Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Spain, &c.
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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.
 
Holland: Amsterdam
The Burgomaster
Anonymous
 
ONCE, in old Amsterdam, as noon
Shone over noisy dock and square,
And sluggish stretch of still lagoon,
A wealthy barge, well-oared and fleet,
Slid smoothly down the watery street,        5
With pennon streaming in the air;
And by its stern a merchant old,—
With raisin-colored cap, and chain
That crossed his garment’s velvet fold,—
With clear brown eye of wrinkled glee,        10
And cheek still red, though tropic-tanned
With voyage,—full-veined, courteous hand,
And air of antique bonhommie,—
Sat calmly; for that day his brain
Forgot awhile the fight for gold,        15
And all his ventures on the main.
 
“Good master, whither shall we row?”
It was the bluff old steersman spoke.
The merchant turned: “To-day, good folk,
I mean to pass all leisurely        20
With Meister Rembrandt, whom I know,—
A famous portrait-painter he,
Late come from Leyden, as they tell,
To fill his purse with us, and dwell
In our old town a year or so:        25
Fair be his chances with us; well
His craft deserves of all: for me,
I hail his presence joyously;
For, as the sands of life will pass,
However tight we grasp the glass,        30
’T is time, methinks, that my old Hall
Should wear my picture on its wall.
What think you?” “God withhold the day!”
The oarsmen echoed one and all,
“That takes that kindly face away.”        35
 
“Yet must it come.” The rowers swept
In silence down; broad flashed the sun
Along the glittering path that spun
In whirls behind: by wharf and quay,
With cask and bale redundant heaped,        40
Tall merchant-barques at moorings lay,
With streamers floating from each mast;
Groups gathered in the leafy screen
Of summer tree rows, dusty green;
And busy bridges, as they passed,        45
Gloomed o’er them for a second’s space;
Now oped some quaint wide market-place,
All bustle, glare, and merchant talk,
And heaped with motley merchant ware;
Now some cathedral’s gilded clock        50
Sprinkled its chimes through the clear air,
Merrily ringing o’er their way,
As it were making holiday.
 
At length the river broadened forth,
And sunk the noisy town behind,        55
And swept the breezy billows by,
Fresh foaming from the distant sky,
Where hosted shipping round the North,
Full breasted in the steady wind,
Came courtesying along the sea        60
From the blue spacing Zuyder-Zee.
In slanting drifts the city’s smoke
Curtained the sinking spires, and o’er
The sidelong stretch of shelving shore
In bursts the sunlit surges broke;        65
Upon each passing headland’s height
Fantastic windmills quaint and brown
Whirred busily; and, poised in light,
The gull with red eye peering down:
Thus on, until at length they reached        70
A watery suburb, where they beached.
 
Above them, girt by gnarled trees,
Arose an antique mansion, tall
And lonely; down each mouldering wall,
Jutted with drowsy balconies,        75
Dim trailers drooping from the eaves,
Hooded with glossy ivy leaves,
O’er gable quaint and window small
Festooned their wind-swung draperies.
Around its portal gray the sun        80
Played slumbrously, and swooned the air
Up from the glimmering lowland there,
In languid pulses; while upon
Its tortuous stairs of aged stone
The sea-sand gathered in each nook,—        85
The flaggers waved, the salt grass shook.
 
Into its hall the merchant paced,
And from his sunny doze, beside
A window looking o’er the tide,
A quaint old varlet rose in haste;        90
And, bowing brows of scattered gray,
Along the creaking dusty floors
And through the echoing corridors
And noiseless chambers led the way:
The room is reached, the lock is turned,        95
The painter flings his brush aside,
And by the lamp’s red glow, that burned
Beside his picture, sees the friend
Of vanished summers o’er him bend;
While hands are clasped, and on each brow        100
Dead memories kindle, as they say,
In cordial chorus, “Well, and how—
How hast thou been this many a day?”
 
“’T is twenty years since we have met,”
The burgomaster cried; “and yet        105
As hale and hearty, God be blessed,
Are we as when, in summers past,
We gave our life-sail to the blast.
What matters it, if silvered brows
Bring golden purses, and our thrift        110
Secures us plenty as we drift
To harbor in the sunless west?
Mine are the merchant’s views of time;
Content to pass my day in trade,
Content at night if I have made        115
The means to entertain a guest:
A narrow view, a sordid strife,
More selfish, comrade, than sublime
This same,—and your good years, I trow,
Are kindled with a nobler glow.”
*        *        *        *        *
        120
Dark is the chamber, though ’t is day;
Curtained and lighted from the blue
By one thin streaming ray that through
The domed roof falls splendrously:
Unlike the gloried studios        125
By Tiber’s yellow wave, or where,
Through alder rows and banks aglare,
The sunny rippled Arno flows.
No Grecian bust or statue shows
Its pure ideal outline there;        130
No Cupid smiles, no Venus glows
Voluptuous languors through the air;
But duskily the light streams o’er
Rich turbans tumbled on the floor.
Around the stretch of shadowing walls,        135
Gloomy as Eblis’ palace halls,
Hang garbs of many a distant land.
Great giant armor, casque and brand,
Inlaid with subtlest traceries,
Send forth a dim uncertain sheen        140
Beneath the skirt of ebon palls,
Swart cowls, and Jewish gabardine,
Long Moorish cloaks, and Persian shawls:
Nor there of instruments of pain
And iron anguish, screw and rack        145
Blood-rusted, seemed there any lack;
While draped across a mirror’s disk
The cincture of some Odalisque
Glimmered amid a motley train
Of skins, and mighty ocean bones,        150
And plumages from burning zones,
Skulls, shells, and arid skeletons,
O’erstrewn with aureate draperies.
 
Then for a time the painter dashed
His canvas o’er with many a hue;        155
Broad shadow-masses fell, and flashed
The keen lights over lip and eye,
As glowingly and steadily
The face beneath his pencil grew;
Through the half-open curtain slid        160
The silent lights, and sunnily
Without the casement voyaged the bee
With busy hum along, or hid
In wallflowers streaked with gold and brown;
The skylark o’er the island sang;        165
Till faintly from the distant town
The bell through smoky steeples rang
The hour of silent afternoon.
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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