Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part II. The Golden Legend. I. The Castle of Vautsberg on the Rhine

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

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. I. The Castle of Vautsberg on the Rhine

A chamber in a tower. PRINCE HENRY, sitting alone, ill and restless. Midnight.

I CANNOT sleep! my fervid brain

Calls up the vanished Past again,

And throws its misty splendors deep

Into the pallid realms of sleep!

A breath from that far-distant shore

Comes freshening ever more and more,

And wafts o’er intervening seas

Sweet odors from the Hesperides!

A wind, that through the corridor

Just stirs the curtain, and no more,

And, touching the æolian strings,

Faints with the burden that it brings!

Come back! ye friendships long departed!

That like o’erflowing streamlets started,

And now are dwindled, one by one,

To stony channels in the sun!

Come back! ye friends, whose lives are ended,

Come back, with all that light attended,

Which seemed to darken and decay

When ye arose and went away!

They come, the shapes of joy and woe,

The airy crowds of long ago,

The dreams and fancies known of yore,

That have been, and shall be no more.

They change the cloisters of the night

Into a garden of delight;

They make the dark and dreary hours

Open and blossom into flowers!

I would not sleep! I love to be

Again in their fair company;

But ere my lips can bid them stay,

They pass and vanish quite away!

Alas! our memories may retrace

Each circumstance of time and place,

Season and scene come back again,

And outward things unchanged remain;

The rest we cannot reinstate;

Ourselves we cannot re-create,

Nor set our souls to the same key

Of the remembered harmony!

Rest! rest! Oh, give me rest and peace!

The thought of life that ne’er shall cease

Has something in it like despair,

A weight I am too weak to bear!

Sweeter to this afflicted breast

The thought of never-ending rest!

Sweeter the undisturbed and deep

Tranquillity of endless sleep!

A flash of lightning, out of which LUCIFER appears, in the garb of a travelling Physician.

All hail, Prince Henry!

PRINCE HENRY, starting.
Who is it speaks?

Who and what are you?

One who seeks

A moment’s audience with the Prince.

When came you in?

A moment since.

I found your study door unlocked,

And thought you answered when I knocked.

I did not hear you.

You heard the thunder;

It was loud enough to waken the dead.

And it is not a matter of special wonder

That, when God is walking overhead,

You should not hear my feeble tread.

What may your wish or purpose be?

Nothing or everything, as it pleases

Your Highness. You behold in me

Only a travelling Physician;

One of the few who have a mission

To cure incurable diseases,

Or those that are called so.

Can you bring

The dead to life?

Yes; very nearly.

And, what is a wiser and better thing,

Can keep the living from ever needing

Such an unnatural, strange proceeding,

By showing conclusively and clearly

That death is a stupid blunder merely,

And not a necessity of our lives.

My being here is accidental;

The storm, that against your casement drives,

In the little village below waylaid me.

And there I heard with a secret delight,

Of your maladies physical and mental,

Which neither astonished nor dismayed me.

And I hastened hither, though late in the night,

To proffer my aid!

PRINCE HENRY, ironically.
For this you came!

Ah, how can I ever hope to requite

This honor from one so erudite?

The honor is mine, or will be when

I have cured your disease.

But not till then.

What is your illness?

It has no name.

A smouldering, dull, perpetual flame,

As in a kiln, burns in my veins,

Sending up vapors to the head;

My heart has become a dull lagoon,

Which a kind of leprosy drinks and drains;

I am accounted as one who is dead,

And, indeed, I think that I shall be soon.

And has Gordonius the Divine,

In his famous Lily of Medicine,—

I see the book lies open before you,—

No remedy potent enough to restore you?

None whatever!

The dead are dead,

And their oracles dumb, when questionèd

Of the new diseases that human life

Evolves in its progress, rank and rife.

Consult the dead upon things that were,

But the living only on things that are.

Have you done this, by the appliance

And aid of doctors?

Ay, whole schools

Of doctors, with their learned rules;

But the case is quite beyond their science.

Even the doctors of Salern

Send me back word they can discern

No cure for a malady like this,

Save one which in its nature is

Impossible and cannot be!

That sounds oracular!


What is their remedy?

You shall see;

Writ in this scroll is the mystery.

LUCIFER, reading.
“Not to be cured, yet not incurable!

The only remedy that remains

Is the blood that flows from a maiden’s veins,

Who of her own free will shall die,

And give her life as the price of yours!”

That is the strangest of all cures,

And one, I think, you will never try;

The prescription you may well put by,

As something impossible to find

Before the world itself shall end!

And yet who knows? One cannot say

That into some maiden’s brain that kind

Of madness will not find its way.

Meanwhile permit me to recommend,

As the matter admits of no delay,

My wonderful Catholicon,

Of very subtile and magical powers!

Purge with your nostrums and drugs infernal

The spouts and gargoyles of these towers,

Not me! My faith is utterly gone

In every power but the Power Supernal!

Pray tell me, of what school are you?

