Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse

Original Text: 
Fraser's Magazine (London, 1832-82). AP 4 F8 ROBA
2With rain, where thick the crocus blows,
3Past the dark forges long disused,
4The mule-track from Saint Laurent goes.
5The bridge is cross'd, and slow we ride,
6Through forest, up the mountain-side.
7The autumnal evening darkens round,
8The wind is up, and drives the rain;
9While, hark! far down, with strangled sound
11Where that wet smoke, among the woods,
12Over his boiling cauldron broods.
13Swift rush the spectral vapours white
14Past limestone scars with ragged pines,
15Showing--then blotting from our sight!--
16Halt--through the cloud-drift something shines!
17High in the valley, wet and drear,
18The huts of Courrerie appear.
19Strike leftward! cries our guide; and higher
20Mounts up the stony forest-way.
21At last the encircling trees retire;
22Look! through the showery twilight grey
23What pointed roofs are these advance?--
24A palace of the Kings of France?
25Approach, for what we seek is here!
26Alight, and sparely sup, and wait
27For rest in this outbuilding near;
28Then cross the sward and reach that gate.
29Knock; pass the wicket! Thou art come
30To the Carthusians' world-famed home.
31The silent courts, where night and day
32Into their stone-carved basins cold
33The splashing icy fountains play--
34The humid corridors behold!
35Where, ghostlike in the deepening night,
36Cowl'd forms brush by in gleaming white.
37The chapel, where no organ's peal
38Invests the stern and naked prayer--
39With penitential cries they kneel
40And wrestle; rising then, with bare
41And white uplifted faces stand,
43Each takes, and then his visage wan
44Is buried in his cowl once more.
45The cells!--the suffering Son of Man
46Upon the wall--the knee-worn floor--
47And where they sleep, that wooden bed,
48Which shall their coffin be, when dead!
49The library, where tract and tome
50Not to feed priestly pride are there,
51To hymn the conquering march of Rome,
52Nor yet to amuse, as ours are!
53They paint of souls the inner strife,
54Their drops of blood, their death in life.
55The garden, overgrown--yet mild,
56See, fragrant herbs are flowering there!
57Strong children of the Alpine wild
58Whose culture is the brethren's care;
59Of human tasks their only one,
60And cheerful works beneath the sun.
61Those halls, too, destined to contain
62Each its own pilgrim-host of old,
63From England, Germany, or Spain--
64All are before me! I behold
65The House, the Brotherhood austere!
66--And what am I, that I am here?
67For rigorous teachers seized my youth,
68And purged its faith, and trimm'd its fire,
69Show'd me the high, white star of Truth,
70There bade me gaze, and there aspire.
71Even now their whispers pierce the gloom:
72What dost thou in this living tomb?
73Forgive me, masters of the mind!
74At whose behest I long ago
75So much unlearnt, so much resign'd--
76I come not here to be your foe!
77I seek these anchorites, not in ruth,
78To curse and to deny your truth;
79Not as their friend, or child, I speak!
80But as, on some far northern strand,
81Thinking of his own Gods, a Greek
82In pity and mournful awe might stand
84For both were faiths, and both are gone.
85Wandering between two worlds, one dead,
86The other powerless to be born,
87With nowhere yet to rest my head,
88Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.
89Their faith, my tears, the world deride--
90I come to shed them at their side.
91Oh, hide me in your gloom profound,
92Ye solemn seats of holy pain!
93Take me, cowl'd forms, and fence me round,
94Till I possess my soul again;
95Till free my thoughts before me roll,
96Not chafed by hourly false control!
97For the world cries your faith is now
98But a dead time's exploded dream;
100Is a pass'd mode, an outworn theme--
101As if the world had ever had
102A faith, or sciolists been sad!
103Ah, if it be pass'd, take away,
104At least, the restlessness, the pain;
105Be man henceforth no more a prey
106To these out-dated stings again!
107The nobleness of grief is gone
108Ah, leave us not the fret alone!
109But--if you cannot give us ease--
110Last of the race of them who grieve
111Here leave us to die out with these
112Last of the people who believe!
113Silent, while years engrave the brow;
114Silent--the best are silent now.
116The kings of modern thought are dumb,
117Silent they are though not content,
118And wait to see the future come.
119They have the grief men had of yore,
120But they contend and cry no more.
121Our fathers water'd with their tears
122This sea of time whereon we sail,
123Their voices were in all men's ears
124We pass'd within their puissant hail.
125Still the same ocean round us raves,
126But we stand mute, and watch the waves.
127For what avail'd it, all the noise
128And outcry of the former men?--
129Say, have their sons achieved more joys,
130Say, is life lighter now than then?
131The sufferers died, they left their pain--
132The pangs which tortured them remain.
