Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part II. The Golden Legend. VI. II. The Farm-House in the Odenwald

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

Christus: A Mystery

Part II. The Golden Legend. VI. II. The Farm-House in the Odenwald

URSULA spinning. A summer afternoon. A table spread.

I HAVE marked it well,—it must be true,—

Death never takes one alone, but two!

Whenever he enters in at a door,

Under roof of gold or roof of thatch,

He always leaves it upon the latch,

And comes again ere the year is o’er.

Never one of a household only!

Perhaps it is a mercy of God,

Lest the dead there under the sod,

In the land of strangers, should be lonely!

Ah me! I think I am lonelier here!

It is hard to go,—but harder to stay!

Were it not for the children, I should pray

That Death would take me within the year!

And Gottlieb!—he is at work all day,

In the sunny field, or the forest murk,

But I know that his thoughts are far away,

I know that his heart is not in his work!

And when he comes home to me at night

He is not cheery, but sits and sighs,

And I see the great tears in his eyes,

And try to be cheerful for his sake.

Only the children’s hearts are light.

Mine is weary, and ready to break.

God help us! I hope we have done right;

We thought we were acting for the best!

Looking through the open door.

Who is it coming under the trees?

A man, in the Prince’s livery dressed!

He looks about him with doubtful face,

As if uncertain of the place.

He stops at the beehives;—now he sees

The garden gate;—he is going past!

Can he be afraid of the bees?

No; he is coming in at last!

He fills my heart with strange alarm!

Enter a Forester.

Is this the tenant Gottlieb’s farm?

This is his farm, and I his wife.

Pray sit. What may your business be!

News from the Prince!

Of death or life?

You put your questions eagerly!

Answer me, then! How is the Prince?

I left him only two hours since

Homeward returning down the river,

As strong and well as if God, the Giver,

Had given him back his youth again.

URSULA, despairing.
Then Elsie, my poor child, is dead!

That, my good woman, I have not said.

Don’t cross the bridge till you come to it,

Is a proverb old, and of excellent wit.

Keep me no longer in this pain!

It is true your daughter is no more;—

That is, the peasant she was before.

Alas! I am simple and lowly bred,

I am poor, distracted, and forlorn.

And it is not well that you of the court

Should mock me thus, and make a sport

Of a joyless mother whose child is dead,

For you, too, were of mother born!

Your daughter lives, and the Prince is well!

You will learn erelong how it all befell.

Her heart for a moment never failed;

But when they reached Salerno’s gate,

The Prince’s nobler self prevailed,

And saved her for a noble fate.

And he was healed, in his despair,

By the touch of St. Matthew’s sacred bones;

Though I think the long ride in the open air,

That pilgrimage over stocks and stones,

In the miracle must come in for a share!

Virgin! who lovest the poor and lowly,

If the loud cry of a mother’s heart

Can ever ascend to where thou art,

Into thy blessed hands and holy

Receive my prayer of praise and thanks-giving!

Let the hands that bore our Saviour bear it

Into the awful presence of God;

For thy feet with holiness are shod,

And if thou bearest it He will hear it.

Our child who was dead again is living!

I did not tell you she was dead;

If you thought so ’t was no fault of mine;

At this very moment, while I speak,

They are sailing homeward down the Rhine,

In a splendid barge, with golden prow,

And decked with banners white and red

As the colors on your daughter’s cheek.

They call her the Lady Alicia now;

For the Prince in Salerno made a vow

That Elsie only would he wed.

Jesu Maria! what a change!

All seems to me so weird and strange!

I saw her standing on the deck,

Beneath an awning cool and shady;

Her cap of velvet could not hold

The tresses of her hair of gold,

That flowed and floated like the stream,

And fell in masses down her neck.

As fair and lovely did she seem

As in a story or a dream

Some beautiful and foreign lady.

And the Prince looked so grand and proud,

And waved his hand thus to the crowd

That gazed and shouted from the shore,

All down the river, long and loud.

We shall behold our child once more;

She is not dead! She is not dead!

God, listening, must have overheard

The prayers, that, without sound or word,

Our hearts in secrecy have said!

Oh, bring me to her; for mine eyes

Are hungry to behold her face;

My very soul within me cries;

My very hands seem to caress her,

To see her, gaze at her, and bless her;

Dear Elsie, child of God and grace!

Goes out toward the garden.

There goes the good woman out of her head;

And Gottlieb’s supper is waiting here;

A very capacious flagon of beer,

And a very portentous loaf of bread.

One would say his grief did not much oppress him.

Here ’s to the health of the Prince, God bless him!

He drinks.

Ha! it buzzes and stings like a hornet!

And what a scene there, through the door!

The forest behind and the garden before,

And midway an old man of threescore,

With a wife and children that caress him.

Let me try still further to cheer and adorn it

With a merry, echoing blast of my cornet!

Goes out blowing his horn.