’ glory quitting and advance,—
His wounded limb less injured than he feared,—
Was dealing now in timber, it appeared;
Oak-timber finding for some mines of lead,
Worked by an English company, he said.
This youth perhaps was twenty-three years old;
Simply and well his history he told.
    They wished to hear about myself as well;
I told them, but it was not much to tell;
At the Mont Dore, of which the guide-book talks,
I’d taken, not the waters, but the walks.
Friends I had met, who on their southward way
Had gone before, I followed them to-day.
    They wondered greatly at this wondrous thing,—
Les Anglais are for ever on the wing,—
The conducteur said everybody knew
We were descended of the Wandering Jew.
And on with the declining sun we rolled,
And woods and vales and fuller streams behold.
    About the hour when peasant people sup,
We dropped the peasant, took a curé up,
In hat and bands and soutane all to fit.
He next the conducteur was put to sit;
I in the comer gained the senior place.
Brown was his hair, but closely shaved his face;
To lift his eyelids did he think it sin?
I saw a pair of soft brown eyes within.
Older he was, but looked like twenty-two,
Fresh from the cases, to the country new.
    I, the conducteur watching from my side,
A roguish twinkle in his eye espied;
He begged to hear about the pretty pair
Whom he supposed he had been marrying there;
The deed, he hoped, was comfortably done,—
Monsieur l’Évêque he called him in his fun.
Then lifted soon his voice for all to hear;
A barytone he had both strong and clear:
In fragments first of music made essay,
And tried his pipes and modest felt his way.
Le verre en main la mort nous trouvera,
It was, or Ah, vous dirai-je, maman!
And then, A toi, ma belle, à toi toujours;
Till of his organ’s quality secure,
Trifling no more, but boldly, like a man,
He filled his chest and gallantly began.

‘THOUGH I have seemed, against my wiser will,
Your victim, O ye tender foibles, still,
Once now for all, though half my heart be yours,
Adieu, sweet faults, adieu, ye gay amours!
Sad if it be, yet true it is to say,
I’ve fifty years, and ’tis too late a day,
My limbs are shrinking and my hair turns grey;
Adieu, gay loves, it is too late a day!
    ‘Once in your school (what good, alas! is once?)
I took my lessons, and was not the dunce.
Oh, what a pretty girl was then Juliette!
Don’t you suppose that I remember yet,
Though thirty years divide me from the day,
When she and I first looked each other’s way?
But now! midwinter to be matched with May!
Adieu, gay loves, it is too late a day!
    ‘You lovely Marguerite! I shut my eyes,
And do my very utmost to be wise;
Yet see you still; and hear, though closed my ears,
And think I’m young in spite of all my years;
Shall I forget you if I go away?
To leave is painful, but absurd to stay;
I’ve fifty dreadful reasons to obey.
Adieu, gay loves, it is too late a day!’

    This priest beside the lusty conducteur
Under his beaver sat and looked demure;
Faintly he smiled the company to please,
And folded held his hands above his knees.
Then, apropos of nothing, had we heard,
He asked, about a thing that had occurred
At the Mont Dore a little time ago,
A wondrous cure? and when we answered, No,
About a little girl he told a tale,
Who, when her medicines were of no avail,
Was by the doctor ordered to Mont Dore,
But nothing gained and only suffered more.
This little child had in her simple way
Unto the Blessed Virgin learnt to pray,
And, as it happened, to an image there
By the roadside one day she made her prayer,
And of our Lady, who can hear on high,
Begged for her parents’ sake she might not die.
Our Lady of Grace, whose attribute is love,
Beheld this child and listened from above.
Her parents noticed from that very day
The malady began to pass away,
And but a fortnight after, as they tell,
They took her home rejoicing, sound and well.
Things come, he said, to show us every hour
We are surrounded by superior power.
Little we notice, but if once we see,
The seed of faith will grow into a tree.
The conducteur, he wisely shook his head:
Strange things do happen in our time, he said;
If the bon Dieu but please, no doubt indeed,
When things are desperate, yet they will succeed.
Ask the postillion here, and he can tell
Who cured his horse, and what of it befell.
    Then the postillion, in his smock of blue,
His pipe into his mouth’s far corner drew,
And told about a farrier and a horse;
But his Auvergnat grew from bad to worse;
His rank Arvernian patois was so strong,
With what he said I could not go along;
And what befell and how it came to pass,
And if it were a horse or if an ass,
The sequence of his phrase I could not keep,
And in the middle fairly sank to sleep.
When I awoke, I heard a stream below
And on each bank saw houses in a row,
Corrèze the stream, the houses Tulle, they said;
Alighted here and thankful went to bed.


