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THE BIRD AND THE BELL, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: Twas earliest morning in the early spring
Last Line: Light, love, henceforth shall reign forever and alone!

'T was earliest morning in the early spring,
In Florence. Winter, dark and damp and chill;
Had yielded to the fruit-trees' blossoming,
Though sullen rains swept from the mountains still.
The tender green scarce seemed to have a will
To peep above the sod and greet the sky, --
Like an o'er-timid child who dreads a stranger's eye.

The city slumbered in the dawning day; --
Old towers and domes and roof-tiles looming dim,
Bridges and narrow streets and cloisters gray,
And sculptured churches, where the Latin hymn
By lamplight called to mass. As o'er a limb
The spells of witchcraft strong but noiseless full,
The shadows of the Past reigned silent over all.

Waking from sleep, I heard, but knew not where,
A bird, that sang alone its early song.
The quick, clear warble leaping through the air, --
The voice of spring, that all the winter long
Had slept,--now burst in melodies as strong
And tremulous as Love's first pure delight; --
I could not choose but bless a song so warm and bright.

Sweet bird! the fresh, clear sprinkle of thy voice
Came quickening all the springs of trust and love.
What heart could hear such joy, and not rejoice?
Thou blithe remembrancer of field and grove,
Dropping thy fairy flute-notes from above,
Fresh message from the Beauty Infinite
That clasps the world around and fills it with delight!

It bore me to the breeze-swept banks of bloom,
To trees and falling waters, and the rush
Of south-winds sifting through the pine-grove's gloom;
Home-gardens filled with roses, and the gush
Of insect-trills in grass and roadside bush;
And apple-orchards flushed with blossoms sweet;
And all that makes the round of nature most complete.

It sang of freedom, dimmed by no alloy;
Peace, unpossessed upon our troubled sphere,
Some long Arcadian day of love and joy,
Unsoiled by fogs of superstitious fear;
A world of noble beings born to cheer
The wilderness of life, and prove the fact
Of human grandeur in each thought and word and act.

What was it jarred the vision and the spell,
And brought the reflux of the day and place?
Athwart the bird's song clanged a brazen bell.
Nature's improvisations could not face
That domineering voice; and in the race
Of rival tongues the Bell outrang the Bird, --
The swinging, clamoring brass which all the city heard.

Santa Maria Novella's Church, hard by,
Calling its worshippers to morning prayer,
From its old Campanile lifted high
In the dull dampness of the clouded air,
Poured out its monotones, and did not spare
Its ringing shocks of unremitting sound,
That soon my warbler's notes were swept away
and drowned.

Down from the time-stained belfry clanged the bell,
Joined in a moment by a hundred more.
Had I not heard the bird, I might have well
Floated on that sonorous flood that bore
Away all living voices, as with roar
Of deep vibrations, grand, monastic, bold,
Through street and stately square the metal music rolled.

Oft have I listened in the dead of night,
When all those towers like chanting priests have prayed;
And the weird tones seemed tangled in the height
Of palaces, -- as though all Florence made
One great ghost-organ, and the pipes that played
Were the dark channelled streets, pouring along
In beats and muffled swells the deep resounding song.

So now the incessant peal filled all the air,
And the sweet bird-voice, utterly forced away,
Ceased. And it seemed as if some spirit fair
Were hurled into oblivion; and the day
Grew suddenly more darkly, grimly gray,
Like a vast mort-cloth stretched from south to north,
While that tyrannic voice still rang its mandates forth.

And so I mused upon the things that were,
And those that should be, or that might have been;
And felt a life and freedom in the air,
And in the sprouting of the early green,
I could not match with man, who builds his screen
Darkening the sun, and in his own light stands,
And casts the shadow of himself along the lands.

