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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part First. Interlude

A STRAIN of music closed the tale,

A low, monotonous, funeral wail,

That with its cadence, wild and sweet,

Made the long Saga more complete.

“Thank God,” the Theologian said,

“The reign of violence is dead,

Or dying surely from the world;

While Love triumphant reigns instead,

And in a brighter sky o’erhead

His blessed banners are unfurled.

And most of all thank God for this:

The war and waste of clashing creeds

Now end in words, and not in deeds,

And no one suffers loss, or bleeds,

For thoughts that men call heresies.

“I stand without here in the porch,

I hear the bell’s melodious din,

I hear the organ peal within,

I hear the prayer, with words that scorch

Like sparks from an inverted torch,

I hear the sermon upon sin,

With threatenings of the last account.

And all, translated in the air,

Reach me but as our dear Lord’s Prayer,

And as the Sermon on the Mount.

“Must it be Calvin, and not Christ?

Must it be Athanasian creeds,

Or holy water, books, and beads?

Must struggling souls remain content

With councils and decrees of Trent?

And can it be enough for these

The Christian Church the year embalms

With evergreens and boughs of palms,

And fills the air with litanies?

“I know that yonder Pharisee

Thanks God that he is not like me;

In my humiliation dressed,

I only stand and beat my breast,

And pray for human charity.

“Not to one church alone, but seven,

The voice prophetic spake from heaven;

And unto each the promise came,

Diversified, but still the same;

For him that overcometh are

The new name written on the stone,

The raiment white, the crown, the throne,

And I will give him the Morning Star!

“Ah! to how many Faith has been

No evidence of things unseen,

But a dim shadow, that recasts

The creed of the Phantasiasts,

For whom no Man of Sorrows died,

For whom the Tragedy Divine

Was but a symbol and a sign,

And Christ a phantom crucified!

“For others a diviner creed

Is living in the life they lead.

The passing of their beautiful feet

Blesses the pavement of the street,

And all their looks and words repeat

Old Fuller’s saying, wise and sweet,

Not as a vulture, but a dove,

The Holy Ghost came from above.

“And this brings back to me a tale

So sad the hearer well may quail,

And question if such things can be;

Yet in the chronicles of Spain

Down the dark pages runs this stain,

And naught can wash them white again,

So fearful is the tragedy.”