Posé comme un défi tout près d’une montagne,

This poem by Theophile Gautier, written around the middle of the nineteenth century splendidly describes the imposing and forbidding bulk of the Escorial, that huge palace cum monastery built for Philip 2nd of Spain as a place from which he could both rule the country and find the calm and solitude to worship God. It is indeed a massive set of buildings, seemingly impenetrable and quite gloomy, a sense which Gautier captures well here. The poem and the place only come alive when the poet sees some swallows flying around the rooftop at the end of the poem.

 
Théophile GAUTIER   (1811-1872)

L’Escurial
Posé comme un défi tout près d’une montagne,
L’on aperçoit de loin dans la campagne
Le sombre Escurial, à trois cents pieds du sol,
Soulevant sur le coin de son épaule énorme,
Éléphant monstrueux, la coupole difforme ;
Débauche de granit du Tibère espagnol.

Jamais vieux Pharaon, au flanc d’un mont d’Égypte,
Ne fit pour sa momie une plus noire crypte ;
Jamais sphinx au désert n’a gardé plus d’ennui ;
La cigogne s’endort au bout des cheminées ;
Partout l’herbe verdit les cours abandonnées ;
Moines, prêtres, soldats, courtisans, tout a fui !

Et tout semblerait mort, si du bord des corniches,
Des mains des rois sculptés, des frontons et des niches,
Avec leurs cris charmants et leur folle gaîté,
Il ne s’envolait pas des essaims d’hirondelles,
Qui, pour le réveiller, agacent à coups d’ailes
Le géant assoupi qui rêve éternité !…

 

From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/theophile_gautier/l_escurial.html&gt;

 

This poet really belongs in the Romantic tradition, using poetry of landscape or poetry of place to evoke a sense of atmosphere or mystery. You can see similarities with some of the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, who did the same type of thing.

As a side note, the Escorial is still well worth visiting for anybody who is in Madrid or its vicinity and has a day to spare. Certainly the buildings are imposing and somewhat forbidding, but there are some outstanding art treasures on display.

The Poetry Dude

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