Fancies in the Firelight

Thomas Buchanan Read


In the Convent of Saint Bernard


O, IT is a joy to gaze

Where the great logs lie ablaze;

Thus to list the garrulous flame

Muttering like some ancient dame;

And to hear the sap recount

Stories of its native mount,

Telling of the summer weather,

When the trees swayed all together,—

How the little birds would launch

Arrowy songs from branch to branch,

Till the leaves with pleasure glistened,

And each great bough hung and listened

To the song of thrush and linnet,

When securely lodged within it,

With all pleasant sounds that dally

Round the hill and in the valley;

Till each log and branch and splinter

On the ancient hearth of Winter

Can do naught but tell the story

Of its transient summer glory.


O, there ’s tranquil joy in gazing,

Where these great logs lie ablazing,

While the wizard flame is sparkling,

The memorial shadows darkling

Swim the wall in strange mutation,

Till the marvelling contemplation

Feeds its wonder to repletion

With each firelight apparition.


There the ashen Alp appears,

And its glowing head uprears,

Like a warrior grim and bold,

With a helmet on of gold;

And a music goes and comes

Like the sound of distant drums.


O’er a line of serried lances

How the blazing banner dances,

While red pennons rise and fall

Over ancient Hannibal.


Lo, beneath a moon of fire,

Where the meteor sparks stream by her,

There I see the brotherhood

Which on sacred Grütli stood,

Pledging with crossed hands to stand

The defenders of the land.


And in that red ember fell

Gessler, with the dart of Tell!


Still they fall away, and, lo!

Other phantoms come and go,

Other banners wing the air,

And the countless bayonets glare,

While around the steep way stir

Armies of the conqueror;

And the slow mule toiling on

Bears the world’s Napoleon.


Now the transient flame that flashes

’Twixt the great logs and the ashes

Sends a voice out from the middle

That my soul cannot unriddle,—

Till the fire above and under

Gnaws the stoutest wood asunder,

And the brands, in ruin blended,

Smoking, lie uncomprehended,—

While the dying embers blanch,

And the muffled avalanche,

Noiseless as the years descend,

Sweeps them to an ashen end.

Thus at last the great shall be,

  And the slave shall lie with them,—

Pié Jesu Domine

  Dona eis requiem!