Verse > Anthologies > Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. > Yale Book of American Verse
Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.  1912.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 1807–1882
58. The Skeleton in Armor
"SPEAK! speak! thou fearful guest! 
Who, with thy hollow breast 
Still in rude armor drest, 
  Comest to daunt me! 
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,         5
But with thy fleshless palms 
Stretched, as if asking alms, 
  Why dost thou haunt me?" 
Then, from those cavernous eyes 
Pale flashes seemed to rise,  10
As when the Northern skies 
  Gleam in December; 
And, like the water's flow 
Under December's snow, 
Came a dull voice of woe  15
  From the heart's chamber. 
"I was a Viking old! 
My deeds, though manifold, 
No Skald in song has told, 
  No Saga taught thee!  20
Take heed, that in thy verse 
Thou dost the tale rehearse, 
Else dread a dead man's curse; 
  For this I sought thee. 
"Far in the Northern Land,  25
By the wild Baltic's strand, 
I, with my childish hand, 
  Tamed the gerfalcon; 
And, with my skates fast-bound, 
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,  30
That the poor whimpering hound 
  Trembled to walk on. 
"Oft to his frozen lair 
Tracked I the grisly bear, 
While from my path the hare  35
  Fled like a shadow; 
Oft through the forest dark 
Followed the were-wolf's bark, 
Until the soaring lark 
  Sang from the meadow.  40
"But when I older grew, 
Joining a corsair's crew, 
O'er the dark sea I flew 
  With the marauders. 
Wild was the life we led;  45
Many the souls that sped, 
Many the hearts that bled, 
  By our stern orders. 
"Many a wassail-bout 
Wore the long Winter out;  50
Often our midnight shout 
  Set the cocks crowing, 
As we the Berserk's tale 
Measured in cups of ale, 
Draining the oaken pail,  55
  Filled to o'erflowing. 
"Once as I told in glee 
Tales of the stormy sea, 
Soft eyes did gaze on me, 
  Burning yet tender;  60
And as the white stars shine 
On the dark Norway pine, 
On that dark heart of mine 
  Fell their soft splendor. 
"I wooed the blue-eyed maid,  65
Yielding, yet half afraid, 
And in the forest's shade 
  Our vows were plighted. 
Under its loosened vest 
Fluttered her little breast,  70
Like birds within their nest 
  By the hawk frighted. 
"Bright in her father's hall 
Shields gleamed upon the wall, 
Loud sang the minstrels all,  75
  Chanting his glory; 
When of old Hildebrand 
I asked his daughter's hand, 
Mute did the minstrels stand 
  To hear my story.  80
"While the brown ale he quaffed, 
Loud then the champion laughed, 
And as the wind-gusts waft 
  The sea-foam brightly, 
So the loud laugh of scorn,  85
Out of those lips unshorn, 
From the deep drinking-horn 
  Blew the foam lightly. 
"She was a Prince's child, 
I but a Viking wild,  90
And though she blushed and smiled, 
  I was discarded! 
Should not the dove so white 
Follow the sea-mew's flight, 
Why did they leave that night  95
  Her nest unguarded? 
"Scarce had I put to sea, 
Bearing the maid with me, 
Fairest of all was she 
  Among the Norsemen! 100
When on the white sea-strand, 
Waving his armèd hand, 
Saw we old Hildebrand, 
  With twenty horsemen. 
"Then launched they to the blast, 105
Bent like a reed each mast, 
Yet we were gaining fast, 
  When the wind failed us; 
And with a sudden flaw 
Came round the gusty Skaw, 110
So that our foe we saw 
  Laugh as he hailed us. 
"And as to catch the gale 
Round veered the flapping sail, 
'Death!' was the helmsman's hail, 115
  'Death without quarter!' 
Mid-ships with iron keel 
Struck we her ribs of steel; 
Down her black hulk did reel 
  Through the black water! 120
"As with his wings aslant, 
Sails the fierce cormorant, 
Seeking some rocky haunt, 
  With his prey laden, 
So toward the open main, 125
Beating to sea again, 
Through the wild hurricane, 
  Bore I the maiden. 
"Three weeks we westward bore, 
And when the storm was o'er, 130
Cloud-like we saw the shore 
  Stretching to leeward; 
There for my lady's bower 
Built I the lofty tower, 
Which, to this very hour, 135
  Stands looking seaward. 
"There lived we many years; 
Time dried the maiden's tears; 
She had forgot her fears, 
  She was a mother; 140
Death closed her mild blue eyes, 
Under that tower she lies; 
Ne'er shall the sun arise 
  On such another! 
"Still grew my bosom then, 145
Still as a stagnant fen! 
Hateful to me were men, 
  The sunlight hateful! 
In the vast forest here, 
Clad in my warlike gear, 150
Fell I upon my spear, 
  Oh, death was grateful! 
"Thus, seamed with many scars, 
Bursting these prison bars, 
Up to its native stars 155
  My soul ascended! 
There from the flowing bowl 
Deep drinks the warrior's soul, 
Skoal! to the Northland! skoal!" 
  Thus the tale ended. 160

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