'Rolla' by Alfred de Musset (1833)

Rolla by Henri Gervex,1878.

A selection from Rolla by Alfred de Musset, 1833.

O Christ, I do not believe in your holy word: I was born too late into a world too old. A century without fear is the child of a century without hope. [...] Your glory is dead, O Christ, and on our ebony crosses your body has fallen into dust. Well, may the least credulous child of an age without faith be permitted to kiss its dust, and to weep, O Christ.

And when oh, monstrous change! the earth became the tomb
Of all man's pristine glory, all his primal bloom,
And northern hurricane, with devastating breath,
Across Rome's ruins spread her winding-sheet of death.
Would you restore the time when weary earth emerged
From barbarism's curse, all newly cleansed and purged,
Into a golden age of fair fertility,
And found again her long-lost juvenility?
Or sigh you for that age when our romances old,
First in the realms of earth, unfurled their wings of gold;
When all our monuments, and acts of faith and truth,
Wore still the virgin garb of pure and spotless youth;
When holy Jesus died that men might live again,
And earth was raised anew from depths of sin and pain;
When from o'er palace tow'r, or monastery wall,
Sign of eternal love, Christ's cross shone over all?
When Strasburg and Cologne, St. Peter's, Notre Dame,
Embodiments of faith, in their majestic calm
Intoned the Gloria of centuries new-born;
When famous deeds of hist'ry were conceived and done;
When Life was fresh and young as early spring,
And Death, by Faith made fair, knew not its sting?
Christ; I am not one of those who bend in prayer
Within the solemn sanctu'ry of thy temples fair,
Kissing thy holy cross, and lifting pleading eyes
Up to thy peaceful Heav'n, beyond the azure skies;
Unbent I stand beneath the shadow of those walls,
Where humbly on his knees the true believer falls,
While murmurs, like the winds along a reedy shore,
Arise from trembling lips that worship and adore!

I am not one, O Christ, who dwells within thy fold;
Too late have I set foot within a world too old.
The earth has long outgrown her superstitious youth,
And sought and found the things of a material truth,
And 'mid the ruined temples of long-vanished days
The phantom of her Faith in veiled silence stays.
Now wakes the human race from vain imaginings,
And sees the hand of chance impelling earthly things;
And Jesus Christ, twice crucified and killed of men,
From out his tomb divine issues not forth again.
Oh, thou, whose simple faith is pure and undefiled,
And who of Heav'n art still the loving, trustful child,
Cling to thy holy symbols, cast them not away,
Nor grasp the impious creeds of this unfaithful day.
Weep o'er the tomb of him who died the world to save,
And on thy bended knees His tender mercy crave.
For in this fallen age, who is there that would give
His blood that man might drink, and turn from death and live?

Within his awful tomb, with pale and livid brow,
Once more lies Lazarus ah, who will raise him now!
What profits it to-day that, moved by heavenly zeal,
Clad in his rags, St. Paul did to old Rome appeal,
Reclaiming heathen souls, lifting a nation high
Out of the filth of crime and black debauchery?
Where now the perfumes rare of fallen Magdalen;
Where now the heavenly voice, once heard of doubting men;
About whose head plays now the fiery aureole;
Where now the ardent fire faith kindled in each soul?
Gone are they all! Oh, world, to thee again have come,
In filthy habit dressed, the days of ancient Rome!
And Hope, once fruitful, lies with weary, shrunken breast,
And takes in sad sterility her meed of rest.