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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Third. Interlude

“NOW that is after my own heart,”

The Poet cried; “one understands

Your swarthy hero Scanderbeg,

Gauntlet on hand and boot on leg,

And skilled in every warlike art,

Riding through his Albanian lands,

And following the auspicious star

That shone for him o’er Ak-Hissar.”

The Theologian added here

His word of praise not less sincere,

Although he ended with a jibe;

“The hero of romance and song

Was born,” he said, “to right the wrong;

And I approve; but all the same

That bit of treason with the Scribe

Adds nothing to your hero’s fame.”

The Student praised the good old times,

And liked the canter of the rhymes,

That had a hoofbeat in their sound;

But longed some further word to hear

Of the old chronicler Ben Meir,

And where his volume might be found.

The tall Musician walked the room

With folded arms and gleaming eyes,

As if he saw the Vikings rise,

Gigantic shadows in the gloom;

And much he talked of their emprise

And meteors seen in Northern skies,

And Heimdal’s horn, and day of doom.

But the Sicilian laughed again;

“This is the time to laugh,” he said,

For the whole story he well knew

Was an invention of the Jew,

Spun from the cobwebs in his brain,

And of the same bright scarlet thread

As was the Tale of Kambalu.

Only the Landlord spake no word;

’T was doubtful whether he had heard

The tale at all, so full of care

Was he of his impending fate,

That, like the sword of Damocles,

Above his head hung blank and bare,

Suspended by a single hair,

So that he could not sit at ease,

But sighed and looked disconsolate,

And shifted restless in his chair,

Revolving how he might evade

The blow of the descending blade.

The Student came to his relief

By saying in his easy way

To the Musician: “Calm your grief,

My fair Apollo of the North,

Balder the Beautiful and so forth;

Although your magic lyre or lute

With broken strings is lying mute,

Still you can tell some doleful tale

Of shipwreck in a midnight gale,

Or something of the kind to suit

The mood that we are in to-night

For what is marvellous and strange;

So give your nimble fancy range,

And we will follow in its flight.”

But the Musician shook his head;

“No tale I tell to-night,” he said,

“While my poor instrument lies there,

Even as a child with vacant stare

Lies in its little coffin dead.”

Yet, being urged, he said at last:

“There comes to me out of the Past

A voice, whose tones are sweet and wild,

Singing a song almost divine,

And with a tear in every line;

An ancient ballad, that my nurse

Sang to me when I was a child,

In accents tender as the verse;

And sometimes wept, and sometimes smiled

While singing it, to see arise

The look of wonder in my eyes,

And feel my heart with terror beat.

This simple ballad I retain

Clearly imprinted on my brain,

And as a tale will now repeat.”