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Copyright: © 1998 - 2016 John Gardner

A Walking Guide to the Massif de la Chartreuse

Lines from Wordsworth's "Descriptive Sketches" (1793)

These lines are from a poem written by William Wordsworth which describes an European walking tour taken in 1790. The despondent tone reflects Wordsworth's reaction to the sacking of the monastery by revolutionary soldiers in the following year. He describes his feelings being torn between his support for the revolution, and his dismay at the sacking of the monastery more fully in lines 414 to 488 of Book Six of the Prelude.

Ev'n now I sigh at hoary Chartreuse' doom1
Weeping beneath his chill of mountain gloom.
Where now is fled that Power whose frown severe
Tam'd "sober Reason" till she crouch'd in fear?
That breath'd a death-like peace these woods around
Broke only by th' unvaried torrent's sound,
Or prayer-bell by the dull cicada drown'd.
The cloister startles at the gleam of arms,
And Blasphemy the shuddering fane alarms;
Nod the cloud-piercing pines their troubl'd heads,
Spires, rocks, and lawns, a browner night o'erspreads.
Strong terror checks the female peasant's sighs,
And start th' astonish'd shades at female eyes.
The thundering tube2 the aged angler hears,
And swells the groaning torrent with his tears.
From Bruno's3 forest screams the frighted jay,
And slow th' insulted eagle wheels away.
The cross4 with hideous laughter Demons mock,
By angels planted on the aereal rock
The "parting Genius"5 sighs with hollow breath
Along the mystic streams of Life and Death6.
Swelling the outcry dull, that long resounds
Portentous, thro' her old woods' trackless bounds,
Deepening her echoing torrents' awful peal
And bidding paler shades her form conceal,
Vallombre7, mid her falling fanes8, deplores,
For ever broke, the sabbath of her bow'rs.

Notes:

1. The "doom" alludes to the sacking of the monastery by revolutionary soldiers in 1791.
2. The phrase "thundering tube" refers to the muskets of the soldiers.
3. St. Bruno founded the monastery (and the Carthusian order) in 1084
4. The Grand Som summit cross.
5. This is a reference to the pagan deities, and is quoted from Milton's Hymn on Christ's Nativity:
From haunted spring, and dale
Edged with popular pale,
The parting genius is with sighing sent;
6. This phrase refers to the Guiers Vif and the Guiers Mort rivers.
7. Valombré is the valley leading from the Guier Mort gorge towards Charmant Som
8. "fanes" - poetical word for temples.