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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 Tomb of Charlemagne

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

I STOOD in that cathedral old, the work of kingly power,

That from the clustered roofs of Aix lifts up its mouldering tower,

And, like a legend strange and rude, speaks of an earlier day,—

Of saint and knight, the tourney’s pomp, and the Minnesinger’s lay!

Above me rose the pillared dome, with many a statue grim,

And through the chancel-oriel came a splendor soft and dim,

Till dusky shrine and painting old glowed in the lustre wan:

Below me was a marble slab,—the tomb of Charlemagne.

A burst of organ-music rang so grandly, sadly slow,

It seemed a requiem thundered o’er the dead who slept below;

And with the sound came thronging round the stern men of that time,

When best was he who bravest fought, and cowardice was crime.

I thought upon the day when he, whose dust I stood upon,

Ruled with a monarch’s boundless right the kingdoms he had won,—

When rose the broad Alps in his realm, and roared the Baltic’s wave;

And now—the lowest serf might stand, unheeded, on his grave.

And ruthless hands despoiled his dust, attired in regal pride,

The crown upon his crumbled brows, and Joyeuse by his side,—

Whose rusted blade, at Ronçeval, flamed in the hero’s hand

In answer to the silver horn of the Paladin, Rolánd.

I stood on that neglected stone, thrilled with the glorious sound,

While bowed at many a holier shrine the worshippers around,—

And through the cloud of incense-smoke burned many a taper dim,

And priestly stoles went sweeping by,—I could but think of him!

I saw the boy with yellow locks, crowned at St. Deny’s shrine;

The emperor in his purple cloak, the lord of all the Rhine;

The conqueror of a thousand foes, in battle stern and hard;

The widowed mourner at thy tomb, O fairest Hildegarde!

Long pealed the music of the choir through chancel-arch and nave,

As, lost in those old memories, I stood upon his grave;

And when the morning anthem ceased, and solemn mass began,

I left that minster gray and old,—the tomb of Charlemagne!