Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

The Hanging of the Crane

  • “One morning in the spring of 1867,” writes Mr. T. B. Aldrich, “Mr. Longfellow came to the little home in Pinckney Street [Boston], where we had set up housekeeping in the light of our honeymoon. As we lingered a moment at the dining-room door, Mr. Longfellow turning to me said, ‘Ah, Mr. Aldrich, your small round table will not always be closed. By and by you will find new young faces clustering about it; as years go on, leaf after leaf will be added until the time comes when the young guests will take flight, one by one, to build nests of their own elsewhere. Gradually the long table will shrink to a circle again, leaving two old people sitting there alone together. This is the story of life, the sweet and pathetic poem of the fireside. Make an idyl of it. I give the idea to you.’ Several months afterward, I received a note from Mr. Longfellow in which he expressed a desire to use this motif in case I had done nothing in the matter. The theme was one peculiarly adapted to his sympathetic handling, and out of it grew The Hanging of the Crane.” Just when the poem was written does not appear, but its first publication was in the New York Ledger, March 28, 1874. Mr. Longfellow’s old friend, Mr. Sam. Ward, had heard the poem, and offered to secure it for Mr. Robert Bonner, the proprietor of the Ledger, “touched,” as he wrote to Mr. Longfellow, “by your kindness to poor ——, and haunted by the idea of increasing handsomely your noble charity fund.” Mr. Bonner paid the poet the sum of three thousand dollars for this poem.

  • I
    THE LIGHTS are out, and gone are all the guests

    That thronging came with merriment and jests

    To celebrate the Hanging of the Crane

    In the new house,—into the night are gone;

    But still the fire upon the hearth burns on,

    And I alone remain.

    O fortunate, O happy day,

    When a new household finds its place

    Among the myriad homes of earth,

    Like a new star just sprung to birth,

    And rolled on its harmonious way

    Into the boundless realms of space!

    So said the guests in speech and song,

    As in the chimney, burning bright,

    We hung the iron crane to-night,

    And merry was the feast and long.

    And now I sit and muse on what may be,

    And in my vision see, or seem to see,

    Through floating vapors interfused with light,

    Shapes indeterminate, that gleam and fade,

    As shadows passing into deeper shade

    Sink and elude the sight.

    For two alone, there in the hall,

    Is spread the table round and small;

    Upon the polished silver shine

    The evening lamps, but, more divine,

    The light of love shines over all;

    Of love, that says not mine and thine,

    But ours, for ours is thine and mine.

    They want no guests, to come between

    Their tender glances like a screen,

    And tell them tales of land and sea,

    And whatsoever may betide

    The great, forgotten world outside;

    They want no guests; they needs must be

    Each other’s own best company.

    The picture fades; as at a village fair

    A showman’s views, dissolving into air,

    Again appear transfigured on the screen,

    So in my fancy this; and now once more,

    In part transfigured, through the open door

    Appears the selfsame scene.

    Seated, I see the two again,

    But not alone; they entertain

    A little angel unaware,

    With face as round as is the moon,

    A royal guest with flaxen hair,

    Who, throned upon his lofty chair,

    Drums on the table with his spoon,

    Then drops it careless on the floor,

    To grasp at things unseen before.

    Are these celestial manners? these

    The ways that win, the arts that please?

    Ah yes; consider well the guest,

    And whatsoe’er he does seems best;

    He ruleth by the right divine

    Of helplessness, so lately born

    In purple chambers of the morn,

    As sovereign over thee and thine.

    He speaketh not; and yet there lies

    A conversation in his eyes;

    The golden silence of the Greek,

    The gravest wisdom of the wise,

    Not spoken in language, but in looks

    More legible than printed books,

    As if he could but would not speak.

    And now, O monarch absolute,

    Thy power is put to proof; for, lo!

    Resistless, fathomless, and slow,

    The nurse comes rustling like the sea,

    And pushes back thy chair and thee,

    And so good night to King Canute.

    As one who walking in a forest sees

    A lovely landscape through the parted trees,

    Then sees it not, for boughs that intervene;

    Or as we see the moon sometimes revealed

    Through drifting clouds, and then again concealed,

    So I behold the scene.

