Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

              The Skeleton In Armor

                   "Speak! speak I thou fearful guest
                   Who, with thy hollow breast
                   Still in rude armor drest,
                      Comest to daunt me!
                   Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
                   Bat with thy fleshless palms
                   Stretched, as if asking alms,
                      Why dost thou haunt me?"

                   Then, from those cavernous eyes
                   Pale flashes seemed to rise,
                   As when the Northern skies
                      Gleam in December;
                   And, like the water's flow
                   Under December's snow,
                   Came a dull voice of woe
                      From the heart's chamber.
                   "I was a Viking old!
                   My deeds, though manifold,
                   No Skald in song has told,
                      No Saga taught thee!
                   Take heed, that in thy verse
                   Thou dost the tale rehearse,
                   Else dread a dead man's curse;
                      For this I sought thee.
                   "Far in the Northern Land,
                   By the wild Baltic's strand,
                   I, with my childish hand,
                      Tamed the gerfalcon;
                   And, with my skates fast-bound,
                   Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
                   That the poor whimpering hound
                      Trembled to walk on.
                   "Oft to his frozen lair
                   Tracked I the grisly bear,
                   While from my path the hare
                      Fled like a shadow;
                   Oft through the forest dark
                   Followed the were-wolf's bark,
                   Until the soaring lark
                      Sang from the meadow.
                   "But when I older grew,
                   Joining a corsair's crew,
                   O'er the dark sea I flew
                      With the marauders.
                   Wild was the life we led;
                   Many the souls that sped,
                   Many the hearts that bled,
                      By our stern orders.
                   "Many a wassail-bout
                   Wore the long Winter out;
                   Often our midnight shout
                      Set the cocks crowing,
                   As we the Berserk's tale
                   Measured in cups of ale,
                   Draining the oaken pail,
                      Filled to o'erflowing.
                   "Once as I told in glee
                   Tales of the stormy sea,
                   Soft eyes did gaze on me,
                      Burning yet tender;
                   And as the white stars shine
                   On the dark Norway pine,
                   On that dark heart of mine
                      Fell their soft splendor.
                   "I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
                   Yielding, yet half afraid,
                   And in the forest's shade
                      Our vows were plighted.
                   Under its loosened vest
                   Fluttered her little breast
                   Like birds within their nest
                      By the hawk frighted.
                   "Bright in her father's hall
                   Shields gleamed upon the wall,
                   Loud sang the minstrels all,
                      Chanting his glory;
                   When of old Hildebrand
                   I asked his daughter's hand,
                   Mute did the minstrels stand
                      To hear my story.
                   "While the brown ale he quaffed,
                   Loud then the champion laughed,
                   And as the wind-gusts waft
                      The sea-foam brightly,
                   So the loud laugh of scorn,
                   Out of those lips unshorn,
                   From the deep drinking-horn
                      Blew the foam lightly.
                   "She was a Prince's child,
                   I but a Viking wild,
                   And though she blushed and smiled,
                      I was discarded!
                   Should not the dove so white
                   Follow the sea-mew's flight,
                   Why did they leave that night
                      Her nest unguarded?
                   "Scarce had I put to sea,
                   Bearing the maid with me,
                   Fairest of all was she
                      Among the Norsemen!
                   When on the white sea-strand,
                   Waving his armed hand,
                   Saw we old Hildebrand,
                      With twenty horsemen.

                   "Then launched they to the blast,
                   Bent like a reed each mast,
                   Yet we were gaining fast,
                      When the wind failed us;
                   And with a sudden flaw
                   Came round the gusty Skaw,
                   So that our foe we saw
                      Laugh as he hailed us.
                   "And as to catch the gale
                   Round veered the flapping sail,
                   Death I was the helmsman's hail,
                      Death without quarter!
                   Mid-ships with iron keel
                   Struck we her ribs of steel
                   Down her black hulk did reel
                      Through the black water!
                   "As with his wings aslant,
                   Sails the fierce cormorant,
                   Seeking some rocky haunt
                      With his prey laden,
                   So toward the open main,
                   Beating to sea again,
                   Through the wild hurricane,
                      Bore I the maiden.
                   "Three weeks we westward bore,
                   And when the storm was o'er,
                   Cloud-like we saw the shore
                      Stretching to leeward;
                   There for my lady's bower
                   Built I the lofty tower,
                   Which, to this very hour,
                      Stands looking seaward.
                   "There lived we many years;
                   Time dried the maiden's tears
                   She had forgot her fears,
                      She was a mother.
                   Death closed her mild blue eyes,
                   Under that tower she lies;
                   Ne'er shall the sun arise
                      On such another!
                   "Still grew my bosom then.
                   Still as a stagnant fen!
                   Hateful to me were men,
                      The sunlight hateful!
                   In the vast forest here,
                   Clad in my warlike gear,
                   Fell I upon my spear,
                      O, death was grateful!
                   "Thus, seamed with many scars,
                   Bursting these prison bars,
                   Up to its native stars
                      My soul ascended!
                   There from the flowing bowl
                   Deep drinks the warrior's soul,
                   Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!"
                      Thus the tale ended.


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