At Aix-la-Chapelle, in imperial array,
In its halls renowned in old story,
At the coronation banquet so gay
King Rudolf was sitting in glory.
The meats were served up by the Palsgrave of Rhine,
The Bohemian poured out the bright sparkling wine,
And all the Electors, the seven,
Stood waiting around the world-governing one,
As the chorus of stars encircle the sun,
That honor might duly be given.
And the people the lofty balcony round
In a throng exulting were filling;
While loudly were blending the trumpets' glad sound,
The multitude's voices so thrilling;
For the monarchless period, with horror rife,
Has ended now, after long baneful strife,
And the earth had a lord to possess her.
No longer ruled blindly the iron-bound spear,
And the weak and the peaceful no longer need fear
Being crushed by the cruel oppressor.
And the emperor speaks with a smile in his eye,
While the golden goblet he seizes:
"With this banquet in glory none other can vie,
And my regal heart well it pleases;
Yet the minstrel, the bringer of joy, is not here,
Whose melodious strains to my heart are so dear,
And whose words heavenly wisdom inspire;
Since the days of my youth it hath been my delight,
And that which I ever have loved as a knight,
As a monarch I also require."
And behold! 'mongst the princes who stand round the throne
Steps the bard, in his robe long and streaming,
While, bleached by the years that have over him flown,
His silver locks brightly are gleaming;
"Sweet harmony sleeps in the golden strings,
The minstrel of true love reward ever sings,
And adores what to virtue has tended
What the bosom may wish, what the senses hold dear;
But say, what is worthy the emperor's ear
At this, of all feasts the most splendid?"
"No restraint would I place on the minstrel's own choice,"
Speaks the monarch, a smile on each feature;
"He obeys the swift hour's imperious voice,
Of a far greater lord is the creature.
For, as through the air the storm-wind on-speeds,
One knows not from whence its wild roaring proceeds
As the spring from hid sources up-leaping,
So the lay of the bard from the inner heart breaks
While the might of sensations unknown it awakes,
That within us were wondrously sleeping."
Then the bard swept the cords with a finger of might,
Evoking their magical sighing:
"To the chase once rode forth a valorous knight,
In pursuit of the antelope flying.
His hunting-spear bearing, there came in his train
His squire; and when o'er a wide-spreading plain
On his stately steed he was riding,
He heard in the distance a bell tinkling clear,
And a priest, with the Host, he saw soon drawing near,
While before him the sexton was striding."
"And low to the earth the Count then inclined,
Bared his head in humble submission,
To honor, with trusting and Christian-like mind,
What had saved the whole world from perdition.
But a brook o'er the plain was pursuing its course,
That swelled by the mountain stream's headlong force,
Barred the wanderer's steps with its current;
So the priest on one side the blest sacrament put,
And his sandal with nimbleness drew from his foot,
That he safely might pass through the torrent."
"'What wouldst thou?' the Count to him thus began,
His wondering look toward him turning:
'My journey is, lord, to a dying man,
Who for heavenly diet is yearning;
But when to the bridge o'er the brook I came nigh,
In the whirl of the stream, as it madly rushed by
With furious might 'twas uprooted.
And so, that the sick the salvation may find
That he pants for, I hasten with resolute mind
To wade through the waters barefooted.'"
"Then the Count made him mount on his stately steed,
And the reins to his hands he confided,
That he duly might comfort the sick in his need,
And that each holy rite be provided.
And himself, on the back of the steed of his squire,
Went after the chase to his heart's full desire,
While the priest on his journey was speeding
And the following morning, with thankful look,
To the Count once again his charger he took,
Its bridle with modesty leading."
"'God forbid that in chase or in battle,' then cried
The Count with humility lowly,
'The steed I henceforward should dare to bestride
That had borne my Creator so holy!
And if, as a guerdon, he may not be thine,
He devoted shall be to the service divine,
Proclaiming His infinite merit,
From whom I each honor and earthly good
Have received in fee, and my body and blood,
And my breath, and my life, and my spirit.'"
"'Then may God, the sure rock, whom no time can e'er move,
And who lists to the weak's supplication,
For the honor thou pay'st Him, permit thee to prove
Honor here, and hereafter salvation!
Thou'rt a powerful Count, and thy knightly command
Hath blazoned thy fame through the Switzer's broad land;
Thou art blest with six daughters admired;
May they each in thy house introduce a bright crown,
Filling ages unborn with their glorious renown'
Thus exclaimed he in accents inspired."
And the emperor sat there all-thoughtfully,
While the dream of the past stood before him;
And when on the minstrel he turned his eye,
His words' hidden meaning stole o'er him;
For seeing the traits of the priest there revealed,
In the folds of his purple-dyed robe he concealed
His tears as they swiftly coursed down.
And all on the emperor wonderingly gazed,
And the blest dispensations of Providence praised,
For the Count and the Caesar were one.