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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and Holland: Vols. XIV–XV. 1876–79.

Holland: Amsterdam

The Burgomaster

By Anonymous

ONCE, in old Amsterdam, as noon

Shone over noisy dock and square,

And sluggish stretch of still lagoon,

A wealthy barge, well-oared and fleet,

Slid smoothly down the watery street,

With pennon streaming in the air;

And by its stern a merchant old,—

With raisin-colored cap, and chain

That crossed his garment’s velvet fold,—

With clear brown eye of wrinkled glee,

And cheek still red, though tropic-tanned

With voyage,—full-veined, courteous hand,

And air of antique bonhommie,—

Sat calmly; for that day his brain

Forgot awhile the fight for gold,

And all his ventures on the main.

“Good master, whither shall we row?”

It was the bluff old steersman spoke.

The merchant turned: “To-day, good folk,

I mean to pass all leisurely

With Meister Rembrandt, whom I know,—

A famous portrait-painter he,

Late come from Leyden, as they tell,

To fill his purse with us, and dwell

In our old town a year or so:

Fair be his chances with us; well

His craft deserves of all: for me,

I hail his presence joyously;

For, as the sands of life will pass,

However tight we grasp the glass,

’T is time, methinks, that my old Hall

Should wear my picture on its wall.

What think you?” “God withhold the day!”

The oarsmen echoed one and all,

“That takes that kindly face away.”

“Yet must it come.” The rowers swept

In silence down; broad flashed the sun

Along the glittering path that spun

In whirls behind: by wharf and quay,

With cask and bale redundant heaped,

Tall merchant-barques at moorings lay,

With streamers floating from each mast;

Groups gathered in the leafy screen

Of summer tree rows, dusty green;

And busy bridges, as they passed,

Gloomed o’er them for a second’s space;

Now oped some quaint wide market-place,

All bustle, glare, and merchant talk,

And heaped with motley merchant ware;

Now some cathedral’s gilded clock

Sprinkled its chimes through the clear air,

Merrily ringing o’er their way,

As it were making holiday.

At length the river broadened forth,

And sunk the noisy town behind,

And swept the breezy billows by,

Fresh foaming from the distant sky,

Where hosted shipping round the North,

Full breasted in the steady wind,

Came courtesying along the sea

From the blue spacing Zuyder-Zee.

In slanting drifts the city’s smoke

Curtained the sinking spires, and o’er

The sidelong stretch of shelving shore

In bursts the sunlit surges broke;

Upon each passing headland’s height

Fantastic windmills quaint and brown

Whirred busily; and, poised in light,

The gull with red eye peering down:

Thus on, until at length they reached

A watery suburb, where they beached.

Above them, girt by gnarled trees,

Arose an antique mansion, tall

And lonely; down each mouldering wall,

Jutted with drowsy balconies,

Dim trailers drooping from the eaves,

Hooded with glossy ivy leaves,

O’er gable quaint and window small

Festooned their wind-swung draperies.

Around its portal gray the sun

Played slumbrously, and swooned the air

Up from the glimmering lowland there,

In languid pulses; while upon

Its tortuous stairs of aged stone

The sea-sand gathered in each nook,—

The flaggers waved, the salt grass shook.

Into its hall the merchant paced,

And from his sunny doze, beside

A window looking o’er the tide,

A quaint old varlet rose in haste;

And, bowing brows of scattered gray,

Along the creaking dusty floors

And through the echoing corridors

And noiseless chambers led the way:

The room is reached, the lock is turned,

The painter flings his brush aside,

And by the lamp’s red glow, that burned

Beside his picture, sees the friend

Of vanished summers o’er him bend;

While hands are clasped, and on each brow

Dead memories kindle, as they say,

In cordial chorus, “Well, and how—

How hast thou been this many a day?”

“’T is twenty years since we have met,”

The burgomaster cried; “and yet

As hale and hearty, God be blessed,

Are we as when, in summers past,

We gave our life-sail to the blast.

What matters it, if silvered brows

Bring golden purses, and our thrift

Secures us plenty as we drift

To harbor in the sunless west?

Mine are the merchant’s views of time;

Content to pass my day in trade,

Content at night if I have made

The means to entertain a guest:

A narrow view, a sordid strife,

More selfish, comrade, than sublime

This same,—and your good years, I trow,

Are kindled with a nobler glow.”


Dark is the chamber, though ’t is day;

Curtained and lighted from the blue

By one thin streaming ray that through

The domed roof falls splendrously:

Unlike the gloried studios

By Tiber’s yellow wave, or where,

Through alder rows and banks aglare,

The sunny rippled Arno flows.

No Grecian bust or statue shows

Its pure ideal outline there;

No Cupid smiles, no Venus glows

Voluptuous languors through the air;

But duskily the light streams o’er

Rich turbans tumbled on the floor.

Around the stretch of shadowing walls,

Gloomy as Eblis’ palace halls,

Hang garbs of many a distant land.

Great giant armor, casque and brand,

Inlaid with subtlest traceries,

Send forth a dim uncertain sheen

Beneath the skirt of ebon palls,

Swart cowls, and Jewish gabardine,

Long Moorish cloaks, and Persian shawls:

Nor there of instruments of pain

And iron anguish, screw and rack

Blood-rusted, seemed there any lack;

While draped across a mirror’s disk

The cincture of some Odalisque

Glimmered amid a motley train

Of skins, and mighty ocean bones,

And plumages from burning zones,

Skulls, shells, and arid skeletons,

O’erstrewn with aureate draperies.

Then for a time the painter dashed

His canvas o’er with many a hue;

Broad shadow-masses fell, and flashed

The keen lights over lip and eye,

As glowingly and steadily

The face beneath his pencil grew;

Through the half-open curtain slid

The silent lights, and sunnily

Without the casement voyaged the bee

With busy hum along, or hid

In wallflowers streaked with gold and brown;

The skylark o’er the island sang;

Till faintly from the distant town

The bell through smoky steeples rang

The hour of silent afternoon.