15. Jasmin's Vineyard--'Martha the Innocent'

Agen-- Jasmin buys a little Vineyard, his 'Papilloto'-- 'Ma Bigno' dedicated to Madame Veill-- Description of the Vineyard-- The Happiness it Confers-- M. Rodiere, Toulouse-- Jasmin's Slowness in Composition-- A Golden Medal struck in his Honour-- A Pension Awarded him-- Made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour-- Serenades in the Gravier-- Honour from Pope Pius IX-- 'Martha the Innocent'-- Description of the Narrative-- Jasmin and Martha-- Another Visit to Toulouse-- The Banquet-- Dax, Gers, Condon-- Challenge of Peyrottes-- Jasmin's Reply-- His further Poems-- 'La Semaine d'um Fil' described-- Dedicated to Lamartine-- His Reply

Agen, with its narrow and crooked streets, is not altogether a pleasant town, excepting, perhaps, the beautiful promenade of the Gravier, where Jasmin lived. Yet the neighbourhood of Agen is exceedingly picturesque, especially the wooded crags of the Hermitage and the pretty villas near the convent of the Carmelites. From these lofty sites a splendid view of the neighbouring country is to be seen along the windings of the Garonne, and far off, towards the south, to the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees.

Down beneath the Hermitage and the crags a road winds up the valley towards Verona, once the home of the famous Scaligers.1 Near this place Jasmin bought a little vineyard, and established his Tivoli. In this pretty spot his muse found pure air, liberty, and privacy. He called the place--like his volume of poems--his "Papillôte," his "Curlpaper." Here, for nearly thirty years, he spent some of his pleasantest hours, in exercise, in reflection, and in composition. In commemoration of his occupation of the site, he composed his Ma Bigno--'My Vineyard'--one of the most simple and graceful of his poems.

Jasmin dedicated Ma Bigno to Madame Louis Veill, of Paris. He told her of his purchase of Papillôte, a piece of ground which he had long desired to have, and which he had now been able to buy with the money gained by the sale of his poems.

He proceeds to describe the place:

"In this tiny little vineyard," he says, "my only chamber is a grotto. Nine cherry trees: such is my wood! I have six rows of vines, between which I walk and meditate. The peaches are mine; the hazel nuts are mine! I have two elms, and two fountains. I am indeed rich! You may laugh, perhaps, at my happiness. But I wish you to know that I love the earth and the sky. It is a living picture, sparkling in the sunshine. Come," he said, "and pluck my peaches from the branches; put them between your lovely teeth, whiter than the snow. Press them: from the skin to the almond they melt in the mouth--it is honey!" He next describes what he sees and hears from his grotto: the beautiful flowers, the fruit glowing in the sun, the luscious peaches, the notes of the woodlark, the zug-zug of the nightingale, the superb beauty of the heavens. "They all sing love, and love is always new."

He compares Paris, with its grand ladies and its grand opera, with his vineyard and his nightingales. "Paris," he says, "has fine flowers and lawns, but she is too much of the grande dame. She is unhappy, sleepy. Here, a thousand hamlets laugh by the river's side. Our skies laugh; everything is happy; everything lives. From the month of May, when our joyous summer arrives, for six months the heavens resound with music. A thousand nightingales sing all the night through. . . . Your grand opera is silent, while our concert is in its fullest strain."

The poem ends with a confession on the part of the poet of sundry pilferings committed by himself in the same place when a boy--of apple-trees broken, hedges forced, and vine-ladders scaled, winding up with the words:

"Madame, you see I turn towards the past without a blush; will you? What I have robbed I return, and return with usury. I have no door to my vineyard; only two thorns bar its threshold. When, through a hole I see the noses of marauders, instead of arming myself with a cane, I turn and go away, so that they may come back. He who robbed when he was young, may in his old age allow himself to be robbed too." A most amicable sentiment, sure to be popular amongst the rising generation of Agen.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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