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


The Ride of Nostradamus

By Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)

NOSTRADAMUS, wizard old, in his mantle fringed with gold,

Came to chide the wicked king;

Threw into his foolish lap Normandy’s red cancelled map,

Told him of his woes the spring.

Ludovicos the Wicked spurned, as his beard he champed and churned,

The gold footstool at his feet;

Nostradamus, with a frown, broke in two the royal crown,

Crying, “Fool, thy fate is meet!”

Then the king with angry eyes, and a face of many dyes,

Lifted up his ivory rod;

Smote the old man, bent and weak, on his thin and withered cheek.

“Is our juggler turned a god?”

Nostradamus at the gates mounts his horse that champing waits,—

What a red scar on his face!—

Rides through Paris hot in anger, with an iron din and clangor,

Heaping curses on the place.

“Murrain and red blister-blight all thy burghers spot and bite!

Lightnings shrivel up the dead!

Hear me, beings of the air, wheresoever now ye fare,—

Melt the gold crown from his head!”

As the angry wizard spoke, witch-fogs rose as thick as smoke,

Drowning all the roofs and spires;

Through these mists like arrows passed, hot and eager, fierce and fast,

Lurid shafts of sudden fires.

This dark necromantic spell was, I ’m certain, heard in hell,

For an earthquake shook the street;

At the clatter of his hoofs spectres danced upon the roofs,

Voices answered deep and frequent underneath our trembling feet.

“Water-demons, livid blue, river rapids looking through,

Drive your corpses down the fords!

Mine and Salamander kings, with your fiery throbbing wings,

Smite with fevers as with swords!”

Tempests shook the double towers, where the bells proclaimed the hours

O’er the roofs of Notre Dame;

Shooting stars fell sheaf by sheaf, like the autumn’s dropping leaf,

Raining as the darkness came.

Then the listening weathercocks, perched above the turret clocks,

Clapped their golden wings and crowed;

Up the stone king on the bridge leaped from frozen saddle-ridge,

Where for centuries he rode.

When the abbey door he past, spurring hot and fierce and fast,

All the blood-red royal martyrs in the golden sheets of glass

At the eastern window glared,—even Pontius Pilate stared,

Seeing Nostradamus pass.

Withered bishop on his tomb, praying for the knell of doom,

Rose erect, and slowly lifted crumbling grave-clothes from his face;

Cross-legged old crusading knight sprang impatient for the fight,

With the devil-army crowding to the Jewish battle-place.

Though it was the midnight time, just as if at chilly prime,

All the bells began to clash;

Every giant beat his mace on the well-worn hollow place

With an anger mad and rash;

Every clock began to strike any hour it seemed to like,

All the wheels were on the buzz;

Every hand was on the move, every weight ran in its groove,

Fit to chafe the man of Uz.

As he passed the river-arch where the sentries freeze or parch,

All the silver fish stared there,

Looking up with wondering mouth, whether you gazed north or south,

Gaping for both speech and air.

As he threads the city gate, where the stone gods sit and wait,

Down they hurled their marble globes.

Have you seen—has any one—how the eighteen-pounders run?—

Thistle-down against his robes.

Watch-dogs’ loud and frightened howls woke the eager-mousing owls

On the roof and in the tower;

Whizz! they flew in frightened rout, from the church-bells round about,

Where with hoots they count the hour.

With a shrieking yell and bark every hound awoke the dark,

Tugging fierce at kennel-chain;

Yellow-toothed and carrion rats woke the miller’s sleeping cats

By their squeaking in the grain.

Splashing storms with bitter pelt on the barred-up windows melt,

Scaring sleeping citizen;

Nightmares, many-hoofed and red, trod and trampled on the bed

Of the beggar in his den,

Woke him by a dying scream from a cruel suffering dream:

Many naked rose to pray.

Comets with a crimson glare blazed across the troubled air,

Till the night was bright as day.

Ay! that very night there fell, long before the matin-bell,

Wrath and curses dire and dark;

Thunder, with its blasting boom, split the blessed martyr’s tomb;

Lightnings splintered on St. Mark;

Fire ran fast along the ground, darkness dismally profound

Covered Paris,—pomp and pride;

Children, though unborn, might rue that dread curse that blighting flew;—

Curse not wizards when they ride!

But a year had passed away, just a year,—the very day

And the doom had come indeed:

Wicked Louis, gashed and red, lay upon his battle-bed,

Careless of his realms that bleed.

Now the moral of my tale: Let the wise man never fail

To respect a wizard’s age,

Never pull his reverend hair, never mock him with a stare:

Dreadful is the wizard’s rage.