Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SAN LUIS REY DE FRANCIA, by AMELIA WOODWARD TRUESDELL

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SAN LUIS REY DE FRANCIA, by            
First Line: Wide these margarita mountains open canons wild and / deep
Last Line: " 'tis the spirits doomed to penance—look not on their curséd forms."
Subject(s): Courts & Courtiers; Desolation; Missions & Missionaries

Wide these Margarita Mountains open cañons wild and deep,
Leading to San Luis Valley, then to eastward boldly sweep;

Low they crouch that o'er their shoulders Santa Rosa's head may rise,
Reaching toward one dream-like vision of the sea-reflected skies;

Circling arms they interlace, till to San Luis' hills they reach;
These to westward, boldly stretching, hide the gleam of shell-bright beach.

Down the cañon runs the river—Luis called for kingly saint—
Winter current bold and rapid, summer stream with languor faint;

Ere its bent course meets the ocean, to a vale the hills expand—
Lonely mountain-circled valley, once the padres' pleasant land.

Here they built a stately structure on a southward sloping hill—
Castle with its guns commanding all the valley, wide and still;

Once "most splendid of the Missions," as the chronicler relates;
Now Destruction keeps each portal—Death e'en at the altar waits.

Once "most splendid of the Missions," and to-day its roods appear
In their utter desolation, than the Sodom plains more drear.

'Neath the roof of flaming frescoes to the wall a pulpit clings
And a canopy above it, like a bat with outspread wings.

In a chancel grandly lighted by a stately lifted dome,
Three great altars' tarnished splendor tells e'en yet the hand of Rome.

Now appears of former wealth but one old silver crucifix,
And at masses burn the tapers in quaint silver candlesticks.

Worship rarely wakes the echoes, burial service yet is said,
Marriage, baptism, and the masses for the rest of faithful dead.

Then through high round arches springing from the frescoed columns nigh,
Weird old music throbs in anthems from the gall'ry old and high;

Indian voices and old viols—cadences which haunt the brain—
Drear as wail of ghosts returned, their own death-mass to chant again;

And the Dominus Vobiscum and responses dismal sung,
Meeting o'er the low-bent kneelers, hang like pall above them flung;

Till the prayer, the Dies Irœ, in the ferial monotone,
Sobs like backward drifting sigh of those who waited Christ's last moan.

But the curling incense rises with as subtle grace of line,
As e'er marked its spiral circles round La Sainte Chapelle's fair shrine.

Borne upon the chant's intoning, drifts it through the doorway wide,
Falling soft as benediction on the sleepers side by side.

In the corridors adjoining, paced the priests at eventide,
Looking o'er the broken valley and their garden reaching wide;

Garden once of toilsome labors, miles of wall and arched gateway,
Tiled steps to a lake descending—lake deep-fringed with willow spray,

Now a marsh where shrieking wild fowl come storm-driven from the sea;
Stalk the cranes 'mong cacti hedges—desolation's revelry.

One tall palm in tropic splendor—blessed where wrath on all is poured—
Lingers, as last guest departing from a banquet's ravished board.

Unloved seems this lonely valley, wind-swept from the ocean near;
Rank weeds claim its sweeping acres—e'en its homes look dark and drear;

And the Pilgrims heard a legend which o'ercast the sacred place,
As might doubt of final mercy dim the light of saint-like face.

For 'tis said that godless aliens, on a midnight storm-hid quest,
Tore its paves for use unhallowed and its bricks for walls unblessed.

E'en from out the tabernacle, holy things in haste were borne;
Stood accursed the sacrilegious—scathed as trees by lightning torn.

And thereafter when black storm-clouds caught the stars from watching eyes,
O'er the garden's fringéd lakelet, noisome vapors would arise,

Rise and shape to human figures, draped in penitential serge;
On their knees in dread procession, wrought they to the blast's wild dirge.

Semblance bright of silver vessels, some bore with atoning hand,
While weird light from cross and chalice lit the dark tile-laden band.

Up the garden's paved steps toiling—gate and walls no hindrance gave—
Resting not for rugged hill-side, till through desecrated nave

Passed they, laying on the altar what each thence had seized before,
While strove some, with bootless labors, walls and pavements to restore.

Rang their shrieks from castigations, self-imposed before the fane,
Through the dim church dome and arches, mingling with the wind's refrain.

And e'en yet the Indians whisper when lights gleam through blinding storms,
" 'Tis the spirits doomed to penance—look not on their curséd forms."

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