Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Voices of the Night
The Beleaguered City
          Mr. Samuel Longfellow states that the suggestion of the poem came from a note in one of the volumes of Scott’s Border Minstrelsy: “Similar to this was the Nacht Lager, or midnight camp, which seemed nightly to beleaguer the walls of Prague, but which disappeared upon the recitation of [certain] magical words.” The title of the poem served also as that of a remarkable prose sketch by Mrs. Oliphant.

I HAVE read, in some old, marvellous tale,
  Some legend strange and vague,
That a midnight host of spectres pale
  Beleaguered the walls of Prague.
Beside the Moldau’s rushing stream,        5
  With the wan moon overhead,
There stood, as in an awful dream,
  The army of the dead.
White as a sea-fog, landward bound,
  The spectral camp was seen,        10
And, with a sorrowful, deep sound,
  The river flowed between.
No other voice nor sound was there,
  No drum, nor sentry’s pace;
The mist-like banners clasped the air        15
  As clouds with clouds embrace.
But when the old cathedral bell
  Proclaimed the morning prayer,
The white pavilions rose and fell
  On the alarmèd air.        20
Down the broad valley fast and far
  The troubled army fled;
Up rose the glorious morning star,
  The ghastly host was dead.
I have read, in the marvellous heart of man,        25
  That strange and mystic scroll,
That an army of phantoms vast and wan
  Beleaguer the human soul.
Encamped beside Life’s rushing stream,
  In Fancy’s misty light,        30
Gigantic shapes and shadows gleam
  Portentous through the night.
Upon its midnight battle-ground
  The spectral camp is seen,
And, with a sorrowful, deep sound,        35
  Flows the River of Life between.
No other voice nor sound is there,
  In the army of the grave;
No other challenge breaks the air,
  But the rushing of Life’s wave.        40
And when the solemn and deep church-bell
  Entreats the soul to pray,
The midnight phantoms feel the spell,
  The shadows sweep away.
Down the broad Vale of Tears afar        45
  The spectral camp is fled;
Faith shineth as a morning star,
  Our ghastly fears are dead.

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