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Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christus: A Mystery

IV

THE ROAD TO HIRSCHAU

PRINCE HENRY and ELSIE, with their attendants on horseback.

ELSIE.
Onward and onward the highway runs to the distant city,
     impatiently bearing
Tidings of human joy and disaster, of love and of hate,
     of doing and daring!

PRINCE HENRY.
This life of ours is a wild aeolian harp of many
     a joyous strain,
But under them all there runs a loud perpetual wail,
     as of souls in pain.

ELSIE.
Faith alone can interpret life, and the heart
     that aches and bleeds with the stigma
Of pain, alone bears the likeness of Christ,
     and can comprehend its dark enigma.

PRINCE HENRY.
Man is selfish, and seeketh pleasure with little care
     of what may betide,
Else why am I travelling here beside thee,
     a demon that rides by an angel's side?

ELSIE.
All the hedges are white with dust, and the great dog
     under the creaking wain
Hangs his head in the lazy heat, while onward
     the horses toil and strain.

PRINCE HENRY.
Now they stop at the wayside inn, and the wagoner laughs
     with the landlord's daughter,
While out of the dripping trough the horses
     distend their leathern sides with water.

ELSIE.
All through life there are wayside inns,
     where man may refresh his soul with love;
Even the lowest may quench his thirst
     at rivulets fed by springs from above.

PRINCE HENRY.
Yonder, where rises the cross of stone,
     our journey along the highway ends,
And over the fields, by a bridle path,
     down into the broad green valley descends.

ELSIE.
I am not sorry to leave behind the beaten road
     with its dust and heat
The air will be sweeter far, and the turf will be softer
     under our horses' feet.

They turn down a green lane.

ELSIE.
Sweet is the air with the budding haws,
     and the valley stretching for miles below
Is white with blossoming cherry-trees,
     as if just covered with lightest snow.

PRINCE HENRY.
Over our heads a white cascade is gleaming
     against the distant hill;
We cannot hear it, nor see it move, but it hangs
     like a banner when winds are still.

ELSIE.
Damp and cool is this deep ravine, and cool
     the sound of the brook by our side!
What is this castle that rises above us,
     and lords it over a land so wide?

PRINCE HENRY.
It is the home of the Counts of Calva;
     well have I known these scenes of old,
Well I remember each tower and turret, remember the brooklet,
     the wood, and the wold.

ELSIE.
Hark! from the little village below us the bells
     of the church are ringing for rain!
Priests and peasants in long procession come forth
     and kneel on the arid plain.

PRINCE HENRY.
They have not long to wait, for I see in the south
     uprising a little cloud,
That before the sun shall be set will cover
     the sky above us as with a shroud.

They pass on.