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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Third. Finale

THESE are the tales those merry guests

Told to each other, well or ill;

Like summer birds that lift their crests

Above the borders of their nests

And twitter, and again are still.

These are the tales, or new or old,

In idle moments idly told;

Flowers of the field with petals thin,

Lilies that neither toil nor spin,

And tufts of wayside weeds and gorse

Hung in the parlor of the inn

Beneath the sign of the Red Horse.

And still, reluctant to retire,

The friends sat talking by the fire

And watched the smouldering embers burn

To ashes, and flash up again

Into a momentary glow,

Lingering like them when forced to go,

And going when they would remain;

For on the morrow they must turn

Their faces homeward, and the pain

Of parting touched with its unrest

A tender nerve in every breast.

But sleep at last the victory won;

They must be stirring with the sun,

And drowsily good night they said,

And went still gossiping to bed,

And left the parlor wrapped in gloom.

The only live thing in the room

Was the old clock, that in its pace

Kept time with the revolving spheres

And constellations in their flight,

And struck with its uplifted mace

The dark, unconscious hours of night,

To senseless and unlistening ears.

Uprose the sun; and every guest,

Uprisen, was soon equipped and dressed

For journeying home and city-ward;

The old stage-coach was at the door,

With horses harnessed, long before

The sunshine reached the withered sward

Beneath the oaks, whose branches hoar

Murmured: “Farewell forevermore.”

“Farewell!” the portly Landlord cried;

“Farewell!” the parting guests replied,

But little thought that nevermore

Their feet would pass that threshold o’er;

That nevermore together there

Would they assemble, free from care,

To hear the oaks’ mysterious roar,

And breathe the wholesome country air.

Where are they now? What lands and skies

Paint pictures in their friendly eyes?

What hope deludes, what promise cheers,

What pleasant voices fill their ears?

Two are beyond the salt sea waves,

And three already in their graves.

Perchance the living still may look

Into the pages of this book,

And see the days of long ago

Floating and fleeting to and fro,

As in the well-remembered brook

They saw the inverted landscape gleam,

And their own faces like a dream

Look up upon them from below.