An Incident of the Fire at Hamburg

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 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 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
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.

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;
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 oil liis
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 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!"


Main Location:

Hamburg, Germany