Read CHAPTER XIV of Raphael Pages Of The Book Of Life At Twenty, free online book, by Alphonse de Lamartine, on

But my heart was too full of its own emotions to feel interested in the anchorites of the Abbey. The enthusiasm and self-denial of the early monasteries had subsided into a profession; and at a later period their lives, unlinked with those of their fellow-beings, had fruitlessly evaporated within these cloisters, and left no trace behind. I felt no regret as I stood upon their tombs, but only wondered, as I noted how speedily Nature seizes on the empty dwellings and deserted abodes of man, and how superior is the living architecture of shrubs and briers, waving ivy, wall-flowers and creeping plants, throwing their mantle on the ruined walls, to the cold symmetry of stones, or the lifeless ornaments of the chiselled monuments of men.

There was now more sunshine, music, and perfume, more holy psalmody of the winds and waters, of birds, and sonorous echoes of the lakes and forests, beneath the crumbling pillars, dismantled nave, and shattered roof of the empty Abbey, than there had been holy tapers, fumes of incense and monotonous chants in the ceremonies and processions that filled it night and day. Nature is the high priest, the noblest decorator, the holiest poet and most inspired musician of God. The young swallows in their nests below the broken cornice, greeting their mother with their cheerful chirping; the sighing of the breeze, which seems to bear to the unpeopled cloisters the sound of flapping sails, the lament of the waves, and the dying notes of the fisherman’s song; the balmy emanations which now and then are wafted through the nave; the flowers which shed their leaves upon the tombs, the waving of the green drapery which clothes the walls; the sonorous and reverberated echoes of the stranger’s steps upon the vaults where sleep the dead, are all as full of piety, holy thoughts, and unbounded aspirations, as was the monastery in its days of sacred splendor. Man is no longer there, with all his miserable passions contracted by the narrow pale in which they were confined, but not extinguished; but God is there, never so plainly seen as in the works of Nature, God whose unshadowed splendor seems to re-enter once more these intellectual graves, whose vaulted roofs no longer intercept the glorious sunshine and the light of heaven.