For him who haunts the temples of the Past,
And shapes his fond ideals by its rules;
Whose creed, whose labors, are but thoughts recast
In worn and shrunken moulds of antique schools, --
Copies of copies, wrought with others' tools;
For whom law stands for justice, Church for God,
Symbol for fact, for right divine the tyrant's rod; --

Who fears to utter what his reason bids,
Unless it wears the colors of a sect;
Who hardly dares to lift his heavy lids,
And greet the coming Day with head erect,
But apes each general posture and defect
Entailed by time, -- alert in others' tracks,
Like owls that build in some time-mantled ruin's cracks; --

For him yon clanging Bell a symbol bears,
That deadens every natural voice of spring.
Fitter for him the croaking chant, the prayers,
The torch, the cross, the censer's golden swing,
The organ-fugue, -- a prisoned eagle's wing
Beating the frescoed dome, -- the empty feast
Where at his tinselled altar stands the gay-robed priest.

O mighty Church! who, old, but still adorned
With jewels of thy youth, -- a wrinkled bride
Affianced to the blind, -- so long hast scorned
The rising of the inevitable tide
That swells and surges up against thy pride, --
Thou, less the artist's than the tyrant's nurse,
Blight of philosophy, false star of poet's verse! --

What though thy forms be picturesque and old,
And, clustered round thee, works of noblest art
Hallow thy temples! Once they may have told
Profound emotions of the inmost heart;
Now shadowed by a faith that stands apart,
And scowls against the sunlight shared abroad,
Burning in altar-nooks its candles to its god!

The saints who toiled to help the world's distress;
The noble lords of thought and speech divine;
The prophets crying through Time's wilderness;
The vast discoveries, the inventions fine
That stamped upon the centuries a sign
Of grandeur, -- all, like music thundered down
By stern cathedral bells, were silenced by thy frown.

Chained to Madonnas and ascetic saints,
Even Art itself felt thy all-narrowing force.
The painter saw thee peeping o'er his paints;
The sculptor's thought was fettered from its source;
Thy gloomy cloisters shaped the builder's course;
Thy organ drowned the shepherd's festive flute
With penitential groans, as though God's love were mute.

And yet, because there lurked some element
Of truth within the doctrine, -- to man's need
Some fitness in the form; since more was meant
And more expressed than in the accepted creed, --
The artist's genius giving far less heed
To formulas than to his own ideal, --
The hand and heart wrought works the world has
stamped as real.

What didst thou for the already teeming soil
Of souls like Dante, Raphael, Angelo,
Save to suggest a theme or pay their toil?
While they o'erlooked their prison walls, and so
Caught from the skies above and earth below
Splendors wherewith they lit thy tarnished crown,
And clothed thee with a robe thou claimest as thine own.

Names that in any age would have been great,
Works that to all time speak, and so belong,
Claim not as thine; nor subsidize the fate
That gave them to the nations for a long,
Unceasing heritage. Amid a throng
Of starry lights they live. Thy clanging bells
Can never drown their song, nor break their
mighty spells.

No mother thou of Genius, but the nurse.
Seek not to stamp a vulgar name upon
The sons of Morning. Take the Poet's verse,
But not the Poet. He is not thy son.
Enough for thee, if sometimes he hath gone
Into thy narrow fold from pastures wide,
Where through immortal flowers God pours the living tide.

Enough if he hath decked thee with the wealth
Of his heaven-nurtured spirit, -- showering gems
Of thought and fancy, coining youth and health
To gild with fame thy papal diadems;
Plucking life's roses with their roots and stems
To wreathe an altar which returned him naught
But the poor patronage of some suspected thought.

What didst thou for the studious sage who saw
Through nature's veils the great organic force, --
Who sought and found the all-pervading law
That holds the rolling planets in their course?
When didst thou fail to check the flowing source
Of truths whose waters needs must inundate
The theologic dikes that guarded thy estate?

Is there a daring thought thou hast not crushed?
Is there a generous faith thou hast not cursed?
Is there a whisper, howe'er low and hushed,
Breathed for the future, but thou wast the first
To silence with thy tortures, -- thou the worst
Of antichrists, and cunningest of foes
That ever against God and man's great progress rose?

