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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part First. Interlude

THE LANDLORD ended thus his tale,

Then rising took down from its nail

The sword that hung there, dim with dust,

And cleaving to its sheath with rust,

And said, “This sword was in the fight.”

The Poet seized it, and exclaimed,

“It is the sword of a good knight,

Though homespun was his coat-of-mail;

What matter if it be not named

Joyeuse, Colada, Durindale,

Excalibar, or Aroundight,

Or other name the books record?

Your ancestor, who bore this sword

As Colonel of the Volunteers,

Mounted upon his old gray mare,

Seen here and there and everywhere,

To me a grander shape appears

Than old Sir William, or what not,

Clinking about in foreign lands

With iron gauntlets on his hands,

And on his head an iron pot!”

All laughed; the Landlord’s face grew red

As his escutcheon on the wall;

He could not comprehend at all

The drift of what the Poet said;

For those who had been longest dead

Were always greatest in his eyes;

And he was speechless with surprise

To see Sir William’s plumèd head

Brought to a level with the rest,

And made the subject of a jest.

And this perceiving, to appease

The Landlord’s wrath, the others’ fears,

The Student said, with careless ease,

“The ladies and the cavaliers,

The arms, the loves, the courtesies,

The deeds of high emprise, I sing!

Thus Ariosto says, in words

That have the stately stride and ring

Of armèd knights and clashing swords.

Now listen to the tale I bring;

Listen! though not to me belong

The flowing draperies of his song,

The words that rouse, the voice that charms.

The Landlord’s tale was one of arms,

Only a tale of love is mine,

Blending the human and divine,

A tale of the Decameron, told

In Palmieri’s garden old,

By Fiametta, laurel-crowned,

While her companions lay around,

And heard the intermingled sound

Of airs that on their errands sped,

And wild birds gossiping overhead,

And lisp of leaves, and fountain’s fall,

And her own voice more sweet than all,

Telling the tale, which, wanting these,

Perchance may lose its power to please.”