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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79.

Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen)

The Conversion of Witekind

By Johann Nepomuk Vogl (1802–1866)

Translated by J. C. Mangan

AT midnight, alone,

On the red battle-field

Stands Witekind, Chief of the Saxon Host—

Alas for him!—the day has been lost;

All dimmed show his axe and shield,

And himself stands there like a man of stone!

Woe, woe, woe,

O, woe for thee, Prince Witekind!

Around him lie piled,

All stiff and stark,

His warriors, covered with wounds and blood,

Yet calm in feature! The iron mood

And countenance fierce and dark

Of the Saxon, when dead, are those of a child!

Brave, grave, suave,

Were the warriors of noble Witekind!

But Witekind’s heart

It burns like fire,—

“O Karl!” he cries, “the Gods I adore

Will yet avenge me in streams of gore.

Thou shalt not baffle their ire,—

Low, low shalt thou lie before we part!

Bow, now, thou

By Irmia shalt, before Prince Witekind!”

In a pilgrim’s garb,

Which hides his mail,

He wends his way by the Weser’s flood,

He thirsts, he burns for the Emperor’s blood,—

He hath sworn he shall not fail,

And forthright as the javelin-barb,

He speeds to his goal,

The brave, the untamed, the headlong Witekind!


Through the gates of Aix,

In his dark apparel,

He glides as a ghost through the throngéd street.

“Say, where, my friend, am I like to meet

Thy blessed Emperor Karl?

I bear him weighty tidings to-day!”

Thus asked of a monk

The valorous Pagan warrior, Witekind.

The monk replied,—

“All Europe appears

Too narrow to yield the great Karl a home!

But hie thee hence to the Minster-dome,

For there, in the morning tide

He hearkens the holy Mass with tears!”

The heathen frowned.

Little weeted the monk he had parted with Witekind.

Few minutes more

And the Pagan Chief

For the first time stands upon holy ground.

With cold fixed eye he gazes around.

Of the holy Christian belief,

Of the God whom the Nazarene priests adore,

What knows or cares

The barbarous idol-worshipper, Witekind?


Long stands he apart,

All stern of mood,

He thinks on the corses gory and pale

That strew the depths of the Weser Vale,

And naught but his conqueror’s blood

Can quench the fires of his vengeful heart!

So deems and dreams

For a time as yet the haught Prince Witekind!

But there flows anon

From the marvellous choir

A strain of melody full and clear.

What magic is it enchants the ear?

The tones of the voice and lyre

Are blent with angelic sweetness in one;

And soon the sword

Falls loosened and lost from the grasp of Witekind!

And the tinkling bell

Gives forth a sound,—

And the faithful, nobles and dames, bow down,

And Karl bends lowly his head and crown,

His golden crown to the ground.

Then awhile is hushed the choir’s deep swell;

And awe and amaze

Succeed to delight in the soul of Witekind.

And slowly he falls

On his bended knee.

Emotions he never hath known before

Pervade him now to the bosom’s core.

Yet never with joy so free

Hath he worshipped stone in his own rude halls.

He adoreth God

With a spirit unbound from fear, he Witekind!

The Mass is o’er,

And the holy hymns

Are chaunted anew by old and young,

And as Witekind hears them freshly sung

There thrills through his heart and limbs

A deeper ecstasy: more and more

To his bosom’s core,

The power of Christ becomes known to Witekind!

“Yes, Karl!” he cries,

“Thy God is in truth

A greater than all my gods by far.

There dawns on my soul a heavenly star.

I have worshipped idols from youth;

But henceforth, mark me, I turn mine eyes

To Christ alone!”

So spake unto Karl the noble Prince Witekind.

And Karl replied,—

And these were his words,—

“All honor to thee, my friend, my mate!

Thou Saxon Lion, my foe of late!

For Christ is the Lord of Lords,

And God like Him there is none beside—

Thine angel hath

Sent thee hither to-day, O valorous Witekind!

“The mighty God

Hath chosen thee!

He hath work, no doubt, for thee to do.

Be thou but faithful and leal and true,

And thou in thy turn shalt see

That never another hero trod

The earth whose worth

And glory will match thine own, O Witekind!

“Rule henceforth o’er

Fair Saxony’s land;

Rule thou, and thine heirs to the latest age,—

Thy name will yet shine in history’s page

In colors glowing and grand!”

That mightiest Emperor spake no more.

But the crowd aloud

Praised God for the change in the heart of Witekind.