Yet life was in thee once. Thy earlier youth
Was flushed with blossoms of a heavenly bloom.
Thy blight began, when o'er God's common truth
And man's nobility thou didst assume
The dread prerogative of life and doom;
And creeds which served as swaddling-bands were bound
Like grave-clothes round the limbs laid living under ground.

When man grows wiser than his creed allows,
And nobler than the church he has outgrown;
When that which was his old familiar house
No longer is a home, but all alone,
Alone with God, he dares to lift the stone
From off the skylight between heaven and him, --
Then shines a grander day, then fade the spectres grim.

And never yet was growth, save when it broke
The letter of the dead scholastic form.
The bark drops off, and leaves the expanding oak
To stretch his giant arms through sun and storm.
The idols that upon his breast lay warm
The sage throws down, and breaks their hallowed shrine,
And follows the great hand that points to light divine.

But thou, O Church! didst steal the mother's mask,
The counterfeit of Heaven, -- so to enfold
Thy flock around thee. None looked near, to ask
"Art thou our mother, truly?" None so bold
As lift thy veils, and show how hard and cold
Those eyes of tyranny, that mouth of guile,
That low and narrow brow, the witchcraft of that smile, --

That subtle smile, deluding while it warmed;
That arrogant, inquisitorial nod;
That hand that stabbed, like Herod, the new-formed
And childlike life which drew its breath from God,
And, for that star by which the Magi trod
The road to Bethlehem, the Good Shepherd's home,
Lit lurid idol-fires on thy seven hills of Rome.

Rome, paralyzed and dumb, -- who sat a queen
Among the nations, now thy abject slave;
Yet muttering in her cell, where gaunt and lean
Thy priests have kept her pining! Who shall save
And lift the captive from her living grave?
Is there no justice left to avert her doom,
Where monarchs sit and play their chess-games
on her tomb?

And thou, too, Venice, moaning by the sea,
Which moans and chafes with thee, on Lido's beach, --
Thou, almost in despair lest there should be
In Europe's life no life within thy reach,
No respite from thy tyrant, -- thou shalt teach
Thy Austrian despot yet what hoarded hate
And sudden strength can do to change thy sad estate!

For, lo, the fires are kindled. Hark! afar,
At last the thunders mutter under ground,
The northern lights flash cimeters of war,
Sardinia's trumpets to the battle sound.
See Florence, Parma, Modena, unbound,
Leap to their feet, -- and stout Romagna brave
The Cardinal's frown, and swear to cower no more
a slave!

See Sicily, whose blood is AEtna's veins
Of sleepless fire, heave with volcanic pants,
Seething, a restless surge of hearts and brains,
Till Garibaldi's quick Ithuriel lance
Wakes the whole South from its long, troubled trance,
And Naples, catching the contagious flame,
Welcomes her hero in with blessings on his name!

The nations that in darkness sat have seen
The light. The blind receive their sight again.
The querulous old man who stands between
His children and their hopes, with threats insane,
Trembles, as though an earthquake split in twain
The crumbling rock beneath Saint Peter's dome;
And the last hiding-place of tyranny -- is Rome.

For Italy, long pining, sad, and crushed,
Has hurled her royal despots from the land.
Back to her wasted heart the blood has gushed.
Her wan cheek blooms, and her once nerveless hand
Guides with firm touch the purpose she has planned.
Thank God! thank generous France! the battle smoke
Lifts from her bloody fields. See, at her feet her yoke!

Not like a maddened anarch does she rise:
The torch she holds is no destroying flame,
But a clear beacon, -- like her own clear eyes
Straining across the war-clouds; and the shame
Of wild misrule has never stained her name.
Calm and determined, politic yet bold,
She comes to take her place, -- the Italy of old.