    There are two guests at table now;

    The king, deposed and older grown,

    No longer occupies the throne,—

    The crown is on his sister’s brow;

    A Princess from the Fairy Isles,

    The very pattern girl of girls,

    All covered and embowered in curls,

    Rose-tinted from the Isle of Flowers,

    And sailing with soft, silken sails

    From far-off Dreamland into ours.

    Above their bowls with rims of blue

    Four azure eyes of deeper hue

    Are looking, dreamy with delight;

    Limpid as planets that emerge

    Above the ocean’s rounded verge,

    Soft-shining through the summer night.

    Steadfast they gaze, yet nothing see

    Beyond the horizon of their bowls;

    Nor care they for the world that rolls

    With all its freight of troubled souls

    Into the days that are to be.

    Again the tossing boughs shut out the scene,

    Again the drifting vapors intervene,

    And the moon’s pallid disk is hidden quite;

    And now I see the table wider grown,

    As round a pebble into water thrown

    Dilates a ring of light.

    I see the table wider grown,

    I see it garlanded with guests,

    As if fair Ariadne’s Crown

    Out of the sky had fallen down;

    Maidens within whose tender breasts

    A thousand restless hopes and fears,

    Forth reaching to the coming years,

    Flutter awhile, then quiet lie,

    Like timid birds that fain would fly,

    But do not dare to leave their nests;—

    And youths, who in their strength elate

    Challenge the van and front of fate,

    Eager as champions to be

    In the divine knight-errantry

    Of youth, that travels sea and land

    Seeking adventures, or pursues,

    Through cities, and through solitudes

    Frequented by the lyric Muse,

    The phantom with the beckoning hand,

    That still allures and still eludes.

    O sweet illusions of the brain!

    O sudden thrills of fire and frost!

    The world is bright while ye remain,

    And dark and dead when ye are lost!

    The meadow-brook, that seemeth to stand still,

    Quickens its current as it nears the mill;

    And so the stream of Time that lingereth

    In level places, and so dull appears,

    Runs with a swifter current as it nears

    The gloomy mills of Death.

    And now, like the magician’s scroll,

    That in the owner’s keeping shrinks

    With every wish he speaks or thinks,

    Till the last wish consumes the whole,

    The table dwindles, and again

    I see the two alone remain.

    The crown of stars is broken in parts;

    Its jewels, brighter than the day,

    Have one by one been stolen away

    To shine in other homes and hearts.

    One is a wanderer now afar

    In Ceylon or in Zanzibar,

    Or sunny regions of Cathay;

    And one is in the boisterous camp

    Mid clink of arms and horses’ tramp,

    And battle’s terrible array.

    I see the patient mother read,

    With aching heart, of wrecks that float

    Disabled on those seas remote,

    Or of some great heroic deed

    On battle-fields, where thousands bleed

    To lift one hero into fame.

    Anxious she bends her graceful head

    Above these chronicles of pain,

    And trembles with a secret dread

    Lest there among the drowned or slain

    She find the one beloved name.

    After a day of cloud and wind and rain

    Sometimes the setting sun breaks out again,

    And, touching all the darksome woods with light,

    Smiles on the fields, until they laugh and sing,

    Then like a ruby from the horizon’s ring

    Drops down into the night.

    What see I now? The night is fair,

    The storm of grief, the clouds of care,

    The wind, the rain, have passed away;

    The lamps are lit, the fires burn bright,

    The house is full of life and light;

    It is the Golden Wedding day.

    The guests come thronging in once more,

    Quick footsteps sound along the floor,

    The trooping children crowd the stair,

    And in and out and everywhere

    Flashes along the corridor

    The sunshine of their golden hair.

    On the round table in the hall

    Another Ariadne’s Crown

    Out of the sky hath fallen down;

    More than one Monarch of the Moon

    Is drumming with his silver spoon;

    The light of love shines over all.

    O fortunate, O happy day!

    The people sing, the people say.

    The ancient bridegroom and the bride,

    Smiling contented and serene

    Upon the blithe, bewildering scene,

    Behold, well pleased, on every side

    Their forms and features multiplied,

    As the reflection of a light

    Between two burnished mirrors gleams,

    Or lamps upon a bridge at night

    Stretch on and on before the sight,

    Till the long vista endless seems.