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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Second. Interlude

“YES, well your story pleads the cause

Of those dumb mouths that have no speech,

Only a cry from each to each

In its own kind, with its own laws;

Something that is beyond the reach

Of human power to learn or teach,—

An inarticulate moan of pain,

Like the immeasurable main

Breaking upon an unknown beach.”

Thus spake the Poet with a sigh;

Then added, with impassioned cry,

As one who feels the words he speaks,

The color flushing in his cheeks,

The fervor burning in his eye:

“Among the noblest in the land,

Though he may count himself the least,

That man I honor and revere

Who without favor, without fear,

In the great city dares to stand

The friend of every friendless beast,

And tames with his unflinching hand

The brutes that wear our form and face,

The were-wolves of the human race!”

Then paused, and waited with a frown,

Like some old champion of romance,

Who, having thrown his gauntlet down,

Expectant leans upon his lance;

But neither Knight nor Squire is found

To raise the gauntlet from the ground,

And try with him the battle’s chance.

“Wake from your dreams, O Edrehi!

Or dreaming speak to us, and make

A feint of being half awake,

And tell us what your dreams may be.

Out of the hazy atmosphere

Of cloud-land deign to reappear

Among us in this Wayside Inn;

Tell us what visions and what scenes

Illuminate the dark ravines

In which you grope your way. Begin!”

Thus the Sicilian spake. The Jew

Made no reply, but only smiled,

As men unto a wayward child,

Not knowing what to answer, do.

As from a cavern’s mouth, o’ergrown

With moss and intertangled vines,

A streamlet leaps into the light

And murmurs over root and stone

In a melodious undertone;

Or as amid the noonday night

Of sombre and wind-haunted pines

There runs a sound as of the sea;

So from his bearded lips there came

A melody without a name,

A song, a tale, a history,

Or whatsoever it may be,

Writ and recorded in these lines.