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

To My Lamp

By Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1869)

Translation of Katharine Hillard

HAIL! sole companion of my lonely toil,

Dear witness once of dearer loves of mine!

My happiness is fled,—thy store of oil

Still with clear light doth shine!

Thou dost recall the bright days of my life,

When in Pompeii’s streets I roamed along,

Evoking memories of her brilliant strife,

Half tearful, half in song.

The sun was finishing his mighty round;

I was alone among a buried host;

And in the dust my idle glances found

The name of some poor ghost.

And there I saw thee, ’neath the ashes piled;

And near thee, almost buried with the rest,

The impress left there by some lovely child,

The outline of a breast.

Perhaps by thy light did the virgin go

To pray within the fane, now desolate,

For happiness that she should never know,—

Love, ne’er to be her fate!

Within the tomb her perished beauty lies:

Youth, maiden modesty, the dawning love

A mother’s tender glance could scarce surprise,

Fled to the heavens above!

She vanished like the lightning’s sudden gleam,

As one wave by another swiftly borne;

Or as the last hope of some wretch’s dream,

When he awakes at morn!

Beauty is not the idol of the best!

I was a fool before her feet to lie,

Forgetting that, a stranger like the rest,

She too must fade and die.

What matter, then, whether she smile or frown?

My soul would seek the worship that is sure!

It needs a god to triumph, be cast down,

And, after all, endure!

Yes, I would tear myself from vain desires,

From all that perishes and is forgot;

And I would seek, to start my altar fires,

A hope that dieth not!

The resting eagle is an eagle still:

Though ’neath his mighty wing he hides his head,

He sees his prey, he strikes it, takes his fill,—

Perchance you thought him dead?

I pity those who thought one ivy-crowned,

Child of the lyre, born but to touch the string,

Would die inglorious,—yield the golden round,

Live like a banished king.

Never shall weariness make me abjure

The gifts once prized, and cherished still the same.

My dreams shall summon back the enchantress pure,

And whisper her dear name.

Her eyes shall watch over my soul at last;

And when, dear lamp, shall come that mournful night,

When weeping friends behold me fading fast,

Thy flame shall burn more bright!

That flame has often filled my wondering thought;

The sacred emblem of our transient breath,

Mysterious power, to man’s dull uses brought,

Sister of life and death!

A breath creates it, at a breath it dies;

It blots in one brief day a city’s name;

Like fate ignored, or held a peerless prize

Like beauty or like fame.

See how it leaps up with a quick desire!

A spirit from on high, to earth no friend;

It takes its flight as human souls aspire,

To seek the unknown end!

All nature slowly to this end is drawn!

’Tis but a sleep, the so-called death of men:

The fly shall have its day, the flower its dawn;

Our clay shall wake again.

Do we the secrets of all nature know?

The sounds of night that on the horizon fail,

The passing cloud that lays the flowers low,

The will-o’-the-wisp of the vale?

Know we the secret of the nesting dove?

The cradle whence the tomb has snatched its prey?

What is the mystery of grief, or love,

Or night that follows day?

Have not the murmuring winds a voice, a mood?

Is not the leaf a book we cannot read?

The stream that brings us harvest or a flood,

Has not it too its screed?

Let us not strive the kindly veils to raise

Till all that we should see, life’s end shall show:

Better know naught than into mysteries gaze!

Better believe than know!

Farewell, my lamp! Blessings upon thy flame!

While I believe and hope, watch thou o’er me!

If ever prideful doubt my soul should claim,

May I go out with thee!