St. Silvan's Bell
Desire of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession.--Psalter.
FORTNIGHT it was from Whitsuntide,
And a service was said that day,
In a little church, that a good man built
In the wilderness far away.
A twelve-month before, and there was not there
Or temple or holy bell;
But the place it was free from holiness
As the soul of the Infidel.
Five thousand years this world is old,
And twice four hundred more.
And that green spot had forest been
From the eldest days of yore:
And there had the red-man made his hut,
And the savage beast his lair,
But never, since this old earth was young,
Was it hallowed with Christian prayer.
But now, for the first, a bell rung out,
Through the aisles of the wild greenwood,
And echo came back from the far far trees,
Like the holla of Robin Hood:
And the red-deer woke, in his bosky nook,
That strange strange sound to hear,
And the jessamine-buds from his side he shook,
And he listened awhile in fear.
But the bell that rings for the Prince of Peace
Is never a beast's alarm,
A lid down went his antlered head agen,
Like an infant asleep on its arm:
And the woodman went by, and stirred him not,
With his wife and children round,
And the baby leaped up on its mother's breast,
And laughed at the church-bell's sound.
For the babe, he was all unchristened yet,
And well might he leap for joy;
A fountain was gushing, where rung that bell,
That should make him a Christian boy.
And his mother--she thought of the Catechist,
And she blessed the LORD above,
That her child should be baptized for CHRIST,
And taught in His fear and love.
And she prayed in her heart, as Hannah prayed,
He might kneel in the chancel fair,
Like children they brought to the LORD of old,
To be blest with the bishop's prayer:
And she saw, far off, the vested priest,
The ring, and the marriage-bann,
Making some maiden a happy wife,
And her boy a happier man.
And the bell rung on; and the wood sent forth,
From their log-built homes around,
The yeomanry all with their families
A-wondering at the sound:
And tears I saw in an old man's eye,
That came from a far countree;
It minded his inmost soul, he said,
Of the church-bells over the sea.
For a boy was he, in England, once,
And he loved the merry chimes;
Had heard them ring out of a Whitsuntide,
And waken the holiday-times!
And a boy was he when hither he came,
But now he was old and gray;
He had not thought that a Christian bell
Should toll on his burial-day.
A boy was he when he first swung axe
Against the strong oak limb;
He was gray-haired now, when he heard the bell
And threw it away from him;
And he followed the sound--for he thought of home,
And the motherly hand so fair,
That led him along through the churchyard mounds,
And made him kneel down to prayer.
And now did an organ's peal break out,
And the bell-notes died away:
And a holy bishop, in robes, was there,
And priests in their white array.
And I heard a voice go up the nave,
And the priests, responding plain;
Lift up your heads, ye gates--they said,
For the King of Glory's train!
And I could not but weep, for I knew, on high,
The Saviour had asked of GOD,
That the utmost lands might all be His,
And the ground whereon I trod;
And I blessed the good LORD, that here at length
His own true heralds came,
To challenge for CHRIST His heritage,
And hallow it with His Name.
Now pray with me, that ever there
St. Silvan's bell may ring,
And the yeoman brave, with their children all,
The praise of the Saviour sing:
And pray ye still, that, further west,
The song of the bell may sound,
Till the land, from sea to sea, is blest,
And the world is holy ground.
When this ballad was written, it was a mere fiction. The Nashotah missionaries have since erected a church, by the name of St. Silvanus, and it can hardly be doubted that the effects anticipated in the ballad have resulted in some degree.