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Up from many a sheeted valley,
From white woods as well,
Down too from each fleecy upland
Jingles many a bell
Jovial on the work-sad horses
Hitched to runners old
Of the toil-worn peasants sledging
Under sheepskins in the cold;
Till from every quarter gathered
Meet they on one ledge,
There from hoods they brush the snow off
Lighting from each sledge
Full before the Margrave's castle,
Summoned there to cheer
On his birth-night, in mid-winter,
Kept year after year.
O the hall, and O the holly!
Tables line each wall;
Guests as holly-berries plenty,
But—no host withal!
May his people feast contented
While at head of board
Empty throne and vacant cover
Speak the absent lord?


Minstrels enter. And the stewards
Serve the guests; and when,
Passing there the vacant cover,
Functionally then
Old observance grave they offer;
But no Margrave fair,
In his living aspect gracious,
Sits responsive there;
No, and never guest once marvels,
None the good lord name,
Scarce they mark void throne and cover—
Dust upon the same.
Mindless as to what importeth
Absence such in hall;
Tacit as the plough-horse feeding
In the palfrey's stall.
Ah, enough for toil and travail,
If but for a night
Into wine is turned the water,
Black bread into white.