The Challenge


I have a vague remembrance

Of a story, that is told

In some ancient Spanish legend

Or chronicle of old.


It was when brave King Sanchez

Was before Zamora slain,

And his great besieging army

Lay encamped upon the plain.


Don Diego de Ordonez

Sallied forth in front of all,

And shouted loud his challenge

To the warders on the wall.


All the people of Zamora,

Both the born and the unborn,

As traitors did he challenge

With taunting words of scorn.


The living, in their houses,

And in their graves, the dead!

And the waters of their rivers,

And their wine, and oil, and bread!


There is a greater army,

That besets us round with strife,

A starving, numberless army,

At all the gates of life.


The poverty-stricken millions

Who challenge our wine and bread,

And impeach us all as traitors,

Both the living and the dead.


And whenever I sit at the banquet,

Where the feast and song are high,

Amid the mirth and the music

I can hear that fearful cry.


And hollow and haggard faces

Look into the lighted hall,

And wasted hands are extended

To catch the crumbs that fall.


For within there is light and plenty,

And odours fill the air;

But without there is cold and darkness,

And hunger and despair.


And there in the camp of famine,

In wind and cold and rain,

Christ, the great Lord of the army,

Lies dead upon the plain!


By H. W. Longfellow (1807 - 1882)


The Poetry of Things...

Home