Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems


IN the ancient town of Bruges,

In the quaint old Flemish city,

As the evening shades descended,

Low and loud and sweetly blended,

Low at times and loud at times,

And changing like a poet’s rhymes,

Rang the beautiful wild chimes

From the Belfry in the market

Of the ancient town of Bruges.

Then, with deep sonorous clangor

Calmly answering their sweet anger,

When the wrangling bells had ended,

Slowly struck the clock eleven,

And, from out the silent heaven,

Silence on the town descended.

Silence, silence everywhere,

On the earth and in the air,

Save that footsteps here and there

Of some burgher home returning,

By the street lamps faintly burning,

For a moment woke the echoes

Of the ancient town of Bruges.

But amid my broken slumbers

Still I heard those magic numbers,

As they loud proclaimed the flight

And stolen marches of the night;

Till their chimes in sweet collision

Mingled with each wandering vision,

Mingled with the fortune-telling

Gypsy-bands of dreams and fancies,

Which amid the waste expanses

Of the silent land of trances

Have their solitary dwelling;

All else seemed asleep in Bruges,

In the quaint old Flemish city.

And I thought how like these chimes

Are the poet’s airy rhymes,

All his rhymes and roundelays,

His conceits, and songs, and ditties,

From the belfry of his brain,

Scattered downward, though in vain,

On the roofs and stones of cities!

For by night the drowsy ear

Under its curtains cannot hear,

And by day men go their ways,

Hearing the music as they pass,

But deeming it no more, alas!

Than the hollow sound of brass.

Yet perchance a sleepless wight,

Lodging at some humble inn

In the narrow lanes of life,

When the dusk and hush of night

Shut out the incessant din

Of daylight and its toil and strife,

May listen with a calm delight

To the poet’s melodies,

Till he hears, or dreams he hears,

Intermingled with the song,

Thoughts that he has cherished long;

Hears amid the chime and singing

The bells of his own village ringing,

And wakes, and finds his slumberous eyes

Wet with most delicious tears.

Thus dreamed I, as by night I lay

In Bruges, at the Fleur-de-Blé,

Listening with a wild delight

To the chimes that, through the night,

Rang their changes from the Belfry

Of that quaint old Flemish city.