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

The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems

Introductory Note

The Belfry of Bruges and other Poems was published December 23, 1845, but the greater part of the volume had already appeared in the illustrated edition of Mr. Longfellow’s poems published earlier in the year in Philadelphia, as well as in the pages of Graham’s Magazine, which at this time was the most frequent vehicle of his writing.

The poem which gives the title to the volume was the product of his excursion in Europe in the summer of 1842. While on his way to the watercure at Marienberg on the Rhine, he spent a few days in Belgium, and here is the entry which he makes in his diary:—

May 30. In the evening took the railway from Ghent to Bruges. Stopped at La Fleur de Blé attracted by the name, and found it a good hotel. It was not yet night; and I strolled through the fine old streets and felt myself a hundred years old. The chimes seemed to be ringing incessantly; and the air of repose and antiquity was delightful.… Oh, those chimes, those chimes! how deliciously they lull one to sleep! The little bells, with their clear, liquid notes, like the voices of boys in a choir, and the solemn bass of the great bell tolling in, like the voice of a friar!

May 31. Rose before five and climbed the high belfry which was once crowned by the gilded copper drag-on now at Ghent. The carillon of forty-eight bells; the little chamber in the tower; the machinery, like a huge barrel-organ, with keys like a musical instrument for the carilloneur; the view from the tower; the singing of swallows with the chimes; the fresh morning air; the mist in the horizon; the red roofs far below; the canal, like a silver clasp, linking the city with the sea,—how much to remember!

From some expressions in a letter to Freiligrath it would seem that this poem and Nuremberg formed part of a plan which the poet had designed of a series of travel-sketches in verse, a plan which in a desultory way he may be said to have been executing all his days and to have carried out systematically in another shape in his collection of Poems of Places.

The contents of this division are the same as in the volume so entitled, except that a group of six translations has been withheld, to be placed with the other translated pieces at the end of the volume; except also that to the Sonnets is added the personal one entitled Mezzo Cammin, written at this time and first printed in the Life.