133What helps it now, that Byron bore,
134With haughty scorn which mock'd the smart,
136The pageant of his bleeding heart?
137That thousands counted every groan,
138And Europe made his woe her own?
139What boots it, Shelley! that the breeze
140Carried thy lovely wail away,
141Musical through Italian trees
143Inheritors of thy distress
144Have restless hearts one throb the less?
145Or are we easier, to have read,
147Which tells us how thou hidd'st thy head
148From the fierce tempest of thine age
149In the lone brakes of Fontainebleau,
150Or chalets near the Alpine snow?
151Ye slumber in your silent grave!--
152The world, which for an idle day
153Grace to your mood of sadness gave,
154Long since hath flung her weeds away.
155The eternal trifler breaks your spell;
156But we--we learned your lore too well!
157Years hence, perhaps, may dawn an age,
158More fortunate, alas! than we,
159Which without hardness will be sage,
160And gay without frivolity.
161Sons of the world, oh, speed those years;
162But, while we wait, allow our tears!
163Allow them! We admire with awe
164The exulting thunder of your race;
165You give the universe your law,
166You triumph over time and space!
167Your pride of life, your tireless powers,
168We laud them, but they are not ours.
169We are like children rear'd in shade
170Beneath some old-world abbey wall,
171Forgotten in a forest-glade,
172And secret from the eyes of all.
173Deep, deep the greenwood round them waves,
174Their abbey, and its close of graves!
175But, where the road runs near the stream,
176Oft through the trees they catch a glance
177Of passing troops in the sun's beam--
178Pennon, and plume, and flashing lance!
179Forth to the world those soldiers fare,
180To life, to cities, and to war!
181And through the wood, another way,
182Faint bugle-notes from far are borne,
183Where hunters gather, staghounds bay,
184Round some fair forest-lodge at morn.
185Gay dames are there, in sylvan green;
186Laughter and cries--those notes between!
187The banners flashing through the trees
188Make their blood dance and chain their eyes;
189That bugle-music on the breeze
190Arrests them with a charm'd surprise.
191Banner by turns and bugle woo:
192Ye shy recluses, follow too!
193O children, what do ye reply?--
194"Action and pleasure, will ye roam
195Through these secluded dells to cry
196And call us?--but too late ye come!
197Too late for us your call ye blow,
198Whose bent was taken long ago.
199"Long since we pace this shadow'd nave;
200We watch those yellow tapers shine,
201Emblems of hope over the grave,
202In the high altar's depth divine;
203The organ carries to our ear
204Its accents of another sphere.
205"Fenced early in this cloistral round
206Of reverie, of shade, of prayer,
207How should we grow in other ground?
208How can we flower in foreign air?
209--Pass, banners, pass, and bugles, cease;
210And leave our desert to its peace!"


1] First published in Fraser's Magazine (April 1855). The Grande Chartreuse is the chief monastery of the Carthusians, situated in a wild and almost inaccessible valley, 4,000 feet above the sea, not far from Grenoble in south-eastern France. The Carthusians are submitted to an extremely ascetic discipline. Back to Line
10] The Guier Mort is the stream on which Saint Laurentis situated. Back to Line
42] the Host: the consecrated wafer or bread in the Christian sacrament of the mass or communion, either literally God's body (as in the Roman Catholic Church) or symbolically that (as in the Anglican Church). Back to Line
83] carved with runes, letters of the early Norse alphabet. Back to Line
99] sciolists: pretended scholars who have only superficial knowledge. Back to Line
115] Newman, gently chided by Arnold in the analogy with Achilles, sulking in his tent before Troy and abstaining from combat. There is probably a sardonic reference here to the famous Achilli Trial (1851-53). Newman, in his Corn Exchange Lectures in 1851 (The Present Position of Catholics in England), relied only on the authority of an article by Cardinal Wiseman, savagely to impugn the character and veracity of Dr. Giacinto Achilli, an unfrocked Dominican, who was the hero of the No-Popery forces in England at this time. Newman was sued for libel, adjudged guilty, assigned a token sentence, and fined £100. Back to Line
135] Missolonghi, where Bryon died, is on the Ætolian shore of the Gulf of Corinth. Back to Line
142] Spezzian bay: on the west coast of Italy above Leghorn, where Shelley spent his last days. Back to Line
146] Obermann: the title of a book by the French writer, Senancour (1770-1846); it consists of a collection of letters treating of nature and the human soul, and supposed to be written from Switzerland and Fontainebleau. Arnold says in his note to Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann: "The stir of all the main forces, by which modern life is and has been impelled, lives in the letters of Obermann; the dissolving agencies of the eighteenth century, the fiery storm of the French Revolution, the first faint promise and dawn of that new world which our own time is but now fully bringing to light, --all these are to be felt, almost to be touched there." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
H. Kerpneck
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.238.