Home  »  library  »  poem  »  The Aliscamp

C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Aliscamp

By Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914)

From ‘Nerto,’ in the Atlantic Monthly: Translation of Harriet Waters Preston

FAR below Arles in those old days

Spread that miraculous burial-place,

The Aliscamp of history,

With legend fraught, and mystery,

All full of tombs and chapels thrust,

And hilly with heaps of human dust.

This is the legend ever told:—

When good St. Trophimus of old

The ground would consecrate, not one

Of all the congregation

Of fathers met, so meek they were,

Dared sprinkle the holy water there.

Then, ringed about with cloud and flame

Of angels, out of heaven came

Our Lord himself to bless the spot,

And left—if the tale erreth not—

The impress of his bended knee

Rock-graven. Howso this may be,

Full oft a swarm of angels white

Bends hither, on a tranquil night,

Singing celestial harmonies.

Wherefore the spot so holy is,

No man would slumber otherwhere;

But hither kings and priests repair,

And here earth’s poor; and every one

Hath here his deep-wrought funeral stone

Or pinch of dust from Palestine:

The powers of hell in vain combine

’Gainst happy folk in slumber found

Under the cross, in that old ground.

And all along the river clear,

With silver laid upon the bier

For burial fees, men launched and sped

Upon the wave their kinsfolk dead

Who longed in Aliscamp to lie;

Then, as the coffins floated by,

Balancing on the waters bright,

All sailors turned them at the sight,

And helped the little skiffs ashore,

And signed the cross the sleepers o’er,

And kneeling under the willow-trees,

Piously prayed for their souls’ peace.