She asks no boon, except to stand enrolled
Among the nations. Give her space and air,
Our Sister. She has pined in dungeons cold.
A little sunshine for our Sister fair,
A little hope to cover past despair.
God's blessing on the long-lost, the unbound!
The earth has waited long; the heavens now answer --

The nations greet her as some lovely guest
Arriving late, where friends pour out the wine.
Ay, press around, and pledge her in the best
Your table yields, and in her praise combine!
And ye who love her most, press near, and twine
Her locks with wreaths, and in her large dark eyes
See all her sorrowing past, and her great future rise!

But thou who claim'st the keys of God's own heaven,
And who wouldst fain usurp the keys of earth, --
Thou, leagued with priests and tyrants who have given
Their hands, and pledged their oaths to blight the birth
Of thine own children's rights, -- for scorn and mirth
One day shalt stand, thy juggling falsehoods named,
Thy plots and wiles unmasked, thy heaven-high
titles shamed!

Look to the proud tiara on thy brow!
Its gems shall crush thee down like leaden weights.
Thy alchemy is dead; and wouldst thou now
Thunder anathemas against the states
Whose powers are Time's irrefragable fates?
Look to thy glories! they must shrink away, --
With meaner pomp must fall, and sink into decay.

Lo, thou art numbered with the things that were,
Soon to be laid upon the dusty shelves
Of antiquaries, -- once so strong and fair,
Now classed with spells of magic, midnight elves,
And all half-lies, that pass away themselves
When once a people rises to the light
Of primal truths and comprehends its heaven-born right.

Toil on; but little canst thou do to-day.
The sun is risen. The daylight dims thy shrines.
The age outstrips thee, marching on its way,
And overflowing all thy boundary lines.
How art thou fallen, O star! How lurid shines
Thy taper underneath the glowing sky!
How feeble grows thy voice, how lustreless thine eye!

Like some huge shell left by the ebbing tide,
In which once dwelt some wonder of the sea,
Thou liest, and men know not that thy pride
Of place outlives thy earlier potency,
But, coming nearer to thy mystery,
Might call thee lovely, did not thy decay
And death-like odor drive them in contempt away.

So perish like thee all lies stereotyped
By human power or devilish artifice, --
Dark blot on Christ's pure shield, soon to be wiped
Away, and leave it fair for Heaven's free kiss;
So perish like thee, drowned in Time's abyss,
All that hath robbed strong Genius of its youth,
All that hath ever barred the struggling soul from truth!

And yet we need not boast our larger scope
In this broad land, if creeds of later stamp
Still cast their gloom o'er manhood's dearest hope,
Still quench the heavenward flame of Reason's lamp,
And dogmas shamed by science still can cramp
The aspiring soul in dungeons scarce less drear
Than those of older times, when faith was one with fear.

Nor dream that here the inquisitorial chair
Is but a byword, though we flush and weep
In honest indignation, when we hear
Chains clank in Rome, and wonder how the cheap
And common truth of Heaven must cringe, and creep,
And mask its face, lest Mother Church disown
The rebel thought that flouts the apostolic throne!

If we indeed are sure our faith is best,
Then may we dare to leave it large and free,
Nor fear to bring the creed to reason's test;
For best is strongest, fearing not to see
As well as feel. Then welcome, Liberty!
Down with the scaffolding the priest demands!
Let Truth stand free, alone, a house not built with hands!

Down with the useless and the rotting props
That only cumber and deface each wall!
Off with the antiquated cloth that drops
Moth-eaten draperies round the columns tall.
Nor needs the heavenly Architect our small
Superfluous tricks of ornament and gilt,
To deck the royal courts his wisdom planned and built.

He wills a temple beautiful and wide
As man and nature, -- not a cloister dim,
Nor strange pagoda of barbaric pride
Scrawled o'er with hieroglyph and picture grim
Of saint and fiend. Why seek to honor him
By crusting o'er with gold of Palestine
The simple, stainless dome whose builder is divine?

Thanks to the Central Good, the inflowing Power,
The Primal Life in which we live and move, --
The aroma of the soul, the passion-flower
We bear upon our hearts, the deathless love
Of right, outlives device, and floats above
All human creeds, though armed with power to brave
The scholar's daring thought, and make the world
their slave.

