The Interludes of Tales of Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
In the Tales of Wayside Inn, Longfellow unites stories and characters which are both personal and beloved by him. As I read this collection of classic poems, I was reminded of a common question that is asked of many literary figures in their book reviews: “If you were to host a dinner party, who would you invite”? I believe this was part of the purpose and imagination of Longfellow when composing this work. This gave him a chance to imagine great conversations of historic figures to be the orators of great history.
Longfellow assembles this group of people, who were quite possibly friends of his such as Ole Bull, the violinist, Thomas William Parsons, the poet and Dante , the translator, to have a chance meeting at the tavern of the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. In addition to these three storytellers are a Landlord, a Student, a Sicilian, a Spanish Jew, and a Theologian. Each one takes turns relating a tale; often trying to best the previous tale. These tales are stories that Longfellow possibly learned from his wide reading of legends of continental Europe and from American sources.
In between these tales are interludes that Longfellow uses to link together the tales with the narrators of the following stories. These interludes give the reader a glimpse into the personality of the narrator of each tale. For example, in the interlude following Paul Revere’s Ride, the Poet responds to the Landlord’s boasting of the heroes of his tale with a chiding: “those who had been longest dead/…Were always greatest in his eyes” (366). The Student then categorizes the Landlord’s tale as one of “arms” as he introduces his own tale of the Decameron as “love” (367).
In the next interlude, The Theologian criticizes the Student’s Italian tales as “trifling, dull and lewd” (375). In a very common manner of conversation, even today, as each speaker tries to best the previous story with his own proof of literary knoweledge, the Spanish Jew speaks up and introduces his story in the Talmud which, “fills my heart, and haunts my brain,/…And never wearies nor grows old” (376). As the Spanish Jew tells his Legend of Rabbi Ben Levi, the other speakers are in a “kind of spell”, according to the following Interlude (378). The Sicilian then interrupts this solemn mood with an introduction to his old Abate of King Robert of Sicily.
There are several more interludes throughout this collection of poems, each bringing the reader back to the focus of this group of new friends who capitalize on a chance encounter; a group that Longfellow states at the end of the story would never all be together again.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “Tales of Wayside Inn”. In Poems and Other Writings. New
York: Library of America, 2000. Print. 354-471.
Copyright 2016 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)