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

In the Harbor

The Bells of San Blas

  • The last poem written by Mr. Longfellow. The last verse but one is dated March 12, 1882. The final verse was added March 15. Mr. Longfellow died March 24. The poem was suggested by an article in Harper’s Magazine, which the poet had just read.

  • WHAT say the Bells of San Blas

    To the ships that southward pass

    From the harbor of Mazatlan?

    To them it is nothing more

    Than the sound of surf on the shore,—

    Nothing more to master or man.

    But to me, a dreamer of dreams,

    To whom what is and what seems

    Are often one and the same,—

    The Bells of San Blas to me

    Have a strange, wild melody,

    And are something more than a name.

    For bells are the voice of the church;

    They have tones that touch and search

    The hearts of young and old;

    One sound to all, yet each

    Lends a meaning to their speech,

    And the meaning is manifold.

    They are a voice of the Past,

    Of an age that is fading fast,

    Of a power austere and grand;

    When the flag of Spain unfurled

    Its folds o’er this western world,

    And the Priest was lord of the land.

    The chapel that once looked down

    On the little seaport town

    Has crumbled into the dust;

    And on oaken beams below

    The bells swing to and fro,

    And are green with mould and rust.

    “Is, then, the old faith dead,”

    They say, “and in its stead

    Is some new faith proclaimed,

    That we are forced to remain

    Naked to sun and rain,

    Unsheltered and ashamed?

    “Once in our tower aloof

    We rang over wall and roof

    Our warnings and our complaints;

    And round about us there

    The white doves filled the air,

    Like the white souls of the saints.

    “The saints! Ah, have they grown

    Forgetful of their own?

    Are they asleep, or dead,

    That open to the sky

    Their ruined Missions lie,

    No longer tenanted?

    “Oh, bring us back once more

    The vanished days of yore,

    When the world with faith was filled;

    Bring back the fervid zeal,

    The hearts of fire and steel,

    The hands that believe and build.

    “Then from our tower again

    We will send over land and main

    Our voices of command,

    Like exiled kings who return

    To their thrones, and the people learn

    That the Priest is lord of the land!”

    O Bells of San Blas, in vain

    Ye call back the Past again!

    The Past is deaf to your prayer;

    Out of the shadows of night

    The world rolls into light;

    It is daybreak everywhere.