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

Tales of a Wayside Inn

Part Third. The Poet’s Tale: Charlemagne

OLGER the Dane and Desiderio,

King of the Lombards, on a lofty tower

Stood gazing northward o’er the rolling plains,

League after league of harvests, to the foot

Of the snow-crested Alps, and saw approach

A mighty army, thronging all the roads

That led into the city. And the King

Said unto Olger, who had passed his youth

As hostage at the court of France, and knew

The Emperor’s form and face: “Is Charlemagne

Among that host?” And Olger answered: “No.”

And still the innumerable multitude

Flowed onward and increased, until the King

Cried in amazement: “Surely Charlemagne

Is coming in the midst of all these knights!”

And Olger answered slowly: “No; not yet;

He will not come so soon.” Then much disturbed

King Desiderio asked: “What shall we do,

If he approach with a still greater army?”

And Olger answered: “When he shall appear,

You will behold what manner of man he is;

But what will then befall us I know not.”

Then came the guard that never knew repose,

The Paladins of France; and at the sight

The Lombard King o’ercome with terror cried:

“This must be Charlemagne!” and as before

Did Olger answer: “No; not yet, not yet.”

And then appeared in panoply complete

The Bishops and the Abbots and the Priests

Of the imperial chapel, and the Counts;

And Desiderio could no more endure

The light of day, nor yet encounter death,

But sobbed aloud and said: “Let us go down

And hide us in the bosom of the earth,

Far from the sight and anger of a foe

So terrible as this!” And Olger said:

“When you behold the harvests in the fields

Shaking with fear, the Po and the Ticino

Lashing the city walls with iron waves,

Then may you know that Charlemagne is come.”

And even as he spake, in the northwest,

Lo! there uprose a black and threatening cloud,

Out of whose bosom flashed the light of arms

Upon the people pent up in the city;

A light more terrible than any darkness,

And Charlemagne appeared;—a Man of Iron!

His helmet was of iron, and his gloves

Of iron, and his breastplate and his greaves

And tassets were of iron, and his shield.

In his left hand he held an iron spear,

In his right hand his sword invincible.

The horse he rode on had the strength of iron,

And color of iron. All who went before him,

Beside him and behind him, his whole host,

Were armed with iron, and their hearts within them

Were stronger than the armor that they wore.

The fields and all the roads were filled with iron,

And points of iron glistened in the sun

And shed a terror through the city streets.

This at a single glance Olger the Dane

Saw from the tower, and turning to the King

Exclaimed in haste: “Behold! this is the man

You looked for with such eagerness!” and then

Fell as one dead at Desiderio’s feet.