Poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christus: A Mystery


Midnight. ELSIE standing by their bedside, weeping.

The wind is roaring; the rushing rain
Is loud upon roof and window-pane,
As if the Wild Huntsman of Rodenstein,
Boding evil to me and mine,
Were abroad to-night with his ghostly train!
In the brief lulls of the tempest wild,
The dogs howl in the yard; and hark!
Some one is sobbing in the dark,
Here in the chamber!

                     It is I.

Elsie! what ails thee, my poor child?

I am disturbed and much distressed,
In thinking our dear Prince must die;
I cannot close mine eyes, nor rest,

What wouldst thou?  In the Power Divine
His healing lies, not in our own;
It is in the hand of God alone,

Nay, He has put it into mine,
And into my heart!

                 Thy words are wild!

What dost thou mean? my child! My child!

That for our dear Prince Henry's sake
I will myself the offering make,
And give my life to purchase his.

Am I still dreaming, or awake?
Thou speakest carelessly of death,
And yet thou knowest not what it is.

'T is the cessation of our breath.
Silent and motionless we lie;
And no one knoweth more than this.
I saw our little Gertrude die;
She left off breathing, and no more
I smoothed the pillow beneath her head.
She was more beautiful than before.
Like violets faded were her eyes;
By this we knew that she was dead.
Through the open window looked the skies
Into the chamber where she lay,
And the wind was like the sound of wings,
As if angels came to bear her away.
Ah! when I saw and felt these things,
I found it difficult to stay;
I longed to die, as she had died,
And go forth with her, side by side.
The Saints are dead, the Martyrs dead
And Mary, and our Lord; and I
Would follow in humility
The way by them illumined!

My child! my child! thou must not die!

Why should I live?  Do I not know
The life of woman is full of woe?
Toiling on and on and on,
With breaking heart, and tearful eyes,
And silent lips, and in the soul
The secret longings that arise,
Which this world never satisfies!
Some more, some less, but of the whole
Not one quite happy, no, not one!

It is the malediction of Eve!

In place of it, let me receive
The benediction of Mary, then.

Ah, woe is me!  Ah, woe is me!
Most wretched am I among men!

Alas! that I should live to see
Thy death, beloved, and to stand
Above thy grave!  Ah, woe the day!

Thou wilt not see it.  I shall lie
Beneath the flowers of another land,
For at Salerno, far away
Over the mountains, over the sea,
It is appointed me to die!
And it will seem no more to thee
Than if at the village on market-day
I should a little longer stay
Than I am wont.

               Even as thou sayest!
And how my heart beats, when thou stayest!
I cannot rest until my sight
Is satisfied with seeing thee,
What, then, if thou wert dead?

                             Ah me!
Of our old eyes thou art the light!
The joy of our old hearts art thou!
And wilt thou die?

                 Not now! not now!

Christ died for me, and shall not!
Be willing for my Prince to die?
You both are silent; you cannot speak
This said I at our Saviour's feast
After confession, to the priest,
And even he made no reply.
Does he not warn us all to seek
The happier, better land on high,
Where flowers immortal never wither;
And could he forbid me to go thither?

In God's own time, my heart's delight!
When He shall call thee, not before!

I heard Him call.  When Christ ascended
Triumphantly, from star to star,
He left the gates of heaven ajar.
I had a vision in the night,
And saw Him standing at the door
Of his Father's mansion, vast and splendid,
And beckoning to me from afar.
I cannot stay!

               She speaks almost
As if it were the Holy Ghost
Spake through her lips, and in her stead:
What if this were of God?

                         Ah, then
Gainsay it dare we not.

Elsie! the words that thou hast said
Are strange and new for us to hear,
And fill our hears with doubt and fear.
Whether it be a dark temptation
Of the Evil One, or God's inspiration,
We in our blindness cannot say.
We must think upon it, and pray;
For evil and good it both resembles.
If it be of God, his will be done!
May He guard us from the Evil One!
How hot thy hand is! how it trembles!
Go to thy bed, and try to sleep.

Kiss me.  Good night; and do not weep!

ELSIE goes out.

Ah, what an awful thing is this!
I almost shuddered at her kiss,
As if a ghost had touched my cheek,
I am so childish and so weak!
As soon as I see the earliest gray
Of morning glimmer in the east,
I will go over to the priest,
And hear what the good man has to say.