Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part Third. Interlude

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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Third. Interlude

WELL pleased all listened to the tale,

That drew, the Student said, its pith

And marrow from the ancient myth

Of some one with an iron flail;

Or that portentous Man of Brass

Hephæstus made in days of yore,

Who stalked about the Cretan shore,

And saw the ships appear and pass,

And threw stones at the Argonauts,

Being filled with indiscriminate ire

That tangled and perplexed his thoughts;

But, like a hospitable host,

When strangers landed on the coast,

Heated himself red-hot with fire,

And hugged them in his arms, and pressed

Their bodies to his burning breast.

The Poet answered: “No, not thus

The legend rose; it sprang at first

Out of the hunger and the thirst

In all men for the marvellous.

And thus it filled and satisfied

The imagination of mankind,

And this ideal to the mind

Was truer than historic fact.

Fancy enlarged and multiplied

The terrors of the awful name

Of Charlemagne, till he became

Armipotent in every act,

And, clothed in mystery, appeared

Not what men saw, but what they feared.

“Besides, unless my memory fail,

Your some one with an iron flail

Is not an ancient myth at all,

But comes much later on the scene

As Talus in the Faerie Queene,

The iron groom of Artegall,

Who threshed out falsehood and deceit,

And truth upheld, and righted wrong,

And was, as is the swallow, fleet,

And as the lion is, was strong.”

The Theologian said: “Perchance

Your chronicler in writing this

Had in his mind the Anabasis,

Where Xenophon describes the advance

Of Artaxerxes to the fight;

At first the low gray cloud of dust,

And then a blackness o’er the fields

As of a passing thunder-gust,

Then flash of brazen armor bright,

And ranks of men, and spears up-thrust,

Bowmen and troops with wicker shields,

And cavalry equipped in white,

And chariots ranged in front of these

With scythes upon their axle-trees.”

To this the Student answered: “Well,

I also have a tale to tell

Of Charlemagne; a tale that throws

A softer light, more tinged with rose,

Than your grim apparition cast

Upon the darkness of the past.

Listen, and hear in English rhyme

What the good Monk of Lauresheim

Gives as the gossip of his time,

In mediæval Latin prose.”