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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Second. Interlude

WHEN the long murmur of applause

That greeted the Musician’s lay

Had slowly buzzed itself away,

And the long talk of Spectre Ships

That followed died upon their lips

And came unto a natural pause,

“These tales you tell are one and all

Of the Old World,” the Poet said,

“Flowers gathered from a crumbling wall,

Dead leaves that rustle as they fall;

Let me present you in their stead

Something of our New England earth,

A tale, which, though of no great worth,

Has still this merit, that it yields

A certain freshness of the fields,

A sweetness as of home-made bread.”

The Student answered: “Be discreet;

For if the flour be fresh and sound,

And if the bread be light and sweet,

Who careth in what mill’t was ground,

Or of what oven felt the heat,

Unless, as old Cervantes said,

You are looking after better bread

Than any that is made of wheat?

You know that people nowadays

To what is old give little praise;

All must be new in prose and verse;

They want hot bread, or something worse,

Fresh every morning, and half baked;

The wholesome bread of yesterday,

Too stale for them, is thrown away,

Nor is their thirst with water slaked.”

As oft we see the sky in May

Threaten to rain, and yet not rain,

The Poet’s face, before so gay,

Was clouded with a look of pain,

But suddenly brightened up again;

And without further let or stay

He told his tale of yesterday.