The Bells of San Blas

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807–1882 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What say the Bells of San Blas
To the ships that southward pass
       From the harbor of Mazatlan?
To them it is nothing more
Than the sound of surf on the shore,—
       Nothing more to master or man.

But to me, a dreamer of dreams,
To whom what is and what seems
       Are often one and the same,—
The Bells of San Blas to me
Have a strange, wild melody,
       And are something more than a name.

For bells are the voice of the church;
They have tones that touch and search
       The hearts of young and old;
One sound to all, yet each
Lends a meaning to their speech,
       And the meaning is manifold.

They are a voice of the Past,
Of an age that is fading fast,
       Of a power austere and grand;
When the flag of Spain unfurled
Its folds o'er this western world,
       And the Priest was lord of the land.

The chapel that once looked down
On the little seaport town
       Has crumbled into the dust;
And on oaken beams below
The bells swing to and fro,
       And are green with mould and rust.

"Is, then, the old faith dead,"
They say, "and in its stead
       Is some new faith proclaimed,
That we are forced to remain
Naked to sun and rain,
       Unsheltered and ashamed?

"Once in our tower aloof
We rang over wall and roof
       Our warnings and our complaints;
And round about us there
The white doves filled the air,
       Like the white souls of the saints.

"The saints! Ah, have they grown
Forgetful of their own?
       Are they asleep, or dead,
That open to the sky
Their ruined Missions lie,
       No longer tenanted?

"Oh, bring us back once more
The vanished days of yore,
       When the world with faith was filled;
Bring back the fervid zeal,
The hearts of fire and steel,
       The hands that believe and build.

"Then from our tower again
We will send over land and main
       Our voices of command,
Like exiled kings who return
To their thrones, and the people learn
       That the Priest is lord of the land!"

O Bells of San Blas, in vain
Ye call back the Past again!
       The Past is deaf to your prayer;
Out of the shadows of night
The world rolls into light;
       It is daybreak everywhere.

Source: Longfellow: Poems and Other Writings (The Library of America, 2000)

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Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1807–1882

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Religion, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

 Henry Wadsworth  Longfellow

Biography

By far the most widely known and best-loved American poet of his time, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow achieved a level of national and international prominence possibly unequaled in the literary history of the United States. Poems such as "Paul Revere's Ride," Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie (1847), and "A Psalm of Life" became mainstays of national culture, long remembered by generations of readers who studied them in school. . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Activities, Travels & Journeys, Nature, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Religion, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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