This article is from the December 1995 - January 1996 The Mexico File newsletter.
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Longfellow's The Bells of San Blas

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote his last poem on March 12, 1882, a work he entitled "The Bells of San Blas." It is ironic that Longfellow never actually visited San Blas, but its fame at the time was such that he was inspired to describe something of its past importance and the changes it had endured. The bells of this poem refer to those once in the ruins of the town's oldest church which was dedicated to the Virgin of the Sailor's Rosary. The ruins of the church are found on a steep-sided isolated hill, the Cerro de San Basilio, at the top of which is the Spanish fortress. Several verses from the poem follow.

What say the Bells of San Blas

To the ships that southward pass

From the harbor of Mazatlan?

To them it is nothing more

Than the sound of surf on the shore,

Nothing more to master or man.

They are a voice of the Past

Of an age that is fading fast,

Of a power austere and grand;

When the flag of Spain unfurled

Its folds o'er this western world,

And the Priest was lord of the land.

The chapel that once looked down

On a little seaport town

Has crumbled into the dust;

And on oaken beams below

The bells swing to and fro,

And are green with mould and rust.

Oh, bring us back once more

The vanished days of yore,

When the world with faith was filled;

Bring back the fervid zeal,

The hearts of fire and steel,

The hands that believe and build.

Oh, Bells of San Blas, in vain

Ye call back the Past again;

The Past is deaf to your prayer;

Out of the shadows of night

The world rolls into light

It is daybreak everywhere.