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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part First. Prelude

ONE Autumn night, in Sudbury town,

Across the meadows bare and brown,

The windows of the wayside inn

Gleamed red with fire-light through the leaves

Of woodbine, hanging from the eaves

Their crimson curtains rent and thin.

As ancient is this hostelry

As any in the land may be,

Built in the old Colonial day,

When men lived in a grander way,

With ampler hospitality;

A kind of old Hobgoblin Hall,

Now somewhat fallen to decay,

With weather-stains upon the wall,

And stairways worn, and crazy doors,

And creaking and uneven floors,

And chimneys huge, and tiled and tall.

A region of repose it seems,

A place of slumber and of dreams,

Remote among the wooded hills!

For there no noisy railway speeds,

Its torch-race scattering smoke and gleeds;

But noon and night, the panting teams

Stop under the great oaks, that throw

Tangles of light and shade below,

On roofs and doors and window-sills.

Across the road the barns display

Their lines of stalls, their mows of hay,

Through the wide doors the breezes blow,

The wattled cocks strut to and fro,

And, half effaced by rain and shine,

The Red Horse prances on the sign.

Round this old-fashioned, quaint abode

Deep silence reigned, save when a gust

Went rushing down the county road,

And skeletons of leaves, and dust,

A moment quickened by its breath,

Shuddered and danced their dance of death,

And through the ancient oaks o’erhead

Mysterious voices moaned and fled.

But from the parlor of the inn

A pleasant murmur smote the ear,

Like water rushing through a weir:

Oft interrupted by the din

Of laughter and of loud applause,

And, in each intervening pause,

The music of a violin.

The fire-light, shedding over all

The splendor of its ruddy glow,

Filled the whole parlor large and low;

It gleamed on wainscot and on wall,

It touched with more than wonted grace

Fair Princess Mary’s pictured face;

It bronzed the rafters overhead,

On the old spinet’s ivory keys

It played inaudible melodies,

It crowned the sombre clock with flame,

The hands, the hours, the maker’s name,

And painted with a livelier red

The Landlord’s coat-of-arms again;

And, flashing on the window-pane,

Emblazoned with its light and shade

The jovial rhymes, that still remain,

Writ near a century ago,

By the great Major Molineaux,

Whom Hawthorne has immortal made.

Before the blazing fire of wood

Erect the rapt musician stood;

And ever and anon he bent

His head upon his instrument,

And seemed to listen, till he caught

Confessions of its secret thought,—

The joy, the triumph, the lament,

The exultation and the pain;

Then, by the magic of his art,

He soothed the throbbings of its heart,

And lulled it into peace again.

Around the fireside at their ease

There sat a group of friends, entranced

With the delicious melodies;

Who from the far-off noisy town

Had to the wayside inn come down,

To rest beneath its old oak trees.

The fire-light on their faces glanced,

Their shadows on the wainscot danced,

And, though of different lands and speech,

Each had his tale to tell, and each

Was anxious to be pleased and please.

And while the sweet musician plays,

Let me in outline sketch them all,

Perchance uncouthly as the blaze

With its uncertain touch portrays

Their shadowy semblance on the wall.

But first the Landlord will I trace;

Grave in his aspect and attire;

A man of ancient pedigree,

A Justice of the Peace was he,

Known in all Sudbury as “The Squire.”

Proud was he of his name and race,

Of old Sir William and Sir Hugh,

And in the parlor, full in view,

His coat-of-arms, well framed and glazed,

Upon the wall in colors blazed;

He beareth gules upon his shield,

A chevron argent in the field,

With three wolf’s-heads, and for the crest

A Wyvern part-per-pale addressed

Upon a helmet barred; below

The scroll reads, “By the name of Howe.”

And over this, no longer bright,

Though glimmering with a latent light,

Was hung the sword his grandsire bore

In the rebellious days of yore,

Down there at Concord in the fight.

A youth was there, of quiet ways,

A Student of old books and days,

To whom all tongues and lands were known,

And yet a lover of his own;

With many a social virtue graced,

And yet a friend of solitude;

A man of such a genial mood

The heart of all things he embraced,

And yet of such fastidious taste,

He never found the best too good.

Books were his passion and delight,

And in his upper room at home

Stood many a rare and sumptuous tome,

In vellum bound, with gold bedight,

Great volumes garmented in white,

Recalling Florence, Pisa, Rome.

He loved the twilight that surrounds

The border-land of old romance;

Where glitter hauberk, helm, and lance,

And banner waves, and trumpet sounds,

And ladies ride with hawk on wrist,

And mighty warriors sweep along,

Magnified by the purple mist,

The dusk of centuries and of song.

The chronicles of Charlemagne,

Of Merlin and the Mort d’Arthure,

Mingled together in his brain

With tales of Flores and Blanchefleur,

Sir Ferumbras, Sir Eglamour,

Sir Launcelot, Sir Morgadour,

Sir Guy, Sir Bevis, Sir Gawain.

A young Sicilian, too, was there;

In sight of Etna born and bred,

Some breath of its volcanic air

Was glowing in his heart and brain,

And, being rebellious to his liege,

After Palermo’s fatal siege,

Across the western seas he fled,

In good King Bomba’s happy reign.

