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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part First. Interlude

SOON as the story reached its end,

One, over eager to commend,

Crowned it with injudicious praise;

And then the voice of blame found vent,

And fanned the embers of dissent

Into a somewhat lively blaze.

The Theologian shook his head;

“These old Italian tales,” he said,

“From the much-praised Decameron down

Through all the rabble of the rest,

Are either trifling, dull, or lewd;

The gossip of a neighborhood

In some remote provincial town,

A scandalous chronicle at best!

They seem to me a stagnant fen,

Grown rank with rushes and with reeds,

Where a white lily, now and then,

Blooms in the midst of noxious weeds

And deadly nightshade on its banks!”

To this the Student straight replied,

“For the white lily, many thanks!

One should not say, with too much pride,

Fountain, I will not drink of thee!

Nor were it grateful to forget

That from these reservoirs and tanks

Even imperial Shakespeare drew

His Moor of Venice, and the Jew,

And Romeo and Juliet,

And many a famous comedy.”

Then a long pause; till some one said,

“An Angel is flying overhead!”

At these words spake the Spanish Jew,

And murmured with an inward breath:

“God grant, if what you say be true,

It may not be the Angel of Death!”

And then another pause; and then,

Stroking his beard, he said again:

“This brings back to my memory

A story in the Talmud told,

That book of gems, that book of gold,

Of wonders many and manifold,

A tale that often comes to me,

And fills my heart, and haunts my brain,

And never wearies nor grows old.”