James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

March 12

The Bells of San Blas

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882)

(His last poem, written March 12, 1882)

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 the 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 Bias, 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.