The sun-warmed valley of the Aude leads down
To Carcassone an ancient Roman town.
Far off above the nearer hills one sees
The ridges of the Eastern Pyrenees.
Some half way up the valley stands Limoux
The only thing that once would hurry through
The village, was the stream that gave its name
Unto the vale. The summers went and came’
The seasons change: but other change was none
Till ten years had gone. The busy world
Stopped short at Carcassone.
And in this quiet nook in Southern France,
With days that knew small touch of variance
A peasant lived, who never once had been
More than a few short miles away, nor seen
a larger place than this Limoux. To him
The outside world was mythical and dim.
Toulouse – and Paris – Bordeaux – and Rome –
Oh yes, they all were there but this was home.
One place he longed to see and only one: -
He’d meant to go, and yet had never gone:
It was the city yonder – Carcassone.
He said “I’m growing old. Nigh seventy year,
I’ve lived my life, and worked the months round, here.
And yet – I doubt not wisely – God has willed
My fondest wish should never be fulfilled;
A wish that I have fostered since a lad,
The one desire that I have always had.
But now I know – we learn it often thus
In disappointments that are sore to us –
There’s perfect happiness on earth for none.
I shall not have my wish fulfilled for one.
No, I shall never go to Carcassone.
“One sees the town upon a fine, clear day
Beyond the mountains yonder far away
To reach it you must go across the plain:
Tis five leagues there, and five leagues back again.
They say the road’s a good one, and I’ve known
Folks who’ve gone there all the way alone.
Ah – if the vintage were but good this year! –
The grapes will not turn yellow yet I fear –
But if the sun had only brightly shone
Prosperous the year had been for everyone;
And so I might have gone to Carcassone.
“They tell me that each day, week in, week out,
A week of Sundays, every day no doubt,
One sees crowds always going up and down,
Hither and thither, all about the town,
And on the promenades and terraces,
Smart dresses, music, everything you please!
Nay – you may even see at one time there
A bishop and two generals! You stare!
Tis true. A castle, too – a mighty one!
Huge as the palaces of Babylon!
Think of it, sir! And all in Carcassone!
“The curate he was right, I must confess:
He spoke the very truth, and nothing less –
‘We look too high – we want too much’ said he –
A sermon to remember – ‘for you see
How often thus by our desires we fall:
Ambition, oh my friends, destroys us all.’
Quite true. But yet I’m sure it must have fall’n to you
To see some men get what they want. Yet be
No whit the worse. Well now that puzzles me.
My god-child – she is married now – has seen
Perpignan – yes sir: and my wife has been
With our son Francois – not to go alone –
As far (you’ll not believe it!) as Narbonne!
And I? – I’ve never been to Carcassone.
“Is it a foolish and a sinful thing
This wish? Peace and contentment age doth bring
In much – I have my work, when I am strong;
I get to church’ and, when the days are long,
I do my bit of gardening. ‘Twould be wrong
To say that there is much I regret,
No: still I’m bound to say there lingers yet
That one wish of my boyhood –
Yes, I should like before my life is done –
I should! – I should! – to go to Carcassone! ”
“Cheer up, old friend, for go you shall! ” I cried
“Ay and we’ll go together, side by side;
We’ll go tomorrow if the day is fine.”
And in a brimming glass of good white wine
We pledge good luck to the auspicious day,
We started. All the world was bright and gay.
The village all came forth to see us start.
We sat beneath the awning in the cart,
And as we passed along a sweet smile shone
Upon his face, as he, to everyone
He met, cried out “I go to Carcassone! ”
Down through the valley and across the plain;
Over the Aude, made hoarse with autumn rain;
Past dusty thickets, where the crickets sing;
And vintage walls where fruit is ripening;
Through busy little towns and villages,
Where folks were sitting underneath the trees;
We drove. The diligence went past anon,
A cart with oxen yoked came slowly on.
And then, just where the crossroads meet in one,
We saw the signpost. Half the way was done.
I pointed out the words “To Carcassone.”
But ah! May heaven forgive us all, say I,
For as we halted in some shade near by,
I turned, I say to point the signpost out.
He had been silent for some time. A doubt
Struck on me. “Are you tired, old friend? ” I said
He answered not. I touched him – he was dead.
Bells on the harness jingled. Far away, the great plains sleeping in the sunshine lay.
The road, a long white line, before us shone.
A clock struck noontide. Half the way was done.
But he – he never went to Carcassone.
Limoux is changed. Since then its quiet ways
Have heard the roar and scream that nowadays
Alters for good or ill all places such
As this. And Carcassone - changed too? – In much
No doubt! But not that Carcassone he sought.
Changing for all, it still is changed in nought:
For it is built upon enchanted ground
Ah! Who has seen it? Was it ever found?
Think not this peasant only, he alone
Dreamt of this place: ‘tis nigh to everyone.
For all the world there is a Carcassone
(Anonymous Adapted by Clifford Harrison from an old French song by Gustave Nadaud)