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

Voices of the Night

The Beleaguered City

  • Mr. Samuel Longfellow states that the suggestion of the poem came from a note in one of the volumes of Scott’s Border Minstrelsy: “Similar to this was the Nacht Lager, or midnight camp, which seemed nightly to beleaguer the walls of Prague, but which disappeared upon the recitation of [certain] magical words.” The title of the poem served also as that of a remarkable prose sketch by Mrs. Oliphant.

  • I HAVE read, in some old, marvellous tale,

    Some legend strange and vague,

    That a midnight host of spectres pale

    Beleaguered the walls of Prague.

    Beside the Moldau’s rushing stream,

    With the wan moon overhead,

    There stood, as in an awful dream,

    The army of the dead.

    White as a sea-fog, landward bound,

    The spectral camp was seen,

    And, with a sorrowful, deep sound,

    The river flowed between.

    No other voice nor sound was there,

    No drum, nor sentry’s pace;

    The mist-like banners clasped the air

    As clouds with clouds embrace.

    But when the old cathedral bell

    Proclaimed the morning prayer,

    The white pavilions rose and fell

    On the alarmèd air.

    Down the broad valley fast and far

    The troubled army fled;

    Up rose the glorious morning star,

    The ghastly host was dead.

    I have read, in the marvellous heart of man,

    That strange and mystic scroll,

    That an army of phantoms vast and wan

    Beleaguer the human soul.

    Encamped beside Life’s rushing stream,

    In Fancy’s misty light,

    Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam

    Portentous through the night.

    Upon its midnight battle-ground

    The spectral camp is seen,

    And, with a sorrowful, deep sound,

    Flows the River of Life between.

    No other voice nor sound is there,

    In the army of the grave;

    No other challenge breaks the air,

    But the rushing of Life’s wave.

    And when the solemn and deep church-bell

    Entreats the soul to pray,

    The midnight phantoms feel the spell,

    The shadows sweep away.

    Down the broad Vale of Tears afar

    The spectral camp is fled;

    Faith shineth as a morning star,

    Our ghastly fears are dead.