Vaucluse

By Bayard Taylor

[31]

This district borders on the desert of the Crau, a vast plain of stones reaching to the mouth of the Rhone and almost entirely uninhabited. We caught occasional glimpses of its sealike waste between the summits of the hills. At length, after threading a high ascent, we saw the valley of the Durance suddenly below us. The sun, breaking through the clouds, shone on the mountain-wall which stood on the opposite side, touching with his glow the bare and rocky precipices that frowned far above the stream. Descending to the valley, we followed its course toward the Rhone with the ruins of feudal "bourgs" crowning the crags above us.

It was dusk when we reached the village of Senas tired with the day's march. A landlord standing in his door, on the lookout for customers, invited us to enter in a manner so polite and pressing we could not choose but do so. This is a universal custom with the country innkeepers. In a little village which we passed toward evening there was a tavern with the sign "The Mother of Soldiers." A portly woman whose face beamed with kindness and cheerfulness stood in the door and invited us to stop there for the night. "No, mother," I answered; "we must go much farther to-day." "Go, then," said she, "with good luck, my children! A pleasant journey!"

On entering the inn at Senas two or three bronzed soldiers were sitting by the table. My French vocabulary happening to give out in the middle of a consultation about eggs and onion-soup, one of them came to my assistance and addrest me in German. He was from Fulda, in Hesse-Cassel, and had served fifteen years in Africa….

Leaving next morning at daybreak, we walked on before breakfast to Orgon, a little village in a corner of the cliffs which border the Durance, and crossed the muddy river by a suspension bridge a short distance below, to Cavaillon, where the country-people were holding a great market. From this place a road led across the meadow-land to L'Isle, six miles distant. This little town is so named because it is situated on an island formed by the crystal Sorgues, which flows from the fountains of Vaucluse.

It is a very picturesque and pretty place. Great mill-wheels, turning slowly and constantly, stand at intervals in the stream, whose grassy banks are now as green as in springtime. We walked along the Sorgues-- which is quite as beautiful and worthy to be sung as the Clitumnus--to the end of the village to take the road to Vaucluse. Beside its banks stands the "Hotel de Petrarque et Laure." Alas that names of the most romantic and impassioned lovers of all history should be desecrated to a sign-post to allure gormandizing tourists!

The bare mountain in whose heart lies the poet's solitude now rose before us at the foot of the lofty Mount Ventoux, whose summit of snows extended beyond. We left the river and walked over a barren plain across which the wind blew most drearily. The sky was rainy and dark, and completed the desolateness of the scene, which in nowise heightened our anticipations of the renowned glen. At length we rejoined the Sorgues and entered a little green valley running up into the mountain. The narrowness of the entrance entirely shut out the wind, and, except the rolling of the waters over their pebbly bed, all was still and lonely and beautiful. The sides of the dell were covered with olive trees, and a narrow strip of emerald meadow lay at the bottom.

It grew more hidden and sequestered as we approached the little village of Vaucluse. Here the mountain towers far above, and precipices of gray rock many hundred feet high hang over the narrowing glen. On a crag over the village are the remains of a castle; the slope below this, now rugged and stony, was once graced by the cottage and garden of Petrarch. All traces of them have long since vanished, but a simple column bearing the inscription. "A Petrarque" stands beside the Sorgues.

We ascended into the defile by a path among the rocks, overshadowed by olives and wild fig-trees, to the celebrated fountains of Vaucluse. The glen seems as if stuck into the mountain's depths by one blow of the enchanter's wand, and just at the end, where the rod might have rested in its downward sweep, is the fathomless well whose over-brimming fulness gives birth to the Sorgues. We climbed up over the mossy rocks and sat down in the grotto beside the dark, still pool. It was the most absolute solitude.

The rocks towered above and over us to the height of six hundred feet, and the gray walls of the wild glen below shut out all appearance of life. I leaned over the rock and drank of the blue crystal that grew gradually darker toward the center till it became a mirror and gave back a perfect reflection of the crags above it. There was no bubbling, no gushing up from its deep bosom, but the wealth of sparkling waters continually welled over as from a too-full goblet.

It was with actual sorrow that I turned away from the silent spot. I never visited a place to which the fancy clung more suddenly and fondly. There is something holy in its solitude, making one envy Petrarch the years of calm and unsullied enjoyment which blest him there. As some persons whom we pass as strangers strike a hidden chord in our spirits, compelling a silent sympathy with them, so some landscapes have a character of beauty which harmonizes thrillingly with the mood in which we look upon them, till we forget admiration in the glow of spontaneous attachment. They seem like abodes of the beautiful which the soul in its wanderings long ago visited and now recognizes and loves as the home of a forgotten dream. It was thus I felt by the fountains of Vaucluse; sadly and with weary steps I turned away, leaving its loneliness unbroken as before.

We returned over the plain in the wind, under the gloomy sky, passed L'Isle at dusk, and after walking an hour with a rain following close behind us stopt at an auberge in Le Thor, where we rested our tired frames and broke our long day's fasting. We were greeted in the morning with a dismal rain and wet roads as we began the march. After a time, however, it poured down in such torrents that we were obliged to take shelter in a remise by the roadside, where a good woman who addrest us in the unintelligible Provencal kindled up a blazing fire. On climbing a long hill when the storm had abated, we experienced a delightful surprise. Below us lay the broad valley of the Rhone, with its meadows looking fresh and spring-like after the rain. The clouds were breaking away; clear blue sky was visible over Avignon, and a belt of sunlight lay warmly along the mountains of Languedoc. Many villages with their tall picturesque towers dotted the landscape, and the groves of green olive enlivened the barrenness of winter.



[31] From "Views Afoot." Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.