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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI. 1876–79.

Austria: Prague, Bohemia

The Old Clock of Prague

By Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–1881)

THERE ’s a curious clock in the city of Prague—

A remarkable old astronomical clock—

With a dial whose outline is that of an egg,

And with figures and fingers a wonderful stock.

It announces the dawn and the death of the day,

Shows the phases of moons, and the changes of tides,

Counts the months and the years as they vanish away,

And performs quite a number of marvels besides.

At the left of the dial a skeleton stands;

And aloft hangs a musical bell in the tower,

Which he rings, by a rope that he holds in his hands,

In his punctual function of striking the hour.

And the skeleton nods, as he tugs at the rope,

At an odd little figure that eyes him aghast,

As a hint that the bell rings the knell of his hope,

And the hour that is solemnly tolled is his last.

And the effigy turns its queer features away

(Much as if for a snickering fit or a sneeze),

With a shrug and a shudder, that struggle to say:

“Pray excuse me, but—just an hour more, if you please!”

But the funniest sight, of the numerous sights

Which the clock has to show to the people below,

Is the Holy Apostles in tunics and tights,

Who revolve in a ring, or proceed in a row.

Their appearance can hardly be counted sublime;

And their movements are formal, it must be allowed;

But they ’re prompt, for they always appear upon time,

And polite, for they bow very low to the crowd.

This machine (so reliable papers record)

Was the work, from his own very clever design,

Of one Hanusch, who died in the year of our Lord

One thousand four hundred and ninety and nine.

Did the people receive it with honor? you ask;

Did it bring a reward to the builder? Ah, well!

It was proper that they should have paid for the task!

And they did, in a way that it shocks me to tell.

For suspecting that Hanusch might grow to be vain,

Or that cities around them might covet their prize,

They invented a story that he was insane,

And to stop him from labor, extinguished his eyes!

But the cunning old artist, though dying in shame,

May be sure that he labored and lived not amiss;

For his clock has outlasted the foes of his fame,

And the world owes him much for a lesson like this:

That a private success is a public offence,

That a citizen’s fame is a city’s disgrace,

And that both should be shunned by a person of sense,

Who would live with a whole pair of eyes in his face.