E W Bowling Poems >>
Turgidus Alpinus

My miserable countrymen, whose wont is once a-year
  To lounge in watering-places, disagreeable and dear;
  Who on pigmy Cambrian mountains, and in Scotch or Irish bogs
  Imbibe incessant whisky, and inhale incessant fogs:
  Ye know not with what transports the mad Alpine Clubman gushes,
  When with rope and axe and knapsack to the realms of snow he rushes.
  O can I e'er the hour forget--a voice within cries "Never!"--
  From British beef and sherry _dear_ which my young heart did sever?
  My limbs were cased in flannel light, my frame in Norfolk jacket,
  As jauntily I stepped upon the impatient Calais packet.
  "Dark lowered the tempest overhead," the waters wildly rolled,
  Wildly the moon sailed thro' the clouds, "and it grew wondrous cold;"
  The good ship cleft the darkness, like an iron wedge, I trow,
  As the steward whispered kindly, "you had better go below"--
  Enough!  I've viewed with dauntless eye the cattle's bloody tide;
  Thy horse, proud Duke of Manchester, I've seen straight at me ride;
  I've braved chance ram-rods from my friends, blank cartridges from foes;
  The jeers of fair spectators, when I fell upon my nose;
  I've laughed at toils and troubles, as a British Volunteer;
  But the thought of that nigh's misery still makes me pale with fear.
  Sweet the repose which cometh as the due reward of toil;
  Sweet to the sea-worn traveller the French or British soil;
  But a railway-carriage full of men, who smoke and drink and spit,
  Who disgust you by their manners, and oppress you with their wit;
  A carriage garlic-scented, full of uproar and of heat,
  To a sleepy, jaded Briton is decidedly not sweet.
  Then welcome, welcome Paris, peerless city of delights!
  Welcome, Boulevards, fields Elysian, brilliant days and magic nights!
  "Vive la gloire, et vive Napoleon! vive l'Empire (c'est la paix);
  "Vive la France, the land of beauty! vive la Rue St. Honore!"
  Wildly shouting thus in triumph, I arrived at my Hotel--
  The exterior was palatial, and the dinner pretty well:
  O'er the rest, ye muses draw a veil!  'Twas the Exhibition year--
  And everything was nasty, and proportionately dear,
  Why should ye sing how much I paid for one poor pint of claret--
  The horrors of my bedroom in a flea-frequented garret--
  Its non-Sabaean odours--Liliputian devices
  For washing in a tea-cup--all at "Exhibition prices?"
  To the mountains, to the mountains, to their snowy peaks I fly!
  For their pure, primeval freshness, for their solitude I sigh!
  Past old Dijon and its Buffet, past fair Macon and its wine,
  Thro' the lime-stone cliffs, of Jura, past Mont Cenis' wondrous line;
  Till at 10 A.M., "Lake Leman woos me with its crystal face,"
  And I take outside the diligence for Chamonix my place.
  Still my fond imagination views, in memory's mirror clear,
  Purple rock, and snowy mountain, pine-wood black, and glassy mere;
  Foaming torrents hoarsely raving; tinkling cowbells in the glade;
  Meadows green, and maidens mowing in the pleasant twilight shade:
  The crimson crown of sun-set on Mont Blanc's majestic head,
  And each lesser peak beneath him pale and ghastly as the dead:
  Eagle-nest-like mountain chalets, where the tourist for some sous
  Can imbibe milk by the bucket, and on Nature's grandeur muse:
  Mont Anvert, the "Pas" called "mauvais," which I thought
      was "pas mauvais,"
  Where, in spite of all my boasting, I encountered some delay;
  For, much to my amazement, at the steepest part I met
  A matron who weighed twenty stones, and I think must be there yet:
  The stupendous Col du Geant, with its chaos of seracs;
  The procession into Cormayeur, with lantern, rope, and axe:
  The sweet girl with golden ringlets--her dear name was Mary Ann--
  Whom I helped to climb the Jardin, and who cut me at Lausanne:
  On these, the charms of Chamonix, sweeter far than words can tell,
  At the witching hour of twilight doth my memory love to dwell.
  Ye, who ne'er have known the rapture, the unutterable bliss
  Of Savoy's sequestered valleys, and the mountains of La Suisse;
  The mosquitos of Martigny; the confusion of Sierre;
  The dirt of Visp or Minister, and the odours everywhere:
  Ye, who ne'er from Monte Rosa have surveyed Italia's plain,
  Till you wonder if you ever will get safely down again;
  Ye, who ne'er have stood on tip-toe on a 'knife-like snow-arete,'
  Nor have started avalanches by the pressure of your weight;
  Ye, who ne'er have _packed_ your weary limbs in sleeping bags at night,
  Some few inches from a berg-schrund, 'neath
      the pale moon's freezing light:
  Who have ne'er stood on the snow-fields, when the sun in glory rose,
  Nor returned again at sun-set with parched lips and skinless nose;
  Ye, who love not masked crevasses, falling stones, and blistered feet,
  Sudden changes from Siberia's cold to equatorial heat;
  Ye, who love not the extortions of Padrone, Driver, Guide;
  Ye, who love not o'er the Gemmi on a kicking mule to ride;
  You miserable creatures, who will never know true bliss,
  You're not the men for Chamonix; avoid, avoid La Suisse!