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

The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems

The Arsenal at Springfield

  • On his wedding journey in the summer of 1843, Mr. Longfellow passed through Springfield, Massachusetts, and visited the United States arsenal there, in company with Mr. Charles Summer. “While Mr. Sumner was endeavoring,” says Mr. S. Longfellow, “to impress upon the attendant that the money expended upon these weapons of war would have been much better spent upon a great library, Mrs. Longfellow pleased her husband by remarking how like an organ looked the ranged and shining gun-barrels which covered the walls from floor to ceiling, and suggesting what mournful music Death would bring from them. ‘We grew quite warlike against war,’ she wrote, ‘and I urged H. to write a peace poem.’” The poem was written some months later.

  • THIS is the Arsenal. From floor to ceiling,

    Like a huge organ, rise the burnished arms;

    But from their silent pipes no anthem pealing

    Startles the villages with strange alarms.

    Ah! what a sound will rise, how wild and dreary,

    When the death-angel touches those swift keys!

    What loud lament and dismal Miserere

    Will mingle with their awful symphonies!

    I hear even now the infinite fierce chorus,

    The cries of agony, the endless groan,

    Which, through the ages that have gone before us,

    In long reverberations reach our own.

    On helm and harness rings the Saxon hammer,

    Through Cimbric forest roars the Norseman’s song,

    And loud, amid the universal clamor,

    O’er distant deserts sounds the Tartar gong.

    I hear the Florentine, who from his palace

    Wheels out his battle-bell with dreadful din,

    And Aztec priests upon their teocallis

    Beat the wild war-drums made of serpent’s skin;

    The tumult of each sacked and burning village;

    The shout that every prayer for mercy drowns;

    The soldiers’ revels in the midst of pillage;

    The wail of famine in beleaguered towns;

    The bursting shell, the gateway wrenched asunder,

    The rattling musketry, the clashing blade;

    And ever and anon, in tones of thunder

    The diapason of the cannonade.

    Is it, O man, with such discordant noises,

    With such accursed instruments as these,

    Thou drownest Nature’s sweet and kindly voices,

    And jarrest the celestial harmonies?

    Were half the power that fills the world with terror,

    Were half the wealth bestowed on camps and courts,

    Given to redeem the human mind from error,

    There were no need of arsenals or forts:

    The warrior’s name would be a name abhorrèd!

    And every nation, that should lift again

    Its hand against a brother, on its forehead

    Would wear forevermore the curse of Cain!

    Down the dark future, through long generations,

    The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease;

    And like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations,

    I hear once more the voice of Christ say, “Peace!”

    Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals

    The blast of War’s great organ shakes the skies!

    But beautiful as songs of the immortals,

    The holy melodies of love arise.