The Arsenal at Springfield

Original Text: 
The Poetical Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with Bibliographical and Critical Notes, Riverside Edition (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1890), I, 194-97. PS 2250 E90 Robarts Library.
2    Like a huge organ, rise the burnished arms;
3But from their silent pipes no anthem pealing
4    Startles the villages with strange alarms.
5Ah! what a sound will rise, how wild and dreary,
6    When the death-angel touches those swift keys!
8    Will mingle with their awful symphonies!
9I hear even now the infinite fierce chorus,
10    The cries of agony, the endless groan,
11Which, through the ages that have gone before us,
12    In long reverberations reach our own.
13On helm and harness rings the Saxon hammer,
15And loud, amid the universal clamor,
16    O'er distant deserts sounds the Tartar gong.
17I hear the Florentine, who from his palace
18    Wheels out his battle-bell with dreadful din,
20    Beat the wild war-drums made of serpent's skin;
21The tumult of each sacked and burning village;
22    The shout that every prayer for mercy drowns;
23The soldiers' revels in the midst of pillage;
24    The wail of famine in beleaguered towns;
25The bursting shell, the gateway wrenched asunder,
26    The rattling musketry, the clashing blade;
27And ever and anon, in tones of thunder
29Is it, O man, with such discordant noises,
30    With such accursed instruments as these,
31Thou drownest Nature's sweet and kindly voices,
32    And jarrest the celestial harmonies?
33Were half the power, that fills the world with terror,
34    Were half the wealth bestowed on camps and courts,
35Given to redeem the human mind from error,
36    There were no need of arsenals or forts:
37The warrior's name would be a name abhorred!
38    And every nation, that should lift again
39Its hand against a brother, on its forehead
40    Would wear forevermore the curse of Cain!
41Down the dark future, through long generations,
42    The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease;
43And like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations,
44    I hear once more the voice of Christ say, "Peace!"
45Peace! and no longer from its brazen portals
46    The blast of War's great organ shakes the skies!
47But beautiful as songs of the immortals,
48    The holy melodies of love arise.


1] In summer, 1843, Longfellow and his new bride visited the arsenal at Springfield, Massachusetts, with Charles Sumner. "`While Mr. Sumner was endeavoring,' says Mr. S. Longfellow, `to impress upon the attendant that the money expended upon these weapons of war would have been much better spent upon a great library, Mrs. Longfellow pleased her husband by remarking how like an organ the ranged and shining gun-barrels which covered the walls from floor to ceiling, and suggesting what mournful music Death would bring from them. "We grew quite warlike against war," she wrote, "and I urged H. to write a peace poem."'" (Editor, pp. 194-95.) Back to Line
7] Miserere: "take pity on"; also Psalm 50 in the Latin Vulgate, "Miserere mei domine." Back to Line
14] Cimbric: people of the Jutland peninsula, the Cimbri. Back to Line
19] teocallis: ancient American temples built at the top of a pyramidal mound. Back to Line
28] diapason: deep sonorous concord. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
Graham's Magazine (April 1844)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.