    ‘But how,’ said one, ‘about the Pyrenees?
In Hamlet give us Hamlet, if you please;
Your friend declares you said you met with there
A peasant beauty, beauteous past compare,
Who fed her cows the mountain peaks between,
And asked if at Velletri you had been.
And was Velletri larger than was Rome?
Her soldier-brother went away from home,
Two years ago,—to Rome it was he went,
And to Velletri was this summer sent;
He twenty-three, and she was sweet seventeen,
And fed her cows the mountain peaks between.
Lightly along a rocky path she led,
And from a grange she brought you milk and bread.
In summer here she lived, and with the snow
Went in October to the fields below;
And where you lived, she asked, and oh, they say,
That with the English we shall fight some day;
Loveliest of peasant girls that e’er was seen,
Feeding her cows the mountain peaks between.’
‘’Tis true,’ I said, ‘though to betray was mean.
My Pyrenean verses will you hear,
Though not about that peasant girl, I fear.’
Begin,’ they said, ‘ the sweet bucolic song,
Though it to other maids and other cows belong.’


Currente calamo.

QUICK, painter, quick, the moment seize
Amid the snowy Pyrenees;
More evanescent than the snow,
The pictures come, are seen, and go
Quick, quick, currente calamo.
    I do not ask the tints that fill
The gate of day ’twixt hill and hill;
I ask not for the hues that fleet
Above the distant peaks; my feet
Are on a poplar-bordered road,
Where with a saddle and a load
A donkey, old and ashen-grey,
Reluctant works his dusty way.
Before him, still with might and main
Pulling his rope, the rustic rein,
A girl: before both him and me,
Frequent she turns and lets me see,
Unconscious, lets me scan and trace
The sunny darkness of her face
And outlines full of southern grace.
    Following I notice, yet and yet,
Her olive skin, dark eyes deep set,
And black, and blacker e’en than jet,
The escaping hair that scantly showed,
Since o’er it in the country mode,
For winter warmth and summer shade,
The lap of scarlet cloth is laid.
And then, back-falling from the head,
A crimson kerchief overspread
Her jacket blue; thence passing down,
A skirt of darkest yellow-brown,
Coarse stuff, allowing to the view.
The smooth limb to the woollen shoe.
    But who—here’s some one following too,—
A priest, and reading at his book!
Read on, O priest, and do not look;
Consider,—she is but a child,—
Yet might your fancy be beguiled.
Read on, O priest, and pass and go!
But see, succeeding in a row,
Two, three, and four, a motley train,
Musicians wandering back to Spain;
With fiddle and with tambourine,
A man with women following seen.
What dresses, ribbon-ends, and flowers!
And,—sight to wonder at for hours,—
The man,—to Phillip has he sat?—
With butterfly-like velvet hat;
One dame his big bassoon conveys,
On one his gentle arm he lays;
They stop, and look, and something say,
And to ‘España’ ask the way.
    But while I speak, and point them on;
Alas! my dearer friends are gone,
The dark-eyed maiden and the ass
Have had the time the bridge to pass.
Vainly, beyond it far descried,
Adieu, and peace with you abide,
Grey donkey, and your beauteous guide.
The pictures come, the pictures go,
Quick, quick, currente calamo.


    They praised the rhymes, but still would persevere
The eclogue of the mountain peaks to hear,
Eclogue that never was; and then awhile,
Of France, and Frenchmen, and our native isle,
They talked; pre-insular above the rest,
My friend his ardent politics expressed;
France was behind us all, he saw in France
Worse retrogression, and the least advance.
Her revolutions had but thrown her back,
Powerful just now, but wholly off the track;
They in religion were, as I had seen,
About where we in Chaucer’s time had been;
In Chaucer’s time, and yet their Wickliffe where?
Something they’d kept—the worst part—of Voltaire.
    Strong for Old England, was New England too;
The clergyman was neutral in his view,
And I, for France with more than I could do,
Though sound, my thesis did not long maintain.
The contemplation of the nightly main,
The vaulted heavens above, and under these,
The black ship working through the dusky seas,
Deserting, to our narrow berths we crept;
Sound slumbered there, the watch while others kept.
    The second officer, who kept the watch,
A young man, fair of feature, partly Scotch
And partly Irish in his voice and way,
Joined us the evening of the following day,
And of our stories when he heard us tell,
Offered to give a narrative as well.

The Mate’s Story

Poems and Prose Remains vol II - Contents

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