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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


The Bells of Avignon

By Walter Thornbury (1828–1876)

AVIGNON was a joyous city,

A joyous town with many a steeple,

Towers and tourelles, roofs and turrets,

Sheltering a merry people.

In each tower the bells of silver,

Bronze, or iron, swayed so proudly,

Tolling deep and swinging cheerly,

Beating fast and beating loudly.

One! Two! Three! Four! ever sounding;

Two! Four! One! Three! still repeating;

Five! Seven! Six! Eight! hurrying, chasing;

Bim-bom-bing-bang merry beating.

All the day the dancing sextons

Dragged at bell-ropes, rising, falling;

Clanging bells, inquiring, answering,

From the towers were ever calling.

Cardinals, in crimson garments,

Stood and listened to the chiming;

And within his lofty château

Sat the Pope, and beat the timing;

Minstrels, soldiers, monks, and jesters

Laughed to hear the merry clamour,

As above them in the turrets

Music clashed from many a hammer.

Avignon was a joyous city:

Far away across the bridges,

’Mong the vine-slopes, upward lessening,

To the brown cliffs’ highest ridges,

Clamoured those sonorous bells;

In the summer’s noontide wrangling,

In one silver knot of music

All their chimes together tangling.

Showering music on the people

Round the town-house in the mornings;

Scattering joy and jubilations,

Hope and welcome, wrath and scornings;

Ushering kings, or mourning pontiffs;

Clanging in the times of thunder,

And on nights when conflagrations

Clove the city half asunder.

Nights and nights across the river,

Through the darkness starry-dotted,

Far across the bridge so stately,

Now by lichens blurred and blotted,

Came that floating, mournful music,

As from bands of angels flying,

With the loud blasts of the tempest

Still victoriously vying.

Who could tell why Avignon

All its bells was ever pealing,—

Whether to scare evil spirits,

Still round holy cities stealing?

Yet, perhaps, that ceaseless chiming,

And that pleasant silver beating,

Was but as of children playing,

And their mother’s name repeating.

One! Two! Three! the bells went prattling,

With a music so untiring;

One! Two! Three! in merry cadence,

Rolling, crashing, clanging, firing.

Hence it was that in past ages,

When mid war those sounds seemed sweeter,

La Ville Sonnante people called it,

City sacred to Saint Peter.

Years ago! but now all silent,

Lone and sad, the grass-grown city

Has its bell-towers all deserted

By those ringers,—more ’s the pity.

Pope and cardinal are vanished,

And no music fills the night air;

Gone the red robes and the sable,

Gone the crosier and the mitre.