Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
The Hanging of the Crane
 
          “One morning in the spring of 1867,” writes Mr. T. B. Aldrich, “Mr. Longfellow came to the little home in Pinckney Street [Boston], where we had set up housekeeping in the light of our honeymoon. As we lingered a moment at the dining-room door, Mr. Longfellow turning to me said, ‘Ah, Mr. Aldrich, your small round table will not always be closed. By and by you will find new young faces clustering about it; as years go on, leaf after leaf will be added until the time comes when the young guests will take flight, one by one, to build nests of their own elsewhere. Gradually the long table will shrink to a circle again, leaving two old people sitting there alone together. This is the story of life, the sweet and pathetic poem of the fireside. Make an idyl of it. I give the idea to you.’ Several months afterward, I received a note from Mr. Longfellow in which he expressed a desire to use this motif in case I had done nothing in the matter. The theme was one peculiarly adapted to his sympathetic handling, and out of it grew The Hanging of the Crane.” Just when the poem was written does not appear, but its first publication was in the New York Ledger, March 28, 1874. Mr. Longfellow’s old friend, Mr. Sam. Ward, had heard the poem, and offered to secure it for Mr. Robert Bonner, the proprietor of the Ledger, “touched,” as he wrote to Mr. Longfellow, “by your kindness to poor ——, and haunted by the idea of increasing handsomely your noble charity fund.” Mr. Bonner paid the poet the sum of three thousand dollars for this poem.

I
THE LIGHTS are out, and gone are all the guests
That thronging came with merriment and jests
  To celebrate the Hanging of the Crane
In the new house,—into the night are gone;
But still the fire upon the hearth burns on,        5
    And I alone remain.
 
  O fortunate, O happy day,
  When a new household finds its place
  Among the myriad homes of earth,
  Like a new star just sprung to birth,        10
  And rolled on its harmonious way
  Into the boundless realms of space!
 
So said the guests in speech and song,
As in the chimney, burning bright,
We hung the iron crane to-night,        15
And merry was the feast and long.
 
II
And now I sit and muse on what may be,
And in my vision see, or seem to see,
  Through floating vapors interfused with light,
Shapes indeterminate, that gleam and fade,        20
As shadows passing into deeper shade
    Sink and elude the sight.
 
  For two alone, there in the hall,
  Is spread the table round and small;
  Upon the polished silver shine        25
  The evening lamps, but, more divine,
  The light of love shines over all;
  Of love, that says not mine and thine,
  But ours, for ours is thine and mine.
 
  They want no guests, to come between        30
  Their tender glances like a screen,
  And tell them tales of land and sea,
  And whatsoever may betide
  The great, forgotten world outside;
  They want no guests; they needs must be        35
  Each other’s own best company.
 
III
The picture fades; as at a village fair
A showman’s views, dissolving into air,
  Again appear transfigured on the screen,
So in my fancy this; and now once more,        40
In part transfigured, through the open door
    Appears the selfsame scene.
 
  Seated, I see the two again,
  But not alone; they entertain
  A little angel unaware,        45
  With face as round as is the moon,
  A royal guest with flaxen hair,
  Who, throned upon his lofty chair,
  Drums on the table with his spoon,
  Then drops it careless on the floor,        50
  To grasp at things unseen before.
 
  Are these celestial manners? these
  The ways that win, the arts that please?
  Ah yes; consider well the guest,
  And whatsoe’er he does seems best;        55
  He ruleth by the right divine
  Of helplessness, so lately born
  In purple chambers of the morn,
  As sovereign over thee and thine.
  He speaketh not; and yet there lies        60
  A conversation in his eyes;
  The golden silence of the Greek,
  The gravest wisdom of the wise,
  Not spoken in language, but in looks
  More legible than printed books,        65
  As if he could but would not speak.
  And now, O monarch absolute,
  Thy power is put to proof; for, lo!
  Resistless, fathomless, and slow,
  The nurse comes rustling like the sea,        70
  And pushes back thy chair and thee,
  And so good night to King Canute.
 
IV
As one who walking in a forest sees
A lovely landscape through the parted trees,
  Then sees it not, for boughs that intervene;        75
Or as we see the moon sometimes revealed
Through drifting clouds, and then again concealed,
    So I behold the scene.
 
