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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Second. Interlude

“WHAT was the end? I am ashamed

Not to remember Reynard’s fate;

I have not read the book of late;

Was he not hanged?” the Poet said.

The Student gravely shook his head,

And answered: “You exaggerate.

There was a tournament proclaimed,

And Reynard fought with Isegrim

The Wolf, and having vanquished him,

Rose to high honor in the State,

And Keeper of the Seals was named!”

At this the gay Sicilian laughed:

“Fight fire with fire, and craft with craft;

Successful cunning seems to be

The moral of your tale,” said he.

“Mine had a better, and the Jew’s

Had none at all, that I could see;

His aim was only to amuse.”

Meanwhile from out its ebon case

His violin the Minstrel drew,

And having tuned its strings anew,

Now held it close in his embrace,

And poising in his outstretched hand

The bow, like a magician’s wand,

He paused, and said, with beaming face;

“Last night my story was too long;

To-day I give you but a song,

An old tradition of the North;

But first, to put you in the mood,

I will a little while prelude,

And from this instrument draw forth

Something by way of overture.”

He played; at first the tones were pure

And tender as a summer night,

The full moon climbing to her height,

The sob and ripple of the seas,

The flapping of an idle sail;

And then by sudden and sharp degrees

The multiplied, wild harmonies

Freshened and burst into a gale;

A tempest howling through the dark,

A crash as of some shipwrecked bark,

A loud and melancholy wail.

Such was the prelude to the tale

Told by the Minstrel; and at times

He paused amid its varying rhymes,

And at each pause again broke in

The music of his violin,

With tones of sweetness or of fear,

Movements of trouble or of calm,

Creating their own atmosphere;

As sitting in a church we hear

Between the verses of the psalm

The organ playing soft and clear,

Or thundering on the startled ear.