SCANDERBEG The battle is fought and won By King Ladislaus the Hun, In fire of hell and death's frost, On the day of Pentecost. And in rout before his path From the field of battle red Flee all that are not dead Of the army of Amurath. In the darkness of the night Iskander, the pride and boast Of that mighty Othman host, With his routed Turks, takes flight From the battle fought and lost On the day of Pentecost; Leaving behind him dead The army of Amurath, The vanguard as it led, The rearguard as it fled, Mown down in the bloody swath Of the battle's aftermath. But he cared not for Hospodars, Nor for Baron or Voivode, As on through the night he rode And gazed at the fateful stars, That were shining overhead But smote his steed with his staff, And smiled to himself, and said; "This is the time to laugh." In the middle of the night, In a halt of the hurrying flight, There came a Scribe of the King Wearing his signet ring, And said in a voice severe: "This is the first dark blot On thy name, George Castriot! Alas why art thou here, And the army of Amurath slain, And left on the battle plain?" And Iskander answered and said: "They lie on the bloody sod By the hoofs of horses trod; But this was the decree Of the watchers overhead; For the war belongeth to God, And in battle who are we, Who are we, that shall withstand The wind of his lifted hand?" Then he bade them bind with chains This man of books and brains; And the Scribe said: "What misdeed Have I done, that, without need, Thou doest to me this thing?" And Iskander answering Said unto him: "Not one Misdeed to me hast thou done; But for fear that thou shouldst run And hide thyself from me, Have I done this unto thee. "Now write me a writing, O Scribe, And a blessing be on thy tribe! A writing sealed with thy ring, To King Amurath's Pasha In the city of Croia, The city moated and walled, That he surrender the same In the name of my master, the King; For what is writ in his name Can never be recalled." And the Scribe bowed low in dread, And unto Iskander said: "Allah is great and just, But we are as ashes and dust; How shall I do this thing, When I know that my guilty head Will be forfeit to the King?" Then swift as a shooting star The curved and shining blade Of Iskander's scimetar From its sheath, with jewels bright, Shot, as he thundered: "Write!" And the trembling Scribe obeyed, And wrote in the fitful glare Of the bivouac fire apart, With the chill of the midnight air On his forehead white and bare, And the chill of death in his heart. Then again Iskander cried: "Now follow whither I ride, For here thou must not stay. Thou shalt be as my dearest friend, And honors without end Shall surround thee on every side, And attend thee night and day." But the sullen Scribe replied "Our pathways here divide; Mine leadeth not thy way." And even as he spoke Fell a sudden scimetar-stroke, When no one else was near; And the Scribe sank to the ground, As a stone, pushed from the brink Of a black pool, might sink With a sob and disappear; And no one saw the deed; And in the stillness around No sound was heard but the sound Of the hoofs of Iskander's steed, As forward he sprang with a bound. Then onward he rode and afar, With scarce three hundred men, Through river and forest and fen, O'er the mountains of Argentar; And his heart was merry within, When he crossed the river Drin, And saw in the gleam of the morn The White Castle Ak-Hissar, The city Croia called, The city moated and walled, The city where he was born,-- And above it the morning star. Then his trumpeters in the van On their silver bugles blew, And in crowds about him ran Albanian and Turkoman, That the sound together drew. And he feasted with his friends, And when they were warm with wine, He said: "O friends of mine, Behold what fortune sends, And what the fates design! King Amurath commands That my father's wide domain, This city and all its lands, Shall be given to me again." Then to the Castle White He rode in regal state, And entered in at the gate In all his arms bedight, And gave to the Pasha Who ruled in Croia The writing of the King, Sealed with his signet ring. And the Pasha bowed his head, And after a silence said: "Allah is just and great! I yield to the will divine, The city and lands are thine; Who shall contend with fate?" Anon from the castle walls The crescent banner falls, And the crowd beholds instead, Like a portent in the sky, Iskander's banner fly, The Black Eagle with double head; And a shout ascends on high, For men's souls are tired of the Turks, And their wicked ways and works, That have made of Ak-Hissar A city of the plague; And the loud, exultant cry That echoes wide and far Is: "Long live Scanderbeg!" It was thus Iskander came Once more unto his own; And the tidings, like the flame Of a conflagration blown By the winds of summer, ran, Till the land was in a blaze, And the cities far and near, Sayeth Ben Joshua Ben Meir, In his Book of the Words of the Days, "Were taken as a man Would take the tip of his ear." INTERLUDE "Now that is after my own heart," The Poet cried; "one understands Your swarthy hero Scanderbeg, Gauntlet on hand and boot on leg, And skilled in every warlike art, Riding through his Albanian lands, And following the auspicious star That shone for him o'er Ak-Hissar." The Theologian added here His word of praise not less sincere, Although he ended with a jibe; "The hero of romance and song Was born," he said, "to right the wrong; And I approve; but all the same That bit of treason with the Scribe Adds nothing to your hero's fame." The Student praised the good old times And liked the canter of the rhymes, That had a hoofbeat in their sound; But longed some further word to hear Of the old chronicler Ben Meir, And where his volume might he found. The tall Musician walked the room With folded arms and gleaming eyes, As if he saw the Vikings rise, Gigantic shadows in the gloom; And much he talked of their emprise, And meteors seen in Northern skies, And Heimdal's horn, and day of doom But the Sicilian laughed again; "This is the time to laugh," he said, For the whole story he well knew Was an invention of the Jew, Spun from the cobwebs in his brain, And of the same bright scarlet thread As was the Tale of Kambalu. Only the Landlord spake no word; 'T was doubtful whether he had heard The tale at all, so full of care Was he of his impending fate, That, like the sword of Damocles, Above his head hung blank and bare, Suspended by a single hair, So that he could not sit at ease, But sighed and looked disconsolate, And shifted restless in his chair, Revolving how he might evade The blow of the descending blade. The Student came to his relief By saying in his easy way To the Musician: "Calm your grief, My fair Apollo of the North, Balder the Beautiful and so forth; Although your magic lyre or lute With broken strings is lying mute, Still you can tell some doleful tale Of shipwreck in a midnight gale, Or something of the kind to suit The mood that we are in to-night For what is marvellous and strange; So give your nimble fancy range, And we will follow in its flight." But the Musician shook his head; "No tale I tell to-night," he said, "While my poor instrument lies there, Even as a child with vacant stare Lies in its little coffin dead." Yet, being urged, he said at last: "There comes to me out of the Past A voice, whose tones are sweet and wild, Singing a song almost divine, And with a tear in every line; An ancient ballad, that my nurse Sang to me when I was a child, In accents tender as the verse; And sometimes wept, and sometimes smiled While singing it, to see arise The look of wonder in my eyes, And feel my heart with tenor beat. This simple ballad I retain Clearly imprinted on my brain, And as a tale will now repeat"
Return to the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Home Page, or . . . Read the next poem; The Spanish Jew's Tale - The Legend Of Rabbi Ben Levi - The Wayside Inn - Part First