AN INCIDENT OF THE FIRE AT HAMBURGH
by James Russell Lowell
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 so from a sturdy living heart.
Not Nature's self more freely speaks in crystal or in oak,
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;
The thick spires yearned toward 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
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 Hamburgh lay engulfed beneath the eddying flood;
For miles away, the fiery spray poured down its deadly rain,
And back and forth the billows drew, and paused, and broke again.
From square to square, with tiger leaps, still on and on it came;
The air to leeward trembled with the pantings of the flame;
And church and palace, which even now stood whelmed but to the knee,
Lift their black roofs like breakers lone amid the rushing sea.
Up in his tower old Herman sat and watched with quiet look;
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,
And, ere a pater 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,
"As did the Israelites of old, safe-walking through the sea!
"Through this red sea our God hath made our pathway safe to shore;
Our promised land stands full in sight; shout now as ne'er before!"
And, as the tower came crashing down, the bells, in clear accord,
Pealed forth the grand old German hymn,--"All good souls praise the Lord!"