Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Germany
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Germany: Vols. XVII–XVIII.  1876–79.
 
Breslau
The Breslau Bell-founder
Wilhelm Müller (1794–1827)
 
Translated by C. T. Brooks

WAS once an old bell-founder
  At Breslau in the town,
A cunning master-workman,
  A man of great renown.
Already, white and yellow,        5
  He ’d cast full many a bell
For churches and for chapels,
  God’s holy praise to swell.
 
And all his bells they sounded
  So full and clear and pure:        10
He poured his faith and love in,
  Of that all men were sure.
But of all bells that ever
  He cast, was one the crown,
That was the bell for sinners        15
  At Breslau in the town.
 
In Magdalen Church tower
  The masterpiece is hung,
And many a heart has melted
  Beneath its iron tongue.        20
How well the faithful master
  Upon his work had thought!
By day and night how truly
  His cunning hand had wrought!
 
And when the hour has come now,        25
  And all stands ready there,
The form walled up and steady,
  The mixture bright and fair:
Then calls he to the fire-watch
  His boy with earnest tone:        30
“I leave thee by the kettle
  A moment here alone;
 
“To nerve me for the casting
  With yet one drink I ’ll go;
That gives the gluey bell-stuff        35
  A full and even flow.
“But mind me, boy, and touch not
  The stopple, now give heed:
Else with thy life thou ’lt rue it,
  Rash child, the desperate deed!”        40
 
The boy stands by the kettle,
  Peeps down into the glow:
It bubbles, boils and billows,
  Runs wildly to and fro.
And in his ears it hisses,        45
  And in his blood it leaps,
And now, in all his fingers,
  Toward the stopple creeps.
 
He ’s feeling of the stopple:
  Woe! he has turned it round!        50
What was ’t he did? He knows not;
  In terror flees the ground.
He flies to meet his master,
  Confesses to his face
The fault he has committed,        55
  And will his knees embrace.
 
But scarce the boding master
  The boy’s first word has caught,—
Impetuous anger swallows
  Each cool and sober thought.        60
It clenched his sharp knife for him,
  And through the boy’s heart ran;
Then rushed he to the kettle
  Like a distracted man.
 
Perchance he yet may save it,        65
  Still stop the rushing stream;
But lo! the casting’s over,
  Gone is each globule’s gleam!
He breaks the mould with trembling,
  And sees, yet fain would not,        70
The bell stands whole before him,
  Without a speck or spot.
 
The boy lies on the ground there,
  He sees his work no more;
Ah, master, frantic master,        75
  Thy thrust was all too sore!
He yields him up to judgment,
  Himself accuses he:
It moves the judge to pity
  The wretched man to see.        80
 
Yet is there none can save him,
  And blood cries out for blood;
Yet hears he his death-sentence
  With calm, unbending mood.
And when the day has broken,        85
  The day his doom shall seal,
They offer for his solace
  The Lord’s last holy meal.
 
“I thank you,” says the master,
  “Dear gentlemen and true,        90
But ’t is another favor
  My heart desires of you.
“Once would I hear, O, let me!
  The sound of my new bell!
’T is mine own hand hath made it:        95
  Would know if ill or well.”
 
The old man’s prayer was granted,
  It seemed so small a thing
To them, that his death hour
  His favorite bell should ring.        100
The master hears it tolling
  So full, so clear, so pure:
His eyes with tears run over,
  For joy it must be, sure.
 
And lo! as if transfigured,        105
  His fading eyeballs gleam:
That sound to him hath spoken
  Far more than sound, I deem!
And he has bowed his neck down
  Calmly to meet the stroke,        110
And, sure, death’s solemn promise,
  Life, following, hath not broke.
 
Ay, of all bells that ever
  He cast, is this the crown,
The bell of Church St. Magdalen        115
  At Breslau in the town.
It was, from that time forward,
  Baptized the Sinner’s Bell:
Whether it still is called so,
  Is more than I can tell.        120
 
 
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