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.
 
Hamburg
An Incident of the Fire at Hamburg
James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)
 
THE TOWER of old Saint Nicholas soared upward to the skies,
Like some huge piece of Nature’s make, the growth of centuries;
You could not deem its crowding spires a work of human art,
They seemed to struggle lightward from a sturdy living heart.
 
Not Nature’s self more freely speaks in crystal or in oak,        5
Than, through the pious builder’s hand, in that gray pile she spoke;
And as from acorn springs the oak, so, freely and alone,
Sprang from his heart this hymn to God, sung in obedient stone.
 
It seemed a wondrous freak of chance, so perfect, yet so rough,
A whim of Nature crystallized slowly in granite tough;        10
The thick spires yearned towards the sky in quaint harmonious lines,
And in broad sunlight basked and slept, like a grove of blasted pines.
 
Never did rock or stream or tree lay claim with better right
To all the adorning sympathies of shadow and of light;
And in that forest petrified, as forester, there dwells        15
Stout Herman, the old sacristan, sole lord of all its bells.
 
Surge leaping after surge, the fire roared onward red as blood,
Till half of Hamburg lay engulfed beneath the eddying flood;
For miles away the fiery spray poured down its deadly rain,
And back and forth the billows sucked, and paused, and burst again.        20
 
From square to square with tiger leaps panted the lustful fire,
The air to leeward shuddered with the gasps of its desire;
And church and palace, which even now stood whelmed but to the knee,
Lift their black roofs like breakers lone amid the whirling sea.
 
Up in his tower old Herman sat and watched with quiet look;        25
His soul had trusted God too long to be at last forsook;
He could not fear, for surely God a pathway would unfold
Through this red sea for faithful hearts, as once he did of old.
 
But scarcely can he cross himself, or on his good saint call,
Before the sacrilegious flood o’erleaped the churchyard wall;        30
And, ere a paler half was said, mid smoke and crackling glare,
His island tower scarce juts its head above the wide despair.
 
Upon the peril’s desperate peak his heart stood up sublime;
His first thought was for God above, his next was for his chime;
“Sing now and make your voices heard in hymns of praise,” cried he,        35
“As did the Israelites of old, safe walking through the sea!
 
“Through this red sea our God hath made the pathway safe to shore;
Our promised land stands full in sight; shout now as ne’er before!”
And as the tower came crushing down, the bells, in clear accord,
Pealed forth the grand old German hymn,—“All good souls, praise the Lord!”        40
 
 
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