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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Second. Prelude

A COLD, uninterrupted rain,

That washed each southern window-pane,

And made a river of the road;

A sea of mist that overflowed

The house, the barns, the gilded vane,

And drowned the upland and the plain,

Through which the oak-trees, broad and high,

Like phantom ships went drifting by;

And, hidden behind a watery screen,

The sun unseen, or only seen

As a faint pallor in the sky;—

Thus cold and colorless and gray,

The morn of that autumnal day,

As if reluctant to begin,

Dawned on the silent Sudbury Inn,

And all the guests that in it lay.

Full late they slept. They did not hear

The challenge of Sir Chanticleer,

Who on the empty threshing-floor,

Disdainful of the rain outside,

Was strutting with a martial stride,

As if upon his thigh he wore

The famous broadsword of the Squire,

And said, “Behold me, and admire!”

Only the Poet seemed to hear,

In drowse or dream, more near and near

Across the border-land of sleep,

The blowing of a blithesome horn,

That laughed the dismal day to scorn;

A splash of hoofs and rush of wheels

Through sand and mire like stranding keels,

As from the road with sudden sweep

The Mail drove up the little steep,

And stopped beside the tavern door;

A moment stopped, and then again

With crack of whip and bark of dog

Plunged forward through the sea of fog,

And all was silent as before,—

All silent save the dripping rain.

Then one by one the guests came down,

And greeted with a smile the Squire,

Who sat before the parlor fire,

Reading the paper fresh from town.

First the Sicilian, like a bird,

Before his form appeared, was heard

Whistling and singing down the stair;

Then came the Student with a look

As placid as a meadow-brook;

The Theologian, still perplexed

With thoughts of this world and the next:

The Poet then, as one who seems

Walking in visions and in dreams;

Then the Musician, like a fair

Hyperion from whose golden hair

The radiance of the morning streams;

And last the aromatic Jew

Of Alicant, who, as he threw

The door wide open, on the air

Breathed round about him a perfume

Of damask roses in full bloom,

Making a garden of the room.

The breakfast ended, each pursued

The promptings of his various mood;

Beside the fire in silence smoked

The taciturn, impassive Jew,

Lost in a pleasant revery;

While, by his gravity provoked,

His portrait the Sicilian drew,

And wrote beneath it “Edrehi,

At the Red Horse in Sudbury.”

By far the busiest of them all,

The Theologian in the hall

Was feeding robins in a cage,—

Two corpulent and lazy birds,

Vagrants and pilferers at best,

If one might trust the hostler’s words,

Chief instrument of their arrest;

Two poets of the Golden Age,

Heirs of a boundless heritage

Of fields and orchards, east and west,

And sunshine of long summer days,

Though outlawed now and dispossessed!—

Such was the Theologian’s phrase.

Meanwhile the Student held discourse

With the Musician, on the source

Of all the legendary lore

Among the nations, scattered wide

Like silt and seaweed by the force

And fluctuation of the tide;

The tale repeated o’er and o’er,

With change of place and change of name,

Disguised, transformed, and yet the same

We’ve heard a hundred times before.

The Poet at the window mused,

And saw, as in a dream confused,

The countenance of the Sun, discrowned,

And haggard with a pale despair,

And saw the cloud-rack trail and drift

Before it, and the trees uplift

Their leafless branches, and the air

Filled with the arrows of the rain,

And heard amid the mist below,

Like voices of distress and pain,

That haunt the thoughts of men insane,

The fateful cawings of the crow.

Then down the road, with mud besprent,

And drenched with rain from head to hoof,

The rain-drops dripping from his mane

And tail as from a pent-house roof,

A jaded horse, his head down bent,

Passed slowly, limping as he went.

The young Sicilian—who had grown

Impatient longer to abide

A prisoner, greatly mortified

To see completely overthrown

His plans for angling in the brook,

And, leaning o’er the bridge of stone,

To watch the speckled trout glide by,

And float through the inverted sky,

Still round and round the baited hook—

Now paced the room with rapid stride,

And, pausing at the Poet’s side,

Looked forth, and saw the wretched steed,

And said: “Alas for human greed,

That with cold hand and stony eye

Thus turns an old friend out to die,

Or beg his food from gate to gate!

This brings a tale into my mind,

Which, if you are not disinclined

To listen, I will now relate.”

All gave assent; all wished to hear,

Not without many a jest and jeer,

The story of a spavined steed;

And even the Student with the rest

Put in his pleasant little jest

Out of Malherbe, that Pegasus

Is but a horse that with all speed

Bears poets to the hospital;

While the Sicilian, self-possessed,

After a moment’s interval

Began his simple story thus.