Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Cœur de Lion at the Bier of His Father

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


Cœur de Lion at the Bier of His Father

By Felicia Hemans (1793–1835)

TORCHES were blazing clear,

Hymns pealing deep and slow,

Where a king lay stately on his bier

In the church of Fontevraud.

Banners of battle o’er him hung,

And warriors slept beneath,

And light, as noon’s broad light, was flung

On the settled face of death.

On the settled face of death

A strong and ruddy glare;

Though dimmed at times by the censer’s breath,

Yet it fell still brightest there:

As if each deeply furrowed trace

Of earthly years to show,—

Alas! that sceptred mortal’s race

Had surely closed in woe!

The marble floor was swept

By many a long dark stole,

As the kneeling priests round him that slept

Sang mass for the parted soul;

And solemn were the strains they poured

Through the stillness of the night,

With the cross above, and the crown and sword,

And the silent king in sight.

There was heard a heavy clang

As of steel-girt men the tread,

And the tombs and the hollow pavement rang

With a sounding thrill of dread;

And the holy chant was hushed awhile,

As, by the torch’s flame,

A gleam of arms, up the sweeping aisle,

With a mail-clad leader came.

He came with a haughty look,

An eagle glance and clear,

But his proud heart through its breastplate shook,

When he stood beside the bier!

He stood there still with a drooping brow,

And clasped hands o’er it raised;

For his father lay before him low;—

It was Cœur de Lion gazed!

And silently he strove

With the workings of his breast;

But there ’s more in late-repentant love

Than steel can keep suppressed!

And his tears brake forth, at last, like rain;—

Men held their breath in awe,

For his face was seen by his warrior-train,

And he recked not that they saw.

He looked upon the dead,

And sorrow seemed to lie,

A weight of sorrow, even like lead,

Pale on the fast-shut eye.

He stooped, and kissed the frozen cheek,

And the heavy hand of clay,

Till bursting words, yet all too weak,

Gave his soul’s passion way.

“O father! is it vain,

This late remorse and deep?

Speak to me, father, once again.

I weep,—behold, I weep!

Alas! my guilty pride and ire!

Were but this work undone!

I would give England’s crown, my sire,

To hear thee bless thy son.

“Speak to me! mighty grief

Ere now the dust hath stirred!

Hear me, but hear me! father, chief!

My king! I must be heard.

Hushed, hushed;—how is it that I call,

And that thou answerest not?

When was it thus?—woe, woe for all

The love my soul forgot!

“Thy silver hairs I see,

So still, so sadly bright!

And, father! father! but for me

They had not been so white!

I bore thee down, high heart! at last,

No longer couldst thou strive;

O for one moment of the past

To kneel and say,—‘Forgive!’

“Thou wert the noblest king

On royal throne e’er seen;

And thou didst wear, in knightly ring,

Of all the stateliest mien;

And thou didst prove, where spears are proved

In war, the bravest heart,—

O, ever the renowned and loved

Thou wert;—and there thou art!

“Thou, that my boyhood’s guide

Didst take fond joy to be!—

The times I ’ve sported by thy side,

And climbed the parent-knee!

And there before the blessed shrine,

My sire! I see thee lie;

How will that still, sad face of thine

Look on me till I die!”