The music of the soul can ne'er be mute.
What though the brazen clang of antique form
Stop for a hundred years the angel's lute,
The angel smiles, and when the deafening storm
Has pealed along the ages, with the warm
Touch the immortals own, he sings again,
Clearer and sweeter, like the sunshine after rain.

He sings the song no tyrant long resists;
He sings the song the world perforce must join,
Though ages stand as notes. For he insists
With such sweet emphasis, such chords divine,
That, soon or late, along the living line
Of hearts that form Humanity, there thrills
A sympathetic nerve no time or custom kills.

Humanity must answer when God speaks,
As sure as echo to the human voice.
And every grand o'ertopping lie which breaks
With furious flood and century-deafening noise
In the eternal symphony that joys
Along, is but some baser pipe or chord
That shall be tuned again when Reason sits as lord.

Eternal Truth shines on o'er Error's cloud,
Therefore, though the true bard may sing aloud
His soul-song in the unreceptive night,
His words -- swift, arrowy fires -- must fly and light,
Sooner or later, kindling south and north,
Till skulking Falsehood from her den be hunted forth.

Work on, O fainting hearts! Through storm
and drought,
Somewhere your winged heart-seeds will be blown,
And plant a living grove; -- from mouth to mouth,
O'er oceans, into speech and lands unknown,
Even till the long-foreseen result be grown
To ripeness, filled like fruit with other seed,
Which Time shall sow anew, and reap when
men shall need.

There is no death, but only change on change.
The life-force of all forms, in tree and flower,
In rocks and rivers, and in clouds that range
Through heaven, in grazing beasts, and in the power
Of mind, goes forth forever, an unspent dower,
Glowing and flashing through the universe,
Kindling the light of stars, and joy of poet's verse!

Each hour and second is the marriage-morn
Of spirit-life and matter; as when kings
Wed peasants, and their simple charms adorn
With Oriental gems and sparkling rings
And diadems, and with all royal things
Making their eyes familiar, -- so, with tones
Sweet and unheard before, conduct them to their thrones.

One mighty circle God in heaven hath set,
Woven of myriad links, -- lives, deaths unknown, --
Where all beginnings and all ends are met
To follow and serve each other, -- Nature's zone
And zodiac, round whose seamless arc are strewn
A million and a million hues of light
That blend and glow and burn, beyond our realm of night.

O ye who pined in dungeons for the sake
Of truths which tyrants shadowed with their hate;
Whose only crime was that ye were awake
Too soon, or that your brothers slept too late, --
Mountainous minds! upon whose tops the great
Sunrise of knowledge came, long ere its glance
Fell on the foggy swamps of fear and ignorance, --

The time shall come when from your heights serene
Beyond the dark, ye will look back and smile
To see the sterile earth all growing green,
Where Science, Art, and Love repeat Heaven's style
In crowded city and on desert isle,
Till Eden blooms where martyr-fires have burned,
And to the Lord of Life all hearts and minds are turned.

The seeds are planted, and the spring is near.
Ages of blight are but a fleeting frost.
Truth circles into truth. Each mote is dear
To God. No drop of ocean e'er is lost,
No leaf forever dry and tempest-tossed.
Life centres deathless underneath decay,
And no true word or deed can ever pass away.

And ye, O Seraphs in the morn of time!
Birds whose entrancing voices in the spring
Of primal Truth and Beauty, were the chime
Of heaven and earth! still we may hear you sing.
No clang of hierarchal bells shall ring,
To drown your carol, in the airs that move
And stir the dawning age of Liberty and Love!

Light, -- light breaks on the century's farthest round;
Light in the sky, light in the humblest home.
The unebbing tides of God, where errors drowned
Sink down to fathomless destruction, come
Swelling amain. Truth builds her eternal dome
Vast as the sky. Nations are linked in one.
Light, Love, henceforth shall reign forever and alone!

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