Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Switzerland
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI.  1876–79.
 
Switzerland: Lucerne
The Covered Bridge at Lucerne
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)
 
(From The Golden Legend)

PRINCE HENRY
GOD’S blessing on the architects who build
The bridges o’er swift rivers and abysses
Before impassable to human feet,
No less than on the builders of cathedrals,
Whose massive walls are bridges thrown across        5
The dark and terrible abyss of Death.
Well has the name of Pontifex been given
Unto the Church’s head, as the chief builder
And architect of the invisible bridge
That leads from earth to heaven.
ELSIE
                        How dark it grows!
        10
What are these paintings on the walls around us?
 
PRINCE HENRY
The Dance Macaber!
ELSIE
                    What?
PRINCE HENRY
                            The Dance of Death!
All that go to and fro must look upon it,
Mindful of what they shall be, while beneath,
Among the wooden piles, the turbulent river        15
Rushes, impetuous as the river of life,
With dimpling eddies, ever green and bright,
Save where the shadow of this bridge falls on it.
 
ELSIE
O, yes! I see it now!
PRINCE HENRY
                    The grim musician
Leads all men through the mazes of that dance,        20
To different sounds in different measures moving;
Sometimes he plays a lute, sometimes a drum,
To tempt or terrify.
ELSIE
                    What is this picture?
 
PRINCE HENRY
It is a young man singing to a nun,
Who kneels at her devotions, but in kneeling        25
Turns round to look at him; and Death, meanwhile,
Is putting out the candles on the altar!
 
ELSIE
Ah, what a pity ’t is that she should listen
Unto such songs, when in her orisons
She might have heard in heaven the angels singing!        30
 
PRINCE HENRY
Here he has stolen a jester’s cap and bells,
And dances with the Queen.
ELSIE
                        A foolish jest!
 
PRINCE HENRY
And here the heart of the new-wedded wife,
Coming from church with her beloved lord,
He startles with the rattle of his drum.        35
 
ELSIE
Ah, that is sad! And yet perhaps ’t is best
That she should die, with all the sunshine on her,
And all the benedictions of the morning,
Before this affluence of golden light
Shall fade into a cold and clouded gray,        40
Then into darkness!
PRINCE HENRY
                    Under it is written,
“Nothing but death shall separate thee and me!”
 
ELSIE
And what is this, that follows close upon it?
 
PRINCE HENRY
Death, playing on a dulcimer. Behind him,
A poor old woman, with a rosary,        45
Follows the sound, and seems to wish her feet
Were swifter to o’ertake him. Underneath,
The inscription reads, “Better is Death than Life.”
 
ELSIE
Better is Death than Life! Ah yes! to thousands
Death plays upon a dulcimer, and sings        50
That song of consolation, till the air
Rings with it, and they cannot choose but follow
Whither he leads. And not the old alone,
But the young also hear it, and are still.
 
PRINCE HENRY
Yes, in their sadder moments. ’T is the sound
        55
Of their own hearts they hear, half full of tears,
Which are like crystal cups, half filled with water,
Responding to the pressure of a finger
With music sweet and low and melancholy.
Let us go forward, and no longer stay        60
In this great picture-gallery of Death!
I hate it! ay, the very thought of it!
 
ELSIE
Why is it hateful to you?
PRINCE HENRY
                        For the reason
That life, and all that speaks of life, is lovely,
And death, and all that speaks of death, is hateful.        65
 
ELSIE
The grave itself is but a covered bridge,
Leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!
 
PRINCE HENRY, emerging from the bridge.
I breathe again more freely! Ah, how pleasant
To come once more into the light of day,
Out of that shadow of death! To hear again        70
The hoof-beats of our horses on firm ground,
And not upon those hollow planks, resounding
With a sepulchral echo, like the clods
On coffins in a churchyard! Yonder lies
The Lake of the Four Forest-towns, apparelled        75
In light, and lingering, like a village maiden,
Hid in the bosom of her native mountains,
Then pouring all her life into another’s,
Changing her name and being! Overhead,
Shaking his cloudy tresses loose in air,        80
Rises Pilatus, with his windy pines.
 
 
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