Prelude - The Wayside Inn - Part Second


    A cold, uninterrupted rain,
    That washed each southern window-pane,
    And made a river of the road;
    A sea of mist that overflowed
    The house, the barns, the gilded vane,
    And drowned the upland and the plain,
    Through which the oak-trees, broad and high,
    Like phantom ships went drifting by;
    And, hidden behind a watery screen,
    The sun unseen, or only seen
    As a faint pallor in the sky;--
    Thus cold and colorless and gray,
    The morn of that autumnal day,
    As if reluctant to begin,
    Dawned on the silent Sudbury Inn,
    And all the guests that in it lay.

    Full late they slept.    They did not hear
    The challenge of Sir Chanticleer,
    Who on the empty threshing-floor,
    Disdainful of the rain outside,
    Was strutting with a martial stride,
    As if upon his thigh he wore
    The famous broadsword of the Squire,
    And said, "Behold me, and admire!"

    Only the Poet seemed to hear,
    In drowse or dream, more near and near
    Across the border-land of sleep
    The blowing of a blithesome horn,
    That laughed the dismal day to scorn;
    A splash of hoofs and rush of wheels
    Through sand and mire like stranding keels,
    As from the road with sudden sweep
    The Mail drove up the little steep,
    And stopped beside the tavern door;
    A moment stopped, and then again
    With crack of whip and bark of dog
    Plunged forward through the sea of fog,
    And all was silent as before,--
    All silent save the dripping rain.

    Then one by one the guests came down,
    And greeted with a smile the Squire,
    Who sat before the parlor fire,
    Reading the paper fresh from town.
    First the Sicilian, like a bird,
    Before his form appeared, was heard
    Whistling and singing down the stair;
    Then came the Student, with a look
    As placid as a meadow-brook;
    The Theologian, still perplexed
    With thoughts of this world and the next;
    The Poet then, as one who seems
    Walking in visions and in dreams;
    Then the Musician, like a fair
    Hyperion from whose golden hair
    The radiance of the morning streams;
    And last the aromatic Jew
    Of Alicant, who, as he threw
    The door wide open, on the air
    Breathed round about him a perfume
    Of damask roses in full bloom,
    Making a garden of the room.

    The breakfast ended, each pursued
    The promptings of his various mood;
    Beside the fire in silence smoked
    The taciturn, impassive Jew,
    Lost in a pleasant revery;
    While, by his gravity provoked,
    His portrait the Sicilian drew,
    And wrote beneath it "Edrehi,
    At the Red Horse in Sudbury."

    By far the busiest of them all,
    The Theologian in the hall
    Was feeding robins in a cage,--
    Two corpulent and lazy birds,
    Vagrants and pilferers at best,
    If one might trust the hostler's words,
    Chief instrument of their arrest;
    Two poets of the Golden Age,
    Heirs of a boundless heritage
    Of fields and orchards, east and west,
    And sunshine of long summer days,
    Though outlawed now and dispossessed!--
    Such was the Theologian's phrase.

    Meanwhile the Student held discourse
    With the Musician, on the source
    Of all the legendary lore
    Among the nations, scattered wide
    Like silt and seaweed by the force
    And fluctuation of the tide;
    The tale repeated o'er and o'er,
    With change of place and change of name,
    Disguised, transformed, and yet the same
    We've heard a hundred times before.

    The Poet at the window mused,
    And saw, as in a dream confused,
    The countenance of the Sun, discrowned,
    And haggard with a pale despair,
    And saw the cloud-rack trail and drift
    Before it, and the trees uplift
    Their leafless branches, and the air
    Filled with the arrows of the rain,
    And heard amid the mist below,
    Like voices of distress and pain,
    That haunt the thoughts of men insane,
    The fateful cawings of the crow.

    Then down the road, with mud besprent,
    And drenched with rain from head to hoof,
    The rain-drops dripping from his mane
    And tail as from a pent-house roof,
    A jaded horse, his head down bent,
    Passed slowly, limping as he went.

    The young Sicilian--who had grown
    Impatient longer to abide
    A prisoner, greatly mortified
    To see completely overthrown
    His plans for angling in the brook,
    And, leaning o'er the bridge of stone,
    To watch the speckled trout glide by,
    And float through the inverted sky,
    Still round and round the baited hook--
    Now paced the room with rapid stride,
    And, pausing at the Poet's side,
    Looked forth, and saw the wretched steed,
    And said: "Alas for human greed,
    That with cold hand and stony eye
    Thus turns an old friend out to die,
    Or beg his food from gate to gate!
    This brings a tale into my mind,
    Which, if you are not disinclined
    To listen, I will now relate."

    All gave assent; all wished to hear,
    Not without many a jest and jeer,
    The story of a spavined steed;
    And even the Student with the rest
    Put in his pleasant little jest
    Out of Malherbe, that Pegasus
    Is but a horse that with all speed
    Bears poets to the hospital;
    While the Sicilian, self-possessed,
    After a moment's interval
    Began his simple story thus.


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