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

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. III. II. Square in Front of the Cathedral

Easter Sunday. FRIAR CUTHBERT preaching to the crowd from a pulpit in the open air. PRINCE HENRY and ELSIE crossing the square.

THIS is the day, when from the dead

Our Lord arose; and everywhere,

Out of their darkness and despair,

Triumphant over fears and foes,

The hearts of his disciples rose,

When to the women, standing near,

The Angel in shining vesture said,

“The Lord is risen; he is not here!”

And, mindful that the day is come,

On all the hearths in Christendom

The fires are quenched, to be again

Rekindled from the sun, that high

Is dancing in the cloudless sky.

The churches are all decked with flowers,

The salutations among men

Are but the Angel’s words divine,

“Christ is arisen!” and the bells

Catch the glad murmur, as it swells,

And chant together in their towers.

All hearts are glad; and free from care

The faces of the people shine.

See what a crowd is in the square,

Gayly and gallantly arrayed!

Let us go back; I am afraid!

Nay, let us mount the church-steps here,

Under the doorway’s sacred shadow;

We can see all things, and be freer

From the crowd that madly heaves and presses!

What a gay pageant! what bright dresses!

It looks like a flower-besprinkled meadow.

What is that yonder on the square?

A pulpit in the open air,

And a Friar, who is preaching to the crowd

In a voice so deep and clear and loud,

That, if we listen, and give heed,

His lowest words will reach the ear.

FRIAR CUTHBERT, gesticulating and cracking a postilion’s whip.
What ho! good people! do you not hear?

Dashing along at the top of his speed,

Booted and spurred, on his jaded steed,

A courier comes with words of cheer.

Courier! what is the news, I pray?

“Christ is arisen!” Whence come you? “From court.”

Then I do not believe it; you say it in sport.

Cracks his whip again.

Ah, here comes another, riding this way;

We soon shall know what he has to say.

Courier! what are the tidings to-day?

“Christ is arisen!” Whence come you? “From town.”

Then I do not believe it; away with you, clown.

Cracks his whip more violently.

And here comes a third, who is spurring amain;

What news do you bring, with your loose-hanging rein,

Your spurs wet with blood, and your bridle with foam?

“Christ is arisen!” Whence come you? “From Rome.”

Ah, now I believe. He is risen, indeed.

Ride on with the news, at the top of your speed!

Great applause among the crowd.

To come back to my text! When the news was first spread

That Christ was arisen indeed from the dead,

Very great was the joy of the angels in heaven;

And as great the dispute as to who should carry

The tidings thereof to the Virgin Mary,

Pierced to the heart with sorrows seven.

Old Father Adam was first to propose,

As being the author of all our woes;

But he was refused, for fear, said they,

He would stop to eat apples on the way!

Abel came next, but petitioned in vain,

Because he might meet with his brother Cain!

Noah, too, was refused, lest his weakness for wine

Should delay him at every tavern-sign;

And John the Baptist could not get a vote,

On account of his old-fashioned camel’s-hair coat;

And the Penitent Thief, who died on the cross,

Was reminded that all his bones were broken!

Till at last, when each in turn had spoken,

The company being still at loss,

The Angel, who rolled away the stone,

Was sent to the sepulchre, all alone.

And filled with glory that gloomy prison,

And said to the Virgin, “The Lord is arisen!”

The Cathedral bells ring.

But hark! the bells are beginning to chime;

And I feel that I am growing hoarse.

I will put an end to my discourse,

And leave the rest for some other time.

For the bells themselves are the best of preachers;

Their brazen lips are learned teachers,

From their pulpits of stone, in the upper air,

Sounding aloft, without crack or flaw,

Shriller than trumpets under the Law,

Now a sermon, and now a prayer.

The clangorous hammer is the tongue,

This way, that way, beaten and swung,

That from mouth of brass, as from Mouth of Gold,

May be taught the Testaments, New and Old.

And above it the great cross-beam of wood

Representeth the Holy Rood,

Upon which, like the bell, our hopes are hung.

And the wheel wherewith it is swayed and rung

Is the mind of man, that round and round

Sways, and maketh the tongue to sound!

And the rope, with its twisted cordage three,

Denoteth the Scriptural Trinity

Of Morals, and Symbols, and History;

And the upward and downward motion show

That we touch upon matters high and low;

And the constant change and transmutation

Of action and of contemplation,

Downward, the Scripture brought from on high,

Upward, exalted again to the sky;

Downward, the literal interpretation,

Upward, the Vision and Mystery!

And now, my hearers, to make an end,

I have only one word more to say;

In the church, in honor of Easter day

Will be presented a Miracle Play;

And I hope you will all have the grace to attend.

Christ bring us at last to his felicity!

Pax vobiscum! et Benedicite!