Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Boston, Mass.

Church Bells

By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)

  • (From Urania: A Rhymed Lesson)
  • The churches referred to in these lines are King’s Chapel; the Old South; Park Street Church; Christ Church, and the church in Brattle Square.

  • THE AIR is hushed; the street is holy ground;

    Hark! The sweet bells renew their welcome sound;

    As one by one awakes each silent tongue,

    It tells the turret whence its voice is flung.

    The Chapel, last of sublunary things

    That shocks our echoes with the name of Kings,

    Whose bell, just glistening from the font and forge,

    Rolled its proud requiem for the second George,

    Solemn and swelling, as of old it rang,

    Flings to the wind its deep, sonorous clang;—

    The simpler pile, that, mindful of the hour

    When Howe’s artillery shook its hall-built tower,

    Wears on its bosom, as a bride might do,

    The iron breastpin which the “Rebels” threw,

    Wakes the sharp echoes with the quivering thrill

    Of keen vibrations, tremulous and shrill;—

    Aloft, suspended in the morning’s fire,

    Crash the vast cymbals from the Southern spire;—

    The Giant, standing by the elm-clad green,

    His white lance lifted o’er the silent scene,

    Whirling in air his brazen goblet round,

    Swings from its brim the swollen floods of sound;—

    While, sad with memories of the olden time,

    The Northern Minstrel pours her tender chime,

    Faint, single tones, that spell their ancient song,

    But tears still follow as they breathe along.

    Child of the soil, whom fortune sends to range

    Where man and nature, faith and customs change,

    Borne in thy memory, each familiar tone

    Mourns on the winds that sigh in every zone.

    When Ceylon sweeps thee with her perfumed breeze

    Through the warm billows of the Indian seas;

    When—ship and shadow blended both in one—

    Flames o’er thy mast the equatorial sun,

    From sparkling midnight to refulgent noon

    Thy canvas swelling with the still monsoon;

    When through thy shrouds the wild tornado sings,

    And thy poor seabird folds her tattered wings,—

    Oft will delusion o’er thy senses steal,

    And airy echoes ring the Sabbath peal!

    Then, dim with grateful tears, in long array

    Rise the fair town, the island-studded bay,

    Home, with its smiling board, its cheering fire,

    The half-choked welcome of the expecting sire,

    The mother’s kiss, and, still if aught remain,

    Our whispering hearts shall aid the silent strain.

    Ah, let the dreamer o’er the taffrail lean

    To muse unheeded, and to weep unseen;

    Fear not the tropic’s dews, the evening’s chills,

    His heart lies warm among his triple hills!