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Poem by Bessie Rayner Parkes


The Massacre of Avignon


ROBESPIERRE reigned in the Place de Grève;
And in distant Avignon his word was doom,
When a band of Royalists, piously brave,
Were marched to the edge of their gaping tomb.
As they went on their way they sang,
Tender and full the chorus rang,
          A lheure suprême, Mère chérie,
          Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie!

The maiden young, and the grandsire old,
And the child, whose prayers were shortly told;
And the curé, walking side by side
With the baron, whose name was his only pride;
The noble dame and the serving-maid,
Neither ashamed nor yet afraid,
A wonderful sight they were that day,
Singing still as they went their way,
          A lheure suprême, Mère chérie,
          Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie!

One of their murderers, waiting nigh,
Heard them singing as they went by,
And smiled as he felt the edge of his blade,
At the fulness of music their voices made.
We ll stop that melody soon, said he,
In spite of their calling on Sainte Marie.
But one by one as those voices fell,
The others kept up the chorus well,
          A lheure suprême, Mère chérie,
          Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie!

When all the victims to death had gone,
And the last sweet music was hushed and done,
When the pit was filled, with no stone to mark,
And the murderers turned through the closing dark,
One of them wiped his sharp knife clean,
Strode over the soil where the grave had been,
And hummed as he went, with an absent air,
Some notes just caught by his memory there,
          A lheure suprême, Mère chérie,
          Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie!

And when the thought of that day grew dim,
Those obstinate words still clung to him.
He was a man who said no prayers,
But his lips would fashion them unawares;
They mixed with his dreams, and started up
To check the curses bred in his cup;
They wove him round in a viewless net
Of thoughts he could not, though fain, forget,
As he still repeated, again and again,
The ghostly air and the ancient strain,
          A lheure suprême, Mère chérie,
          Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie!

Thirty years were counted and oer;
The lilies of France bloomed out once more;
The grapes which hung on the vines were rife,
Like the penitent man on the threshold of life;
When the Angel of Death with healing came
For one who in Lyons had borne no name
But Le Frère dAvignon for many a day;
Who living and dying would hourly say
(T was on his lip as he passed away),
          A lheure suprême, Mère chérie,
          Ora pro nobis, Sainte Marie!



Bessie Rayner Parkes

Poem Themes: Cities of France, Avignon

Bessie Rayner Parkes's other poems:
  1. The Old Chateau
  2. Rome
  3. On a Group of Justice and Charity
  4. A Midsummer Nights Dream
  5. The Mersey and the Irwell


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