Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Tales of a Wayside Inn
Part Third.
The Poet’s Tale
Charlemagne
 
OLGER the Dane and Desiderio,
King of the Lombards, on a lofty tower
Stood gazing northward o’er the rolling plains,
League after league of harvests, to the foot
Of the snow-crested Alps, and saw approach        5
A mighty army, thronging all the roads
That led into the city. And the King
Said unto Olger, who had passed his youth
As hostage at the court of France, and knew
The Emperor’s form and face: “Is Charlemagne        10
Among that host?” And Olger answered: “No.”
 
And still the innumerable multitude
Flowed onward and increased, until the King
Cried in amazement: “Surely Charlemagne
Is coming in the midst of all these knights!”        15
And Olger answered slowly: “No; not yet;
He will not come so soon.” Then much disturbed
King Desiderio asked: “What shall we do,
If he approach with a still greater army?”
And Olger answered: “When he shall appear,        20
You will behold what manner of man he is;
But what will then befall us I know not.”
 
Then came the guard that never knew repose,
The Paladins of France; and at the sight
The Lombard King o’ercome with terror cried:        25
“This must be Charlemagne!” and as before
Did Olger answer: “No; not yet, not yet.”
 
And then appeared in panoply complete
The Bishops and the Abbots and the Priests
Of the imperial chapel, and the Counts;        30
And Desiderio could no more endure
The light of day, nor yet encounter death,
But sobbed aloud and said: “Let us go down
And hide us in the bosom of the earth,
Far from the sight and anger of a foe        35
So terrible as this!” And Olger said:
“When you behold the harvests in the fields
Shaking with fear, the Po and the Ticino
Lashing the city walls with iron waves,
Then may you know that Charlemagne is come.”        40
And even as he spake, in the northwest,
Lo! there uprose a black and threatening cloud,
Out of whose bosom flashed the light of arms
Upon the people pent up in the city;
A light more terrible than any darkness,        45
And Charlemagne appeared;—a Man of Iron!
 
His helmet was of iron, and his gloves
Of iron, and his breastplate and his greaves
And tassets were of iron, and his shield.
In his left hand he held an iron spear,        50
In his right hand his sword invincible.
The horse he rode on had the strength of iron,
And color of iron. All who went before him,
Beside him and behind him, his whole host,
Were armed with iron, and their hearts within them        55
Were stronger than the armor that they wore.
The fields and all the roads were filled with iron,
And points of iron glistened in the sun
And shed a terror through the city streets.
 
This at a single glance Olger the Dane        60
Saw from the tower, and turning to the King
Exclaimed in haste: “Behold! this is the man
You looked for with such eagerness!” and then
Fell as one dead at Desiderio’s feet.
 
 
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