Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Christus: A Mystery
Part II. The Golden Legend.
I. The Castle of Vautsberg on the Rhine
 
A chamber in a tower. PRINCE HENRY, sitting alone, ill and restless. Midnight.

PRINCE HENRY.
I CANNOT sleep! my fervid brain
Calls up the vanished Past again,
And throws its misty splendors deep
Into the pallid realms of sleep!
A breath from that far-distant shore        5
Comes freshening ever more and more,
And wafts o’er intervening seas
Sweet odors from the Hesperides!
A wind, that through the corridor
Just stirs the curtain, and no more,        10
And, touching the æolian strings,
Faints with the burden that it brings!
Come back! ye friendships long departed!
That like o’erflowing streamlets started,
And now are dwindled, one by one,        15
To stony channels in the sun!
Come back! ye friends, whose lives are ended,
Come back, with all that light attended,
Which seemed to darken and decay
When ye arose and went away!        20
 
They come, the shapes of joy and woe,
The airy crowds of long ago,
The dreams and fancies known of yore,
That have been, and shall be no more.
They change the cloisters of the night        25
Into a garden of delight;
They make the dark and dreary hours
Open and blossom into flowers!
I would not sleep! I love to be
Again in their fair company;        30
But ere my lips can bid them stay,
They pass and vanish quite away!
Alas! our memories may retrace
Each circumstance of time and place,
Season and scene come back again,        35
And outward things unchanged remain;
The rest we cannot reinstate;
Ourselves we cannot re-create,
Nor set our souls to the same key
Of the remembered harmony!        40
 
Rest! rest! Oh, give me rest and peace!
The thought of life that ne’er shall cease
Has something in it like despair,
A weight I am too weak to bear!
Sweeter to this afflicted breast        45
The thought of never-ending rest!
Sweeter the undisturbed and deep
Tranquillity of endless sleep!
A flash of lightning, out of which LUCIFER appears, in the garb of a travelling Physician.
 
LUCIFER.
All hail, Prince Henry!

PRINCE HENRY, starting.
                    Who is it speaks?
Who and what are you?

LUCIFER.
                        One who seeks
        50
A moment’s audience with the Prince.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
When came you in?

LUCIFER.
                    A moment since.
I found your study door unlocked,
And thought you answered when I knocked.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
I did not hear you.

LUCIFER.
                You heard the thunder;
        55
It was loud enough to waken the dead.
And it is not a matter of special wonder
That, when God is walking overhead,
You should not hear my feeble tread.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
What may your wish or purpose be?
        60
 
LUCIFER.
Nothing or everything, as it pleases
Your Highness. You behold in me
Only a travelling Physician;
One of the few who have a mission
To cure incurable diseases,        65
Or those that are called so.

PRINCE HENRY.
                        Can you bring
The dead to life?

LUCIFER.
                Yes; very nearly.
And, what is a wiser and better thing,
Can keep the living from ever needing
Such an unnatural, strange proceeding,        70
By showing conclusively and clearly
That death is a stupid blunder merely,
And not a necessity of our lives.
My being here is accidental;
The storm, that against your casement drives,        75
In the little village below waylaid me.
And there I heard with a secret delight,
Of your maladies physical and mental,
Which neither astonished nor dismayed me.
And I hastened hither, though late in the night,        80
To proffer my aid!

PRINCE HENRY, ironically.
                    For this you came!
Ah, how can I ever hope to requite
This honor from one so erudite?
 
LUCIFER.
The honor is mine, or will be when
I have cured your disease.

PRINCE HENRY.
                        But not till then.
        85
 
LUCIFER.
What is your illness?

PRINCE HENRY.
                        It has no name.
A smouldering, dull, perpetual flame,
As in a kiln, burns in my veins,
Sending up vapors to the head;
My heart has become a dull lagoon,        90
Which a kind of leprosy drinks and drains;
I am accounted as one who is dead,
And, indeed, I think that I shall be soon.
 
LUCIFER.
And has Gordonius the Divine,
In his famous Lily of Medicine,—        95
I see the book lies open before you,—
No remedy potent enough to restore you?
 
PRINCE HENRY.
None whatever!

LUCIFER.
                    The dead are dead,
And their oracles dumb, when questionèd
Of the new diseases that human life        100
Evolves in its progress, rank and rife.
Consult the dead upon things that were,
But the living only on things that are.
Have you done this, by the appliance
And aid of doctors?

PRINCE HENRY.
                    Ay, whole schools
        105
Of doctors, with their learned rules;
But the case is quite beyond their science.
Even the doctors of Salern
Send me back word they can discern
No cure for a malady like this,        110
Save one which in its nature is
Impossible and cannot be!
 
LUCIFER.
That sounds oracular!

PRINCE HENRY.
                        Unendurable!
 
LUCIFER.
What is their remedy?

PRINCE HENRY.
                            You shall see;
Writ in this scroll is the mystery.        115
 
LUCIFER, reading.
“Not to be cured, yet not incurable!
The only remedy that remains
Is the blood that flows from a maiden’s veins,
Who of her own free will shall die,
And give her life as the price of yours!”        120
 
That is the strangest of all cures,
And one, I think, you will never try;
The prescription you may well put by,
As something impossible to find
Before the world itself shall end!        125
And yet who knows? One cannot say
That into some maiden’s brain that kind
Of madness will not find its way.
Meanwhile permit me to recommend,
As the matter admits of no delay,        130
My wonderful Catholicon,
Of very subtile and magical powers!
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Purge with your nostrums and drugs infernal
The spouts and gargoyles of these towers,
Not me! My faith is utterly gone        135
In every power but the Power Supernal!
Pray tell me, of what school are you?
 
