It is the largest fortified medieval city in Europe, a stronghold of the Cathars become a magnet for tourists, a favorite of photographers, a utopian dream and even an unreachable star for some poets like Gustave Nadaud. “Carcassonne”, the 19th century French poet’s best known poem, is loved the world over; I heard it used as a closer at the end of the day’s TV programs in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The French remember it as sung by Georges Brassens in both the original version and his obscene parody of what is considered by some to be an overly sentimental story of an old man’s unfulfilled dream :
“I see full well that here below
Bliss unalloyed there is for none.
My prayer will ne’er fulfillment know;
I never have seen Carcassonne.”
It is a beautiful and touching tale of frustration in this vale of tears, where the local curate is quoted as warning us against the “ambition (that) ruins all mankind” :
“The old man died upon the road;
He never gazed on Carcassonne.
Each mortal has his Carcassonne.”
Robert Browning’s question “What’s a Heaven for ?” and his answer, to remind us that “man’s reach exceeds his grasp” – the very definition of wishful thinking – come naturally to mind. The difference, of course, is that Heaven is a pipe-dream and Carcassonne is not. Some of us get to see Carcassonne, as I did. But none of us will ever see Heaven.