River Rhone

Nicholas Michell

Blue arrowy Rhone! renowned and ancient stream!
Pure as first love, yet changing as a dream;
Here laving banks all crowned with fruits and flowers,
There glassing in thy depths tall feudal towers,
And churches clad with ivy, old as they,
And Pagan ruins, stately in decay:
The varied scenes, bright Rhone! thou windest through,
Speak of the past, but charm the present too.
Though Romans stalk, Greek sages* muse no more,
A classic spirit breathes along thy shore;
Gods seem to hover round each storied spot,
And Naiads haunt bright fount and sparry grot.
Fresh as of old their fruit green olives hang,
And flows red wine as when gay Martial sang.*
Thrice happy those whose halcyon hours may glide,
In lettered ease, beside thy deep blue tide!
Sure learning here might plume its eagle wing,
And genius glow at calm Vauclusia's spring,
The heart be taught to love beneath those skies
That lent their light to Laura's witching eyes.

The Rhone is France's largest river, flowing down from the Alps through the Rhone Valley to the Mediterranean. There are still magnificent Roman ruins in the towns along the valley, and lots of medieval castles on crags. Michell would have been disappointed though by the number of ugly power stations that blight the valley.

* Author's Note: The Roman poet Martial alludes to Vienne on the Rhone in several of his epigrams; he styles the neighbourhood of this town vilifera, or vine-bearing; and one of the finest red wines in France is still made here, called Cdte R6tie.