LUCIFER.
Both of the Old and of the New!
The school of Hermes Trismegistus,
Who uttered his oracles sublime        140
Before the Olympiads, in the dew
Of the early dusk and dawn of time,
The reign of dateless old Hephæstus!
As northward, from its Nubian springs,
The Nile, forever new and old,        145
Among the living and the dead,
Its mighty, mystic stream has rolled;
So, starting from its fountain-head
Under the lotus-leaves of Isis,
From the dead demigods of eld,        150
Through long, unbroken lines of kings
Its course the sacred art has held,
Unchecked, unchanged by man’s devices.
This art the Arabian Geber taught,
And in alembics, finely wrought,        155
Distilling herbs and flowers, discovered
The secret that so long had hovered
Upon the misty verge of Truth,
The Elixir of Perpetual Youth,
Called Alcohol, in the Arab speech!        160
Like him, this wondrous lore I teach!
 
PRINCE HENRY.
What! an adept?

LUCIFER.
                    Nor less, nor more!
 
PRINCE HENRY.
I am a reader of your books,
A lover of that mystic lore!
With such a piercing glance it looks        165
Into great Nature’s open eye,
And sees within it trembling lie
The portrait of the Deity!
And yet, alas! with all my pains,
The secret and the mystery        170
Have baffled and eluded me,
Unseen the grand result remains!
 
LUCIFER, showing a flask.
Behold it here! this little flask
Contains the wonderful quintessence,
The perfect flower and efflorescence,        175
Of all the knowledge man can ask!
Hold it up thus against the light!
 
PRINCE HENRY.
How limpid, pure, and crystalline,
How quick, and tremulous, and bright
The little wavelets dance and shine,        180
As were it the Water of Life in sooth!
 
LUCIFER.
It is! It assuages every pain,
Cures all disease, and gives again
To age the swift delights of youth.
Inhale its fragrance.

PRINCE HENRY.
                It is sweet.
        185
A thousand different odors meet
And mingle in its rare perfume,
Such as the winds of summer waft
At open windows through a room!
 
LUCIFER.
Will you not taste it?

PRINCE HENRY.
                        Will one draught
        190
Suffice?

LUCIFER.
                If not, you can drink more.
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Into this crystal goblet pour
So much as safely I may drink.
 
LUCIFER, pouring.
Let not the quantity alarm you;
You may drink all; it will not harm you.        195
 
PRINCE HENRY.
I am as one who on the brink
Of a dark river stands and sees
The waters flow, the landscape dim
Around him waver, wheel, and swim,
And, ere he plunges, stops to think        200
Into what whirlpools he may sink;
One moment pauses, and no more,
Then madly plunges from the shore!
Headlong into the mysteries
Of life and death I boldly leap,        205
Nor fear the fateful current’s sweep,
Nor what in ambush lurks below!
For death is better than disease!
An ANGEL with an æolian harp hovers in the air.
 
ANGEL.
Woe! woe! eternal woe!
Not only the whispered prayer        210
Of love,
But the imprecations of hate,
Reverberate
For ever and ever through the air
Above!        215
This fearful curse
Shakes the great universe!
 
LUCIFER, disappearing.
Drink! drink!
And thy soul shall sink
Down into the dark abyss,        220
Into the infinite abyss,
From which no plummet nor rope
Ever drew up the silver sand of hope!
 
PRINCE, HENRY, drinking.
It is like a draught of fire!
Through every vein        225
I feel again
The fever of youth, the soft desire;
A rapture that is almost pain
Throbs in my heart and fills my brain!
O joy! O joy! I feel        230
The band of steel
That so long and heavily has pressed
Upon my breast
Uplifted, and the malediction
Of my affliction        235
Is taken from me, and my weary breast
At length finds rest.
 
THE ANGEL.
It is but the rest of the fire, from which the air has been taken!
It is but the rest of the sand, when the hour-glass is not shaken!
It is but the rest of the tide between the ebb and the flow!        240
It is but the rest of the wind between the flaws that blow!
With fiendish laughter,
Hereafter,
This false physician
Will mock thee in thy perdition.        245
 
PRINCE HENRY.
Speak! speak!
Who says that I am ill?
I am not ill! I am not weak!
The trance, the swoon, the dream, is o’er!
I feel the chill of death no more!        250
At length,
I stand renewed in all my strength!
Beneath me I can feel
The great earth stagger and reel,
As if the feet of a descending God        255
Upon its surface trod,
And like a pebble it rolled beneath his heel!
This, O brave physician! this
Is thy great Palingenesis!
Drinks again.
 
THE ANGEL.
Touch the goblet no more!
        260
It will make thy heart sore
To its very core!
Its perfume is the breath
Of the Angel of Death,
And the light that within it lies        265
Is the flash of his evil eyes.
Beware! Oh, beware!
For sickness, sorrow, and care
All are there!
 
PRINCE HENRY, sinking back.
O thou voice within my breast!
        270
Why entreat me, why upbraid me,
When the steadfast tongues of truth
And the flattering hopes of youth
Have all deceived me and betrayed me?
Give me, give me rest, oh rest!        275
Golden visions wave and hover,
Golden vapors, waters streaming,
Landscapes moving, changing, gleaming!
I am like a happy lover,
Who illumines life with dreaming!        280
Brave physician! Rare physician!
Well hast thou fulfilled thy mission!
His head falls on his book.
 
THE ANGEL, receding.
Alas! alas!
Like a vapor the golden vision
Shall fade and pass,        285
And thou wilt find in thy heart again
Only the blight of pain,
And bitter, bitter, bitter contrition!
 
 
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