His face was like a summer night,

All flooded with a dusky light;

His hands were small; his teeth shone white

As sea-shells, when he smiled or spoke;

His sinews supple and strong as oak;

Clean shaven was he as a priest,

Who at the mass on Sunday sings,

Save that upon his upper lip

His beard, a good palm’s length at least,

Level and pointed at the tip,

Shot sideways, like a swallow’s wings.

The poets read he o’er and o’er,

And most of all the Immortal Four

Of Italy; and next to those,

The story-telling bard of prose,

Who wrote the joyous Tuscan tales

Of the Decameron, that make

Fiesole’s green hills and vales

Remembered for Boccaccio’s sake.

Much too of music was his thought;

The melodies and measures fraught

With sunshine and the open air,

Of vineyards and the singing sea

Of his beloved Sicily;

And much it pleased him to peruse

The songs of the Sicilian muse,—

Bucolic songs by Meli sung

In the familiar peasant tongue,

That made men say, “Behold! once more

The pitying gods to earth restore

Theocritus of Syracuse!”

A Spanish Jew from Alicant

With aspect grand and grave was there;

Vender of silks and fabrics rare,

And attar of rose from the Levant.

Like an old Patriarch he appeared,

Abraham or Isaac, or at least

Some later Prophet or High-Priest;

With lustrous eyes, and olive skin,

And, wildly tossed from cheeks and chin,

The tumbling cataract of his beard.

His garments breathed a spicy scent

Of cinnamon and sandal blent,

Like the soft aromatic gales

That meet the mariner, who sails

Through the Moluccas, and the seas

That wash the shores of Celebes.

All stories that recorded are

By Pierre Alphonse he knew by heart,

And it was rumored he could say

The Parables of Sandabar,

And all the Fables of Pilpay,

Or if not all, the greater part!

Well versed was he in Hebrew books,

Talmud and Targum, and the lore

Of Kabala; and evermore

There was a mystery in his looks;

His eyes seemed gazing far away,

As if in vision or in trance

He heard the solemn sackbut play,

And saw the Jewish maidens dance.

A Theologian, from the school

Of Cambridge on the Charles, was there;

Skilful alike with tongue and pen,

He preached to all men everywhere

The Gospel of the Golden Rule,

The New Commandment given to men,

Thinking the deed, and not the creed,

Would help us in our utmost need.

With reverent feet the earth he trod,

Nor banished nature from his plan,

But studied still with deep research

To build the Universal Church,

Lofty as is the love of God,

And ample as the wants of man.

A Poet, too, was there, whose verse

Was tender, musical, and terse;

The inspiration, the delight,

The gleam, the glory, the swift flight

Of thoughts so sudden, that they seem

The revelations of a dream,

All these were his; but with them came

No envy of another’s fame;

He did not find his sleep less sweet,

For music in some neighboring street

Nor rustling hear in every breeze

The laurels of Miltiades.

Honor and blessings on his head

While living, good report when dead,

Who, not too eager for renown,

Accepts, but does not clutch, the crown!

Last the Musician, as he stood

Illumined by that fire of wood;

Fair-haired, blue-eyed, his aspect blithe,

His figure tall and straight and lithe,

And every feature of his face

Revealing his Norwegian race;

A radiance, streaming from within,

Around his eyes and forehead beamed,

The Angel with the violin,

Painted by Raphael, he seemed.

He lived in that ideal world

Whose language is not speech, but song;

Around him evermore the throng

Of elves and sprites their dances whirled;

The Strömkarl sang, the cataract hurled

Its headlong waters from the height;

And mingled in the wild delight

The scream of sea-birds in their flight,

The rumor of the forest trees,

The plunge of the implacable seas,

The tumult of the wind at night,

Voices of eld, like trumpets blowing,

Old ballads, and wild melodies

Through mist and darkness pouring forth,

Like Elivagar’s river flowing

Out of the glaciers of the North.

The instrument on which he played

Was in Cremona’s workshops made,

By a great master of the past,

Ere yet was lost the art divine;

Fashioned of maple and of pine,

That in Tyrolean forests vast

Had rocked and wrestled with the blast:

Exquisite was it in design,

Perfect in each minutest part,

A marvel of the lutist’s art;

And in its hollow chamber, thus,

The maker from whose hands it came

Had written his unrivalled name,—

“Antonius Stradivarius.”

And when he played, the atmosphere

Was filled with magic, and the ear

Caught echoes of that Harp of Gold,

Whose music had so weird a sound,

The hunted stag forgot to bound,

The leaping rivulet backward rolled,

The birds came down from bush and tree,

The dead came from beneath the sea,

The maiden to the harper’s knee!

The music ceased; the applause was loud,

The pleased musician smiled and bowed;

The wood-fire clapped its hands of flame,

The shadows on the wainscot stirred,

And from the harpsichord there came

A ghostly murmur of acclaim,

A sound like that sent down at night

By birds of passage in their flight,

From the remotest distance heard.

Then silence followed; then began

A clamor for the Landlord’s tale,—

The story promised them of old,

They said, but always left untold;

And he, although a bashful man,

And all his courage seemed to fail,

Finding excuse of no avail,

Yielded; and thus the story ran.