Christmas Chimes in Distant Isles

George Bancroft Griffith

A chink of nine bells, and another of six, cast in Boston, have long hung in the belfries of the little Greek churches on the isles of St. Paul and St. George, situated in the Behring Sea, not far from the straits, off Alaska.

Broad paddles uplifting, the spray from the Behring
Baptized all the bells under lee of the isle;
Their Boston inscription glad Russians were spelling,
As the vessel that bore them dipped colors the while.

The Arctic sun setting, for happy leave-taking,
With red hand anointed each slumbering tongue,
Till, sweeter than song-birds at early morn waking,
The first chime of bells in that distant clime rung!

And lo! the sea-eagle, broad pinions just poising,
From Mount St. Elias far inland to sweep,
Drooped wings in amaze, and his proud neck upraising,
With wonder-lit eyeballs gazed far o'er the deep.

O'er Yukan's calm waters their light baider guiding,
Koloschians heard chime from Isle of St. Paul;
And each to next rower, in deep awe confiding,
Low whispered : "I hear the great Spirit's footfall!"

Their oars drip apeak, and they wait for strange vision;
Aurora her magical banners unrolls;
As statue sits helmsman, while borne from far mission,
The silvery music enraptures all souls!

And leader of dog-sledge, his furry ears raising,
As flies the long yourt over deep-crusted snow,
Hears echoed carillon the Son of God praising,
And pauses, unmindful of whip's cruel blow!

His hood of rich sable the voyageur loosens;
Like sword-hilt that slippeth from paralyzed hand,
The lash leaves his grasp, while he eagerly listens,
His keen glances roving o'er sea and o'er land.

E'en St. Michael's sentry, the melody hearing,
Feels tears from his eyelids like summer rain fall;
The scenes of his childhood forever endearing,
Those echoes delicious that moment recall!

A New England homestead before him is dawning;
He sees the red cottage in flowery dell;
The group at the doorway one still summer morning,
And dear mother waving her sailor farewell!

His pent-up emotion no longer restraining,
The musket clangs earthward, and cheer upon cheer
The garrison startles; all rush to the paling,
And solt, dying echoes now charm every ear!

With white wine and biscuit the fishermen hardy
A feast held, to honor the bells of each isle;
"To salvation's Rossignol never be tardy,"
Said priest, draining goblet with rapturous smile.

Ring on, thou sweet Angelus! the old story telling!
For precious souls herald a glad second birth;
Salvation's hand holding, so patient and willing,
The chain wliose bright links shall encircle the earth!