Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Breslau Bell-founder

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII. 1876–79.


The Breslau Bell-founder

By Wilhelm Müller (1794–1827)

Translated by C. T. Brooks

WAS once an old bell-founder

At Breslau in the town,

A cunning master-workman,

A man of great renown.

Already, white and yellow,

He ’d cast full many a bell

For churches and for chapels,

God’s holy praise to swell.

And all his bells they sounded

So full and clear and pure:

He poured his faith and love in,

Of that all men were sure.

But of all bells that ever

He cast, was one the crown,

That was the bell for sinners

At Breslau in the town.

In Magdalen Church tower

The masterpiece is hung,

And many a heart has melted

Beneath its iron tongue.

How well the faithful master

Upon his work had thought!

By day and night how truly

His cunning hand had wrought!

And when the hour has come now,

And all stands ready there,

The form walled up and steady,

The mixture bright and fair:

Then calls he to the fire-watch

His boy with earnest tone:

“I leave thee by the kettle

A moment here alone;

“To nerve me for the casting

With yet one drink I ’ll go;

That gives the gluey bell-stuff

A full and even flow.

“But mind me, boy, and touch not

The stopple, now give heed:

Else with thy life thou ’lt rue it,

Rash child, the desperate deed!”

The boy stands by the kettle,

Peeps down into the glow:

It bubbles, boils and billows,

Runs wildly to and fro.

And in his ears it hisses,

And in his blood it leaps,

And now, in all his fingers,

Toward the stopple creeps.

He ’s feeling of the stopple:

Woe! he has turned it round!

What was ’t he did? He knows not;

In terror flees the ground.

He flies to meet his master,

Confesses to his face

The fault he has committed,

And will his knees embrace.

But scarce the boding master

The boy’s first word has caught,—

Impetuous anger swallows

Each cool and sober thought.

It clenched his sharp knife for him,

And through the boy’s heart ran;

Then rushed he to the kettle

Like a distracted man.

Perchance he yet may save it,

Still stop the rushing stream;

But lo! the casting’s over,

Gone is each globule’s gleam!

He breaks the mould with trembling,

And sees, yet fain would not,

The bell stands whole before him,

Without a speck or spot.

The boy lies on the ground there,

He sees his work no more;

Ah, master, frantic master,

Thy thrust was all too sore!

He yields him up to judgment,

Himself accuses he:

It moves the judge to pity

The wretched man to see.

Yet is there none can save him,

And blood cries out for blood;

Yet hears he his death-sentence

With calm, unbending mood.

And when the day has broken,

The day his doom shall seal,

They offer for his solace

The Lord’s last holy meal.

“I thank you,” says the master,

“Dear gentlemen and true,

But ’t is another favor

My heart desires of you.

“Once would I hear, O, let me!

The sound of my new bell!

’T is mine own hand hath made it:

Would know if ill or well.”

The old man’s prayer was granted,

It seemed so small a thing

To them, that his death hour

His favorite bell should ring.

The master hears it tolling

So full, so clear, so pure:

His eyes with tears run over,

For joy it must be, sure.

And lo! as if transfigured,

His fading eyeballs gleam:

That sound to him hath spoken

Far more than sound, I deem!

And he has bowed his neck down

Calmly to meet the stroke,

And, sure, death’s solemn promise,

Life, following, hath not broke.

Ay, of all bells that ever

He cast, is this the crown,

The bell of Church St. Magdalen

At Breslau in the town.

It was, from that time forward,

Baptized the Sinner’s Bell:

Whether it still is called so,

Is more than I can tell.