Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part II. The Golden Legend. II. I. A Farm in the Odenwald

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

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. II. I. A Farm in the Odenwald

A garden; morning; PRINCE HENRY seated, with a book. ELSIE at a distance gathering flowers.

PRINCE HENRY, reading.
ONE morning, all alone,

Out of his convent of gray stone,

Into the forest older, darker, grayer,

His lips moving as if in prayer,

His head sunken upon his breast

As in a dream of rest,

Walked the Monk Felix. All about

The broad, sweet sunshine lay without,

Filling the summer air;

And within the woodlands as he trod,

The dusk was like the Truce of God

With worldly woe and care;

Under him lay the golden moss;

And above him the boughs of hoary trees

Waved, and made the sign of the cross,

And whispered their Benedicites;

And from the ground

Rose an odor sweet and fragrant

Of the wild-flowers and the vagrant

Vines that wandered,

Seeking the sunshine, round and round.

These he heeded not, but pondered

On the volume in his hand,

Wherein amazed he read:

“A thousand years in thy sight

Are but as yesterday when it is past,

And as a watch in the night!”

And with his eyes downcast

In humility he said:

“I believe, O Lord,

What is written in thy Word,

But alas! I do not understand!”

And lo! he heard

The sudden singing of a bird,

A snow-white bird, that from a cloud

Dropped down,

And among the branches brown

Sat singing,

So sweet, and clear, and loud,

It seemed a thousand harp-strings ringing.

And the Monk Felix closed his book,

And long, long,

With rapturous look,

He listened to the song,

And hardly breathed or stirred,

Until he saw, as in a vision,

The land Elysian,

And in the heavenly city heard

Angelic feet

Fall on the golden flagging of the street.

And he would fain

Have caught the wondrous bird,

But strove in vain;

For it flew away, away,

Far over hill and dell,

And instead of its sweet singing

He heard the convent bell

Suddenly in the silence ringing

For the service of noonday.

And he retraced

His pathway homeward sadly and in haste.

In the convent there was a change!

He looked for each well-known face,

But the faces were new and strange;

New figures sat in the oaken stalls,

New voices chanted in the choir;

Yet the place was the same place,

The same dusky walls

Of cold, gray stone,

The same cloisters and belfry and spire.

A stranger and alone

Among that brotherhood

The Monk Felix stood.

“Forty years,” said a Friar,

“Have I been Prior

Of this convent in the wood,

But for that space

Never have I beheld thy face!”

The heart of the Monk Felix fell:

And he answered, with submissive tone,

“This morning, after the hour of Prime,

I left my cell,

And wandered forth alone,

Listening all the time

To the melodious singing

Of a beautiful white bird,

Until I heard

The bells of the convent ringing

Noon from their noisy towers.

It was as if I dreamed;

For what to me had seemed

Moments only, had been hours!”

“Years!” said a voice close by.

It was an aged monk who spoke,

From a bench of oak

Fastened against the wall;—

He was the oldest monk of all.

For a whole century

Had he been there,

Serving God in prayer,

The meekest and humblest of his creatures

He remembered well the features

Of Felix, and he said,

Speaking distinct and slow:

“One hundred years ago,

When I was a novice in this place,

There was here a monk, full of God’s grace,

Who bore the name

Of Felix, and this man must be the same.”

And straightway

They brought forth to the light of day

A volume old and brown,

A huge tome, bound

In brass and wild-boar’s hide,

Wherein were written down

The names of all who had died

In the convent, since it was edified.

And there they found,

Just as the old monk said,

That on a certain day and date,

One hundred years before,

Had gone forth from the convent gate

The Monk Felix, and never more

Had entered that sacred door.

He had been counted among the dead!

And they knew, at last,

That, such had been the power

Of that celestial and immortal song,

A hundred years had passed,

And had not seemed so long

As a single hour!

ELSIE comes in with flowers.

Here are flowers for you,

But they are not all for you.

Some of them are for the Virgin

And for Saint Cecilia.

As thou standest there,

Thou seemest to me like the angel

That brought the immortal roses

To Saint Cecilia’s bridal chamber.

But these will fade.

Themselves will fade,

But not their memory,

And memory has the power

To re-create them from the dust.

They remind me, too,

Of martyred Dorothea,

Who from celestial gardens sent

Flowers as her witnesses

To him who scoffed and doubted.

Do you know the story

Of Christ and the Sultan’s daughter?

That is the prettiest legend of them all.

Then tell it to me.

But first come hither.

Lay the flowers down beside me,

And put both thy hands in mine.

Now tell me the story.

Early in the morning

The Sultan’s daughter

Walked in her father’s garden,

Gathering the bright flowers,

All full of dew.

Just as thou hast been doing

This morning, dearest Elsie.

And as she gathered them

She wondered more and more

Who was the Master of the Flowers,

And made them grow

Out of the cold, dark earth.

“In my heart,” she said,

“I love him; and for him

Would leave my father’s palace,

To labor in his garden.”

Dear, innocent child!

How sweetly thou recallest

The long-forgotten legend,

That in my early childhood

My mother told me!

Upon my brain

It reappears once more,

As a birth-mark on the forehead

When a hand suddenly

Is laid upon it, and removed!

And at midnight,

As she lay upon her bed,

She heard a voice

Call to her from the garden,

And, looking forth from her window,

She saw a beautiful youth

Standing among the flowers.

It was the Lord Jesus;

And she went down to Him,

And opened the door for Him;

And He said to her, “O maiden!

Thou hast thought of me with love,

And for thy sake

Out of my Father’s kingdom

Have I come hither:

I am the Master of the Flowers.

My garden is in Paradise,

And if thou wilt go with me,

Thy bridal garland

Shall be of bright red flowers.”

And then He took from his finger

A golden ring,

And asked the Sultan’s daughter

If she would be his bride.

And when she answered Him with love.

His wounds began to bleed,

And she said to him,

“O Love! how red thy heart is,

And thy hands are full of roses.”

“For thy sake,” answered He,

“For thy sake is my heart so red,

For thee I bring these roses;

I gathered them at the cross

Whereon I died for thee!

Come, for my Father calls.

Thou art my elected bride!”

And the Sultan’s daughter

Followed Him to his Father’s garden.

Wouldst thou have done so, Elsie?

Yes, very gladly.

Then the Celestial Bridegroom

Will come for thee also.

Upon thy forehead He will place

Not his crown of thorns,

But a crown of roses.

In thy bridal chamber,

Like Saint Cecilia,

Thou shalt hear sweet music,

And breathe the fragrance

Of flowers immortal!

Go now and place these flowers

Before her picture.