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

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. Second Interlude: Martin Luther

A Chamber in the Wartburg. Morning. Martin Luther Writing

Our God, a Tower of Strength is He,

A goodly wall and weapon;

From all our need He helps us free,

That now to us doth happen.

The old evil foe

Doth in earnest grow,

In grim armor dight,

Much guile and great might;

On earth there is none like him.

OH yes; a tower of strength indeed,

A present help in all our need,

A sword and buckler is our God.

Innocent men have walked unshod

O’er burning ploughshares, and have trod

Unharmed on serpents in their path,

And laughed to scorn the Devil’s wrath!

Safe in this Wartburg tower I stand

Where God hath led me by the hand,

And look down, with a heart at ease,

Over the pleasant neighborhoods,

Over the vast Thuringian Woods,

With flash of river, and gloom of trees,

With castles crowning the dizzy heights,

And farms and pastoral delights,

And the morning pouring everywhere

Its golden glory on the air.

Safe, yes, safe am I here at last,

Safe from the overwhelming blast

Of the mouths of Hell, that followed me fast,

And the howling demons of despair

That hunted me like a beast to his lair.

Of our own might we nothing can;

We soon are unprotected;

There fighteth for us the right Man,

Whom God himself elected.

Who is He; ye exclaim?

Christus is his name,

Lord of Sabaoth,

Very God in troth;

The field He holds forever.

Nothing can vex the Devil more

Than the name of Him whom we adore.

Therefore doth it delight me best

To stand in the choir among the rest,

With the great organ trumpeting

Through its metallic tubes, and sing:

Et verbum caro factum est!

These words the Devil cannot endure,

For he knoweth their meaning well!

Him they trouble and repel,

Us they comfort and allure,

And happy it were, if our delight

Were as great as his affright!

Yea, music is the Prophets’ art;

Among the gifts that God hath sent,

One of the most magnificent!

It calms the agitated heart;

Temptations, evil thoughts, and all

The passions that disturb the soul,

Are quelled by its divine control,

As the Evil Spirit fled from Saul,

And his distemper was allayed,

When David took his harp and played.

This world may full of Devils be,

All ready to devour us;

Yet not so sore afraid are we,

They shall not overpower us.

This World’s Prince, howe’er

Fierce he may appear,

He can harm us not,

He is doomed, God wot!

One little word can slay him!

Incredible it seems to some

And to myself a mystery,

That such weak flesh and blood as we,

Armed with no other shield or sword,

Or other weapon than the Word,

Should combat and should overcome

A spirit powerful as he!

He summons forth the Pope of Rome

With all his diabolic crew,

His shorn and shaven retinue

Of priests and children of the dark;

Kill! kill! they cry, the Heresiarch,

Who rouseth up all Christendom

Against us; and at one fell blow

Seeks the whole Church to overthrow!

Not yet; my hour is not yet come.

Yesterday in an idle mood,

Hunting with others in the wood,

I did not pass the hours in vain,

For in the very heart of all

The joyous tumult raised around,

Shouting of men, and baying of hound,

And the bugle’s blithe and cheery call,

And echoes answering back again,

From crags of the distant mountain chain,—

In the very heart of this, I found

A mystery of grief and pain.

It was an image of the power

Of Satan, hunting the world about,

With his nets and traps and well-trained dogs,

His bishops and priests and theologues,

And all the rest of the rabble rout,

Seeking whom he may devour!

Enough I have had of hunting hares,

Enough of these hours of idle mirth,

Enough of nets and traps and gins!

The only hunting of any worth

Is where I can pierce with javelins

The cunning foxes and wolves and bears,

The whole iniquitous troop of beasts,

The Roman Pope and the Roman priests

That sorely infest and afflict the earth!

Ye nuns, ye singing birds of the air!

The fowler hath caught you in his snare,

And keeps you safe in his gilded cage,

Singing the song that never tires,

To lure down others from their nests;

How ye flutter and beat your breasts,

Warm and soft with young desires

Against the cruel, pitiless wires,

Reclaiming your lost heritage!

Behold! a hand unbars the door,

Ye shall be captives held no more.

The Word they shall perforce let stand,

And little thanks they merit!

For He is with us in the land,

With gifts of his own Spirit!

Though they take our life,

Goods, honors, child and wife,

Let these pass away,

Little gain have they;

The Kingdom still remaineth!

Yea, it remaineth forevermore,

However Satan may rage and roar,

Though often he whispers in my ears:

What if thy doctrines false should be?

And wrings from me a bitter sweat.

Then I put him to flight with jeers,

Saying: Saint Satan! pray for me;

If thou thinkest I am not saved yet!

And my mortal foes that lie in wait

In every avenue and gate!

As to that odious monk John Tetzel,

Hawking about his hollow wares

Like a huckster at village fairs,

And those mischievous fellows, Wetzel,

Campanus, Carlstadt, Martin Cellarius,

And all the busy, multifarious

Heretics, and disciples of Arius,

Half-learned, dunce-bold, dry and hard,

They are not worthy of my regard,

Poor and humble as I am.

But ah! Erasmus of Rotterdam,

He is the vilest miscreant

That ever walked this world below!

A Momus, making his mock and mow,

At Papist and at Protestant,

Sneering at St. John and St. Paul,

At God and Man, at one and all;

And yet as hollow and false and drear,

As a cracked pitcher to the ear,

And ever growing worse and worse!

Whenever I pray, I pray for a curse

On Erasmus, the Insincere!

Philip Melancthon! thou alone

Faithful among the faithless known,

Thee I hail, and only thee!

Behold the record of us three!

Res et verba Philippus,

Res sine verbis Lutherus;

Erasmus verba sine re!

My Philip, prayest thou for me?

Lifted above all earthly care,

From these high regions of the air,

Among the birds that day and night

Upon the branches of tall trees

Sing their lauds and litanies,

Praising God with all their might,

My Philip, unto thee I write.

My Philip! thou who knowest best

All that is passing in this breast;

The spiritual agonies,

The inward deaths, the inward hell,

And the divine new births as well,

That surely follow after these,

As after winter follows spring;

My Philip, in the night-time sing

This song of the Lord I send to thee;

And I will sing it for thy sake,

Until our answering voices make

A glorious antiphony,

And choral chant of victory!