  There are two guests at table now;
  The king, deposed and older grown,        80
  No longer occupies the throne,—
  The crown is on his sister’s brow;
  A Princess from the Fairy Isles,
  The very pattern girl of girls,
  All covered and embowered in curls,        85
  Rose-tinted from the Isle of Flowers,
  And sailing with soft, silken sails
  From far-off Dreamland into ours.
  Above their bowls with rims of blue
  Four azure eyes of deeper hue        90
  Are looking, dreamy with delight;
  Limpid as planets that emerge
  Above the ocean’s rounded verge,
  Soft-shining through the summer night.
  Steadfast they gaze, yet nothing see        95
  Beyond the horizon of their bowls;
  Nor care they for the world that rolls
  With all its freight of troubled souls
  Into the days that are to be.
 
V
Again the tossing boughs shut out the scene,
        100
Again the drifting vapors intervene,
  And the moon’s pallid disk is hidden quite;
And now I see the table wider grown,
As round a pebble into water thrown
    Dilates a ring of light.        105
 
  I see the table wider grown,
  I see it garlanded with guests,
  As if fair Ariadne’s Crown
  Out of the sky had fallen down;
  Maidens within whose tender breasts        110
  A thousand restless hopes and fears,
  Forth reaching to the coming years,
  Flutter awhile, then quiet lie,
  Like timid birds that fain would fly,
  But do not dare to leave their nests;—        115
  And youths, who in their strength elate
  Challenge the van and front of fate,
  Eager as champions to be
  In the divine knight-errantry
  Of youth, that travels sea and land        120
  Seeking adventures, or pursues,
  Through cities, and through solitudes
  Frequented by the lyric Muse,
  The phantom with the beckoning hand,
  That still allures and still eludes.        125
  O sweet illusions of the brain!
  O sudden thrills of fire and frost!
  The world is bright while ye remain,
  And dark and dead when ye are lost!
 
VI
The meadow-brook, that seemeth to stand still,
        130
Quickens its current as it nears the mill;
  And so the stream of Time that lingereth
In level places, and so dull appears,
Runs with a swifter current as it nears
    The gloomy mills of Death.        135
 
  And now, like the magician’s scroll,
  That in the owner’s keeping shrinks
  With every wish he speaks or thinks,
  Till the last wish consumes the whole,
  The table dwindles, and again        140
  I see the two alone remain.
  The crown of stars is broken in parts;
  Its jewels, brighter than the day,
  Have one by one been stolen away
  To shine in other homes and hearts.        145
  One is a wanderer now afar
  In Ceylon or in Zanzibar,
  Or sunny regions of Cathay;
  And one is in the boisterous camp
  Mid clink of arms and horses’ tramp,        150
  And battle’s terrible array.
  I see the patient mother read,
  With aching heart, of wrecks that float
  Disabled on those seas remote,
  Or of some great heroic deed        155
  On battle-fields, where thousands bleed
  To lift one hero into fame.
  Anxious she bends her graceful head
  Above these chronicles of pain,
  And trembles with a secret dread        160
  Lest there among the drowned or slain
  She find the one beloved name.
 
VII
After a day of cloud and wind and rain
Sometimes the setting sun breaks out again,
  And, touching all the darksome woods with light,        165
Smiles on the fields, until they laugh and sing,
Then like a ruby from the horizon’s ring
    Drops down into the night.
 
  What see I now? The night is fair,
  The storm of grief, the clouds of care,        170
  The wind, the rain, have passed away;
  The lamps are lit, the fires burn bright,
  The house is full of life and light;
  It is the Golden Wedding day.
  The guests come thronging in once more,        175
  Quick footsteps sound along the floor,
  The trooping children crowd the stair,
  And in and out and everywhere
  Flashes along the corridor
  The sunshine of their golden hair.        180
  On the round table in the hall
  Another Ariadne’s Crown
  Out of the sky hath fallen down;
  More than one Monarch of the Moon
  Is drumming with his silver spoon;        185
  The light of love shines over all.
 
  O fortunate, O happy day!
  The people sing, the people say.
  The ancient bridegroom and the bride,
  Smiling contented and serene        190
  Upon the blithe, bewildering scene,
  Behold, well pleased, on every side
  Their forms and features multiplied,
  As the reflection of a light
  Between two burnished mirrors gleams,        195
  Or lamps upon a bridge at night
  Stretch on and on before the sight,
  Till the long vista endless seems.
 
 
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