Both of the Old and of the New!

The school of Hermes Trismegistus,

Who uttered his oracles sublime

Before the Olympiads, in the dew

Of the early dusk and dawn of time,

The reign of dateless old Hephæstus!

As northward, from its Nubian springs,

The Nile, forever new and old,

Among the living and the dead,

Its mighty, mystic stream has rolled;

So, starting from its fountain-head

Under the lotus-leaves of Isis,

From the dead demigods of eld,

Through long, unbroken lines of kings

Its course the sacred art has held,

Unchecked, unchanged by man’s devices.

This art the Arabian Geber taught,

And in alembics, finely wrought,

Distilling herbs and flowers, discovered

The secret that so long had hovered

Upon the misty verge of Truth,

The Elixir of Perpetual Youth,

Called Alcohol, in the Arab speech!

Like him, this wondrous lore I teach!

What! an adept?

Nor less, nor more!

I am a reader of your books,

A lover of that mystic lore!

With such a piercing glance it looks

Into great Nature’s open eye,

And sees within it trembling lie

The portrait of the Deity!

And yet, alas! with all my pains,

The secret and the mystery

Have baffled and eluded me,

Unseen the grand result remains!

LUCIFER, showing a flask.
Behold it here! this little flask

Contains the wonderful quintessence,

The perfect flower and efflorescence,

Of all the knowledge man can ask!

Hold it up thus against the light!

How limpid, pure, and crystalline,

How quick, and tremulous, and bright

The little wavelets dance and shine,

As were it the Water of Life in sooth!

It is! It assuages every pain,

Cures all disease, and gives again

To age the swift delights of youth.

Inhale its fragrance.

It is sweet.

A thousand different odors meet

And mingle in its rare perfume,

Such as the winds of summer waft

At open windows through a room!

Will you not taste it?

Will one draught


If not, you can drink more.

Into this crystal goblet pour

So much as safely I may drink.

LUCIFER, pouring.
Let not the quantity alarm you;

You may drink all; it will not harm you.

I am as one who on the brink

Of a dark river stands and sees

The waters flow, the landscape dim

Around him waver, wheel, and swim,

And, ere he plunges, stops to think

Into what whirlpools he may sink;

One moment pauses, and no more,

Then madly plunges from the shore!

Headlong into the mysteries

Of life and death I boldly leap,

Nor fear the fateful current’s sweep,

Nor what in ambush lurks below!

For death is better than disease!

An ANGEL with an æolian harp hovers in the air.

Woe! woe! eternal woe!

Not only the whispered prayer

Of love,

But the imprecations of hate,


For ever and ever through the air


This fearful curse

Shakes the great universe!

LUCIFER, disappearing.
Drink! drink!

And thy soul shall sink

Down into the dark abyss,

Into the infinite abyss,

From which no plummet nor rope

Ever drew up the silver sand of hope!

PRINCE, HENRY, drinking.
It is like a draught of fire!

Through every vein

I feel again

The fever of youth, the soft desire;

A rapture that is almost pain

Throbs in my heart and fills my brain!

O joy! O joy! I feel

The band of steel

That so long and heavily has pressed

Upon my breast

Uplifted, and the malediction

Of my affliction

Is taken from me, and my weary breast

At length finds rest.

It is but the rest of the fire, from which the air has been taken!

It is but the rest of the sand, when the hour-glass is not shaken!

It is but the rest of the tide between the ebb and the flow!

It is but the rest of the wind between the flaws that blow!

With fiendish laughter,


This false physician

Will mock thee in thy perdition.

Speak! speak!

Who says that I am ill?

I am not ill! I am not weak!

The trance, the swoon, the dream, is o’er!

I feel the chill of death no more!

At length,

I stand renewed in all my strength!

Beneath me I can feel

The great earth stagger and reel,

As if the feet of a descending God

Upon its surface trod,

And like a pebble it rolled beneath his heel!

This, O brave physician! this

Is thy great Palingenesis!

Drinks again.

Touch the goblet no more!

It will make thy heart sore

To its very core!

Its perfume is the breath

Of the Angel of Death,

And the light that within it lies

Is the flash of his evil eyes.

Beware! Oh, beware!

For sickness, sorrow, and care

All are there!

PRINCE HENRY, sinking back.
O thou voice within my breast!

Why entreat me, why upbraid me,

When the steadfast tongues of truth

And the flattering hopes of youth

Have all deceived me and betrayed me?

Give me, give me rest, oh rest!

Golden visions wave and hover,

Golden vapors, waters streaming,

Landscapes moving, changing, gleaming!

I am like a happy lover,

Who illumines life with dreaming!

Brave physician! Rare physician!

Well hast thou fulfilled thy mission!

His head falls on his book.

THE ANGEL, receding.
Alas! alas!

Like a vapor the golden vision

Shall fade and pass,

And thou wilt find in thy heart again

Only the blight of pain,

And bitter, bitter, bitter contrition!