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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part First. Interlude

THUS closed the tale of guilt and gloom,

That cast upon each listener’s face

Its shadow, and for some brief space

Unbroken silence filled the room.

The Jew was thoughtful and distressed;

Upon his memory thronged and pressed

The persecution of his race,

Their wrongs and sufferings and disgrace;

His head was sunk upon his breast,

And from his eyes alternate came

Flashes of wrath and tears of shame.

The Student first the silence broke,

As one who long has lain in wait,

With purpose to retaliate,

And thus he dealt the avenging stroke.

“In such a company as this,

A tale so tragic seems amiss,

That by its terrible control

O’ermasters and drags down the soul

Into a fathomless abyss.

The Italian Tales that you disdain,

Some merry Night of Straparole,

Or Machiavelli’s Belphagor,

Would cheer us and delight us more,

Give greater pleasure and less pain

Than your grim tragedies of Spain!”

And here the Poet raised his hand,

With such entreaty and command,

It stopped discussion at its birth,

And said: “The story I shall tell

Has meaning in it, if not mirth;

Listen, and hear what once befell

The merry birds of Killingworth!”