The Landgraff

Through Thuringia's forest green
The Landgraff rode at close of e'en;
Huntsmen and hounds were left behind,
While following fierce a dappled hind;
And though the day grew thick apace,
The brave steed distanced in the chase,
Still by his rider urged amain,
While daylight served, to reach the plain,
Sped through the mazes of the wood;
The crimson light like drops of blood
Sprinkled upon the foliage lay;
And through green arches far away
Some sudden gaps let in the light,
And made the rough old tree-trunks bright.
Fast sped the steed, but still more fast
The fiery steeds of heaven sped on;
Oak, glade, and hazel copse flew past,
But the red sunlight all was gone:
Twilight's dim shadows gathered round,
With light departed every sound;
The sudden strain of some late bird
From the high boughs no more was heard;
And, save the thundering hoofs that ring
Along the path, and fluttering wing
Of bats low flying through the gray,
Deep solemn silence sealed the day:
One after one, the twisted form
Of each huge chestnut tree grew dim,
And with the blackness of a storm,
The coming night looked wild and grim.
With slower step, and head bent low,
The gallant steed went forward now;
Quoth the good Landgraff, in his mind,
'To-night we shall no shelter find,
But thou and I, old horse, shall lie
Beneath the oak tent of the wood;
Keen hunter, even of lineage high,
Finds red-brown moss a pillow good.'
Just then, a sudden ruddy glare,
Streamed from the forest depths of green;
The Landgraff gave a lusty cheer,
Well pleased the light to see, I ween;
And with a hopeful snort, the steed
Sprang on with fresh-awakened speed.
From a low smithy lined with light,
The red glow poured upon the night;
And that which, when beheld afar,
Shone like a friendly twinkling star,
Searched every nook and cranny round;
Showed each brown leaf upon the ground;
Each ivy snake's fine hairy feet,
Climbing the pine-shafts gray and stern—
Great golden oak-boughs spread and meet
Above a sea of golden fern;
The foaming brook all glancing bright,
In golden waves went rolling by;
From the low roof a jet of light
Sprang upwards to the murky sky:
The fierce flames roared, the bellows blew,
Round a red rain of fire-sparks flew;
The sweat fell from the stout smith's brow,
And ever with each stalwart blow,
He cried, 'O Landgraff, grow thou hard!'—
Amazed, the wondering Landgraff heard;
And stepping forth out of the night
Into the smithy's ruddy light,
He and his horse together stood,
Like shadowy demons of the wood.
'Good friend,' quoth he, 'I've lost my way,
Here in the forest, and I pray
That thou wilt suffer me to rest,
Till by the sky I guess the east.'
The toil-worn workman wiped his brow;
He pointed to a settle low,
And to his humble pallet bed:—
'To all I have, welcome!' he said—
'Thy horse must stable in the wood;
The water of the brook is good;
Here is the black loaf that I eat,
To work and weariness 'tis sweet.'
And then, without another word,
He cried, 'O Landgraff, grow thou hard!'—
And struck the iron bar amain—
The furious sparks flew forth again;
And thus he wrought, and thus he prayed,
Till, the stout bar of iron made,
He paused awhile, with panting breast,
And sat him down beside his guest,
Who cried, 'Good friend, I prithee say,
Wherefore thus strangely thou dost pray.'
'Oh, sir,' replied the brawny man,
'To pray and pray is all we can;
Our Earl is good, may God reward
His gentleness, and make him hard;
He loves the poor, he grinds us not;
He leaves us all a peaceful lot,
And were there none between his grace
And the poor vassal's down-trod race,
His people's were a blessed case:
But between us poor men and him,
A tribe of barons, hard and grim,
Harrow and drive, and strip and spoil,
The wretched tillers of the soil;
And the great God, who out of heaven
The charge of us, His poor, hath given
To princes, who our rights should guard,
Make towards these fiends our Landgraff hard;
And save us through His mighty hand
From these destroyers of the land:
Because our Earl is mild and good,
This greedy, bloody, wolfish brood
Make us a people most ill-starred,
So, great God, make our Landgraff hard!'
They both sat silent, while the brook
With rippling voice the burden took,
And seemed to echo back the word,
'Oh, great God, make our Landgraff hard!'—
'Hast thou no wife, hast thou no child
To cheer thee in this forest wild?'—
'I had two children and a wife,'
The smith replied, 'to cheer my life—
I saw my boy borne past my door
Bound to a stag all streaming gore,
Followed by devilish men and hounds,
Because within the forest bounds
Of Ravenstein a fawn he found,
And lifted dying from the ground.
A forester of Ravenstein
Strove with him once, and fared the worse,
And sware that luckless boy of mine
Should live that fatal day to curse.
I saw him hunted through the wood,
And tracked him by the streaks of blood,
To where the fern banks hide the river;
But after that I saw him—never.
I had a daughter,—God be praised!
She to a distant town is gone,
A fair, fair girl!'—His hand he raised
And wiped the big tears, one by one,
From his brown face—'To let her go
I was right glad—'twas better so.
The wicked Lord of Falconsheight
Met her one morning by the brook;
She told her mother of his look
And loathsome words, as wild with fright
She fled away; that very night,
Like God's good angel, through the glade
A young companion of my trade
Came travelling by—short time he stayed,
And when he went, took hence the maid.
We gave our darling child to him,
And saved her so from shame.'—The dim
Red embers on the anvil showed
The fierce and fiery flush that glowed
Over the swart smith's knotted brow:
'Their mother pined away—and now,
I am alone;' he said, and rose—
Fast flew the sparks, fast fell the blows,
But neither said another word,
Save as the hammer fell with might,
From time to time, through the whole night
The prayer: 'Oh, make our Landgraff hard!'
The daylight dawned; the Landgraff rode
From the smith's cottage in the wood,
And through Thuringia, far and wide,
From that day forth was checked the pride
Of the fierce barons,—while the poor,
From wrong and cruelty secure,
Praised the good Earl, whose just command
With might and mercy ruled the land.

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