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


The Curfew

By Anonymous


WHEN William lay a-dying

All dull of eye and dim,

And he that conquered Harold

Felt one that conquered him,

He recked not of the minutes,

The midnight, or the morn,

But there he lay, unbreathing

As the babe that is still-born.

But suddenly a bell tolled!

He started from the swound,

First glared, and then grew gentle,

Then wildly stared around.

He deemed ’t was bell at even,

To quench the Saxon’s coal,

But O, it was a curfew

To quench his fiery soul.

“Now, prithee, holy father!

What means this bell, I pray;

Is ’t curfew-time in England,

Or am I far away?

God wot, it moves my spirit

As if it even might be

The bells of mine own city,

In dear old Normandie.”

“Ay, sire, thou art in Rouen;

And ’t is the prayer-bell’s chime,

In the steeple of St. Mary’s

That tolls the hour of prime!”

“Then bid them pray for William,

And may the Virgin-born,

In the church of his sweet mother,

Hear their praying this blest morn.”

Little dream the kneeling people

Who joins them in their prayers!

They deem not stout King William

Their paternoster shares:

Nor see they how he lifteth

With theirs his dying hand;

The hand that from the Saxon

Tore the crown of fair England!

Nor heard they, as responding

To their chanting oft he sighed,

Till rose their de profundis,

And the mighty Norman died:

But I have thought, who knoweth,

But if that early toll,

Like the contrite malefactor’s,

Saved a dying sinner’s soul!