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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.

Spain: Toledo

The Cathedral

By José Zorrilla (1817–1893)

Translated by S. Eliot

THIS massive form, sculptured in mountain stones,

As it once issued from the earth profound,

Monstrous in stature, manifold in tones

Of incense, light, and music spread around;

This an unquiet people still doth throng,

With pious steps, and heads bent down in fear,—

Yet not so noble as through ages long

Is old Toledo’s sanctuary austere.

Glorious in other days, it stands alone,

Mourning the worship of more Christian years,

Like to a fallen queen, her empire gone,

Wearing a crown of miseries and tears.

Or like a mother, hiding griefs unseen,

She calls her children to her festivals,

And triumphs still,—despairing, yet serene,—

With swelling organs and with pealing bells.


Looking with sombre brow

On the stream flowing by,

It scorns the world below,

And mourns, through bells tolled low,

From tower high.

It seems to breathe deep sighs,

Breaking a spell borne long,—

To gaze towards the skies,

And speak life’s destinies

With bells,—its tongue.

Then comes, in peals outbreaking,

Gigantic harmony,

The church, its slumbers shaking,

In joyous life awaking,

Shouts glad and free.


The tones are changing,—hark!

Their strain is one of prayer

For lives in passion dark,

As sympathy to mark

With doubt and care.

But lighter through the air

Are clamorous sounds of mirth,

Ringing through heavens fair,

As they the heralds were

Of joy to earth.


In tumult all is lost,—

Then sweeps a deeper gloom,—

With shades, in phantom host,

One moment seen,—then tossed

Back to their tomb.


The sun of morning shines

Through windows jewelled bright,

With the dim lamps its rays combines,

And brings a promise to the shrines

Of heavenly light.

It crowns the column tall

With brilliant wreath,

Then streams upon the wall,

Driving dark shades from all

The aisles beneath.

In the Cathedral hoary,

So comes, with every morning,

Such light, an offering holy

To the Great God of Glory,

His house adorning.


Through the long nave is heard the measured tread

Of the old priest, who early matins keeps,

His sacred robe, in rustling folds outspread,

Over the echoing pavement sweeps,—

A sound awaking, like a trembling breath

Of earnest yet unconscious prayer,

Uprising from thick sepulchres beneath,

A voice from Christian sleepers there.

Upon the altars burns the holy fire,

The censers swing on grating chains of gold,

And from the farther depths of the dark choir

Chants in sublimest echoings are rolled.

The people come in crowds, and, bending lowly,

Thank their Great Maker for his mercies given;

Then raise their brows, flushed with emotion holy,—

About them beams the light of opening heaven.

The priest repeats full many a solemn word,

Made sacred to devotion through all time;

The people kneel again, as each is heard,

Each cometh fraught with memories sublime.

The organ, from its golden trumpets blowing,

Swells with their robust voices through the aisles,

As from a mountain-fall wild waters flowing,

Roll in sonorous waves and rippling smiles.