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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Third. Interlude

THUS ran the Student’s pleasant rhyme

Of Eginhard and love and youth;

Some doubted its historic truth,

But while they doubted, ne’ertheless

Saw in it gleams of truthfulness,

And thanked the Monk of Lauresheim.

This they discussed in various mood;

Then in the silence that ensued

Was heard a sharp and sudden sound

As of a bowstring snapped in air;

And the Musician with a bound

Sprang up in terror from his chair,

And for a moment listening stood,

Then strode across the room, and found

His dear, his darling violin

Still lying safe asleep within

Its little cradle, like a child

That gives a sudden cry of pain,

And wakes to fall asleep again;

And as he looked at it and smiled,

By the uncertain light beguiled,

Despair! two strings were broken in twain.

While all lamented and made moan,

With many a sympathetic word

As if the loss had been their own,

Deeming the tones they might have heard

Sweeter than they had heard before,

They saw the Landlord at the door,

The missing man, the portly Squire!

He had not entered, but he stood

With both arms full of seasoned wood,

To feed the much-devouring fire,

That like a lion in a cage

Lashed its long tail and roared with rage.

The missing man! Ah, yes, they said,

Missing, but whither had he fled?

Where had he hidden himself away?

No farther than the barn or shed;

He had not hidden himself, nor fled;

How should he pass the rainy day

But in his barn with hens and hay,

Or mending harness, cart, or sled?

Now, having come, he needs must stay

And tell his tale as well as they.

The Landlord answered only: “These

Are logs from the dead apple-trees

Of the old orchard planted here

By the first Howe of Sudbury.

Nor oak nor maple has so clear

A flame, or burns so quietly,

Or leaves an ash so clean and white;”

Thinking by this to put aside

The impending tale that terrified;

When suddenly, to his delight,

The Theologian interposed,

Saying that when the door was closed,

And they had stopped that draft of cold,

Unpleasant night air, he proposed

To tell a tale world-wide apart

From that the Student had just told;

World-wide apart, and yet akin,

As showing that the human heart

Beats on forever as of old,

As well beneath the snow-white fold

Of Quaker kerchief, as within

Sendal or silk or cloth of gold,

And without preface would begin.

And then the clamorous clock struck eight,

Deliberate, with sonorous chime

Slow measuring out the march of time,

Like some grave Consul of Old Rome

In Jupiter’s temple driving home

The nails that marked the year and date.

Thus interrupted in his rhyme,

The Theologian needs must wait;

But quoted Horace, where he sings

The dire Necessity of things,

That drives into the roofs sublime

Of new-built houses of the great

The adamantine nails of Fate.

When ceased the little carillon

To herald from its wooden tower

The important transit of the hour,

The Theologian hastened on,

Content to be allowed at last

To sing his Idyl of the Past.