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

The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems

The Norman Baron

  • The following passage from Thierry was sent to Mr. Longfellow by an unknown correspondent, who suggested it as a theme for a poem.
  • Dans les moments de la vie où la réflexion devient plus calme et plus profonde, où l’intérêt et l’avarice parlent moins haut que la raison, dans les instants de chagrin domestique, de maladie, et de péril de mort, les nobles se repentirent de posséder des serfs, comme d’une chose peu agréable à Dieu, qui avait créé tous les hommes à son image.—Conquête de l’Angleterre.

  • IN his chamber, weak and dying,

    Was the Norman baron lying;

    Loud, without, the tempest thundered,

    And the castle-turret shook.

    In this fight was Death the gainer,

    Spite of vassal and retainer,

    And the lands his sires had plundered,

    Written in the Doomsday Book.

    By his bed a monk was seated,

    Who in humble voice repeated

    Many a prayer and pater-noster,

    From the missal on his knee;

    And, amid the tempest pealing,

    Sounds of bells came faintly stealing,

    Bells, that from the neighboring kloster

    Rang for the Nativity.

    In the hall, the serf and vassal

    Held, that night, their Christmas wassail

    Many a carol, old and saintly,

    Sang the minstrels and the waits;

    And so loud these Saxon gleemen

    Sang to slaves the songs of freemen,

    That the storm was heard but faintly,

    Knocking at the castle-gates.

    Till at length the lays they chanted

    Reached the chamber terror-haunted,

    Where the monk, with accents holy,

    Whispered at the baron’s ear.

    Tears upon his eyelids glistened,

    As he paused awhile and listened,

    And the dying baron slowly

    Turned his weary head to hear.

    “Wassail for the kingly stranger

    Born and cradled in a manger!

    King, like David, priest, like Aaron,

    Christ is born to set us free!”

    And the lightning showed the sainted

    Figures on the casement painted,

    And exclaimed the shuddering baron,

    “Miserere, Domine!”

    In that hour of deep contrition

    He beheld, with clearer vision,

    Through all outward show and fashion,

    Justice, the Avenger, rise.

    All the pomp of earth had vanished,

    Falsehood and deceit were banished,

    Reason spake more loud than passion,

    And the truth wore no disguise.

    Every vassal of his banner,

    Every serf born to his manor,

    All those wronged and wretched creatures,

    By his hand were freed again.

    And, as on the sacred missal

    He recorded their dismissal,

    Death relaxed his iron features,

    And the monk replied, “Amen!”

    Many centuries have been numbered

    Since in death the baron slumbered

    By the convent’s sculptured portal,

    Mingling with the common dust:

    But the good deed, through the ages

    Living in historic pages,

    Brighter grows and gleams immortal,

    Unconsumed by moth or rust.