The Bell

by Alfred Noyes

The Temple Bell was out of tune,
That once out-melodied sun and moon.

Instead of calling folk to prayer
It spread an evil in the air.

Instead of a song, from north to south,
It put a lie in the wind’s mouth.

The very palms beneath it died,
So harsh it jarred, so loud it lied.

Then the gods told the blue-robed bonze:
“Your Bell is only wrought of bronze.

“Lower it down, cast it again.
Or you shall shake the heavens in vain.”

Then, as the mighty cauldron hissed,
Men brought the wealth that no man missed.

Yea, they brought silver, they brought gold,
And melted them into the seething mould.

The miser brought his greening hoard,
And the king cast in his sword.

Yet, when the Bell in the Temple swung,
It jarred the stars with its harsh tongue.

“Is this your best?” the oracle said,
“Then were you better drunk or dead.”

Once again they melted it down,
And the king cast in his crown.

Then they poured wine, and bullock’s blood,
Into the hot, grey, seething flood.

They gave it mellowing fruits to eat,
And honey-combs to make it sweet.

Yet, when they hauled it to the sky,
The Bell was one star-shattering lie.

So, for the third time and the last,
They lowered it down to be re-cast.

The white-hot metal seethed anew,
And the crowd shrank as the heat grew;

But a white-robed woman, queenly and tall,
Pressed to the brink before them all,

One breast, like a golden fruit lay bare;
She held her small son feeding there.

She plucked him off, she lifted him high,
Like rose-red fruit on the blue sky.

She pressed her lips to the budded feet,
And murmured softly, “Oh, sweet, my sweet.”

She whispered, “Gods, that my land may live,
I give the best that I have to give!”

Then, then, before the throng awoke,
Before one cry from their white lips broke,

She tossed him into the fiery flood,
Her child, her baby, her flesh and blood.

And the crisp hissing waves closed round
And melted him through without a sound.

“Too quick for pain,” they heard her say,
And she sobbed, once, and she turned away.

The Temple Bell, in peace and war,
Keeps the measure of sun and star.

But sometimes, in the night it cries
Faintly, and a voice replies:

Mother, Oh, mother, the Bell rings true! –
You were all that I had! – Oh, mother, my mother! –
With the land and the Bell it is well. It is well,
Is it well with the heart that had you and none other?