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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 Hunting-horn of Charlemagne

By Caroline Elizabeth Sarah (Sheridan) Norton (1808–1877)

  • Among other relics preserved in the Cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle is the ivory hunting-horn of Charlemagne. It is massive and heavy, and the attempt of the guide to sound it (for the amusement of tourists and strangers) is singularly unsuccessful, the note produced being the most faint and lugubrious which it is possible to conceive.

  • SOUND not the horn!—the guarded relic keep:

    A faithful sharer of its master’s sleep:

    His life it gladdened, to his life belonged,—

    Pause, ere thy lip the royal dead hath wronged.

    Its weary weight but mocks thy feeble hand;

    Its desolate note, the shrine wherein we stand.

    Not such the sound it gave in days of yore,

    When that rich belt a monarch’s bosom wore,—

    Not such the sound! Far over hill and dell

    It waked the echoes with triumphant swell;

    Heard midst the rushing of the torrent’s fall,

    From castle crag to roofless ruined hall,

    Down the ravine’s precipitous descent,

    Through the wild forest’s rustling boughs it went,

    Upon the lake’s blue bosom lingered fond,

    And faintly answered from the hills beyond:

    Pause!—the free winds that joyous blast have borne:

    Dead is the hunter!—silent be the horn!

    Sound not the horn! Bethink thee of the day

    When to the chase an emperor led the way;

    In all the pride of manhood’s noblest prime,

    Untamed by sorrow, and untired by time,

    Life’s pulses throbbing in his eager breast,

    Glad, active, vigorous,—who is now at rest:

    How he gazed round him with his eagle eye,

    Leapt the dark rocks that frown against the sky,

    Grasped the long spear, and curbed the panting steed

    (Whose fine nerves quiver with his headlong speed),

    At the wild cry of danger smiled in scorn,

    And firmly sounded that re-echoing horn!

    Ah! let no touch the ivory tube profane

    Which drank the breath of living Charlemagne;

    Let not like blast by meaner lips be blown,

    But by the hunter’s side the horn lay down!

    Or, following to his palace, dream we now

    Not of the hunter’s strength, or forest bough,

    But woman’s love! Her offering this, perchance,—

    This, granted to each stranger’s casual glance,

    This, gazed upon with coldly curious eyes,

    Was given with blushes, and received with sighs!

    We see her not;—no mournful angel stands

    To guard her love-gift from our careless hands;

    But fancy brings a vision to our view,—

    A woman’s form, the trusted and the true:

    The strong to suffer, though so weak to dare,

    Patient to watch through many a day of care,

    Devoted, anxious, generous, void of guile,

    And with her whole heart’s welcome in her smile;

    Even such I see! Her maidens, too, are there,

    And wake, with chorus sweet, some native air;

    But though her proud heart holds her country dear,

    And though she loves those happy songs to hear,

    She bids the tale be hushed, the harp be still,

    For one faint blast that dies along the hill.

    Up, up, she springs; her young head backward thrown;

    “He comes! my hunter comes!—mine own,—mine own!”

    She loves, and she is loved,—her gift is worn,—

    ’T is fancy, all!—And yet—lay down the horn!

    Love,—life,—what are ye?—since to love and live

    No surer record to our times can give!

    Low lies the hero now, whose spoken name

    Could fire with glory, or with love inflame;

    Low lies the arm of might, the form of pride,

    And dim tradition dreameth by his side.

    Desolate stand those painted palace-halls,

    And gradual ruin mines the massy walls,

    Where frank hearts greeted many a welcome guest,

    And loudly rang the beaker and the jest;—

    While here, within this chapel’s narrow bound,

    Whose frozen silence startles to the sound

    Of stranger voices ringing through the air,

    Or faintly echoes many a humble prayer;

    Here, where the window, narrow arched, and high,

    With jealous bars shuts out the free blue sky,—

    Where glimmers down, with various-painted ray,

    A prisoned portion of God’s glorious day,—

    Where never comes the breezy breath of morn,

    Here, mighty hunter, feebly wakes thy horn!