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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.

Belgium: Ghent

The Great Bell Roland

By Theodore Tilton (1835–1907)

Suggested by President Lincoln’s First Call for Volunteers

TOLL! Roland, toll!

High in St. Bavon’s tower,

At midnight hour,

The great bell Roland spoke,

And all who slept in Ghent awoke.

What meant its iron stroke?

Why caught each man his blade?

Why the hot haste he made?

Why echoed every street

With tramp of thronging feet,—

All flying to the city’s wall?

It was the call,

Known well to all,

That Freedom stood in peril of some foe;

And even timid hearts grew bold,

Whenever Roland tolled,

And every hand a sword could hold:

For men

Were patriots then,

Three hundred years ago!

Toll! Roland, toll!

Bell never yet was hung,

Between whose lips there swung

So true and brave a tongue!

—If men be patriots still,

At thy first sound

True hearts will bound,

Great souls will thrill,—

Then toll! and wake the test

In each man’s breast,

And let him stand confessed!

Toll! Roland, toll!

Not in St. Bavon’s tower,

At midnight hour,—

Nor by the Scheldt, nor far-off Zuyder Zee;

But here,—this side the sea!—

And here, in broad, bright day!

Toll! Roland, toll!

For not by night awaits

A brave foe at the gates,

But Treason stalks abroad,—inside!—at noon!

Toll! Thy alarm is not too soon!

To arms! Ring out the leader’s call!

Re-echo it from east to west,

Till every dauntless breast

Swell beneath plume and crest!

Till swords from scabbards leap!

What tears can widows weep

Less bitter than when brave men fall?

Toll! Roland, toll!

Till cottager from cottage wall

Snatch pouch and powder-horn and gun,—

The heritage of sire to son,

Ere half of Freedom’s work was done!

Toll! Roland, toll!

Till son, in memory of his sire,

Once more shall load and fire!

Toll! Roland, toll!

Till volunteers find out the art

Of aiming at a traitor’s heart!

Toll! Roland, toll!

St. Bavon’s stately tower

Stands to this hour,

And by its side stands Freedom yet in Ghent;

For when the bells now ring,

Men shout, “God save the king!”

Until the air is rent!

Amen!—So let it be;

For a true king is he

Who keeps his people free.

Toll! Roland, toll!

This side the sea!

No longer they, but we,

Have now such need of thee!

Toll! Roland, toll!

And let thy iron throat

Ring out its warning note,

Till Freedom’s perils be outbraved,

And Freedom’s flag, wherever waved,

Shall overshadow none enslaved!

Toll! till from either ocean’s strand

Brave men shall clasp each other’s hand,

And shout, “God save our native land!”

And love the land which God hath saved!

Toll! Roland, toll!