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


The Kaiser’s Feast

By Felicia Hemans (1793–1835)

  • Louis, Emperor of Germany, having put his brother, the Palsgrave Rodolphus, under the ban of the empire (in the twelfth century), that unfortunate prince fled to England, where he died in neglect and poverty. “After his decease, his mother, Matilda, privately invited his children to return to Germany; and by her mediation, during a season of festivity, when Louis kept wassail in the Castle of Heidelberg, the family of his brother presented themselves before him in the garb of suppliants, imploring pity and forgiveness. To this appeal the victor softened.”—Miss Benger’s Memoirs of the Queen of Bohemia.

  • THE KAISER feasted in his hall,

    The red wine mantled high;

    Banners were trembling on the wall,

    To the peals of minstrelsy:

    And many a gleam and sparkle came

    From the armor hung around,

    As it caught the glance of the torch’s flame,

    Or the hearth with pine boughs crowned.

    Why fell there silence on the chord

    Beneath the harper’s hand?

    And suddenly, from that rich board,

    Why rose the wassail-band?

    The strings were hushed,—the knights made way

    For the queenly mother’s tread,

    As up the hall, in dark array,

    Two fair-haired boys she led.

    She led them e’en to the Kaiser’s place,

    And still before him stood;

    Till, with strange wonder o’er his face

    Flushed the proud warrior-blood:

    And “Speak, my mother! speak!” he cried,

    “Wherefore this mourning vest?

    And the clinging children by thy side,

    In weeds of sadness drest?”

    “Well may a mourning vest be mine,

    And theirs, my son, my son!

    Look on the features of thy line

    In each fair little one!

    Though grief awhile within their eyes

    Hath tamed the dancing glee,

    Yet there thine own quick spirit lies,—

    Thy brother’s children see!

    “And where is he, thy brother, where?

    He, in thy home that grew,

    And smiling, with his sunny hair,

    Ever to greet thee flew?

    How would his arms thy neck entwine,

    His fond lips press thy brow!

    My son! O, call these orphans thine,—

    Thou hast no brother now!

    “What! from their gentle eyes doth naught

    Speak of thy childhood’s hours,

    And smite thee with a tender thought

    Of thy dead father’s towers?

    Kind was thy boyish heart and true,

    When reared together there,

    Through the old woods like fawns ye flew,—

    Where is thy brother—where?

    “Well didst thou love him then, and he

    Still at thy side was seen!

    How is it that such things can be

    As though they ne’er had been?

    Evil was this world’s breath, which came

    Between the good and brave!

    Now must the tears of grief and shame

    Be offered to the grave.

    “And let them, let them there be poured!

    Though all unfelt below,

    Thine own wrung heart, to love restored,

    Shall soften as they flow.

    O, death is mighty to make peace;

    Now bid his work be done!

    So many an inward strife shall cease,—

    Take, take those babes, my son!”

    His eye was dimmed,—the strong man shook

    With feelings long suppressed;

    Up in his arms the boys he took,

    And strained them to his breast.

    And a shout from all in the royal hall

    Burst forth to hail the sight;

    And eyes were wet, midst the brave that met

    At the Kaiser’s feast that night.