Theodore Tilton



The Great Bell Roland

by Theodore Tilton

Suggested by President Lincoln's first call for volunteers.


Toll! Roland, toll!
In old St. Bavon's tower,
At midnight hour,
The great bell Roland spoke;
And all who slept in Ghent awoke.
What meant the thunder-stroke?
Why trembled wife and maid?
Why caught each man his blade?
Why echoed every street
With tramp of thronging feet,
All flying to the city's wall?
It was the warning call
That Freedom stood in peril of a foe!
And timid hearts grew bold
Whenever Roland tolled,
And every hand a sword could hold,
And every arm could bend a bow!
So acted men
Like patriots then --
Three hundred years ago!


Toll! Roland, toll!
Bell never yet was hung,
Between whose lips there swung
So grand a tongue!
If men be patriots still,
At thy first sound
True hearts will bound,
Great souls will thrill!
Then toll, and let thy test
Try each man's breast,
And let him stand confessed!


Toll! Roland, toll!
Not now in old St. Bavon's tower --
Not now at midnight hour --
Not now from River Scheldt to Zuyder Zee;
But here! -- this side the sea! --
Toll here, in broad, bright day!
For not by night awaits
A foe without the gates,
But perjured friends within betray,
And do the deed at noon!
Toll! Roland, toll!
Thy sound is not too soon
To arms! Ring out the Leader's call!
Toll! Roland, toll! --
Till cottager from cottage-wall
Snatch pouch, and powder-horn, and gun --
The heritage of sire to son,
Ere half of Freedom's work was done!
Toll! Roland, toll --
Till swords from scabbards leap!
Toll! Roland, toll!
What tears can widows weep
Less bitter than when brave men fall?
Toll! Roland, toll!
In shadowed hut and hall
Shall lie the soldier's pall,
And hearts shall break while graves are filled!
Amen! So God hath willed!
And may His grace anoint us all!


Toll! Roland, toll!
The Dragon on thy tower
Stands sentry to this hour;
And Freedom now is safe in Ghent;
And merrier bells now ring;
And in the land's serene content,
Men shout, God save the King! --
Until the skies are rent!
So let it be! --
A kingly King is he
Who keeps his people free!
Toll! Roland, toll!
Ring out across the sea!
No longer They, but We,
Have now such need of thee!
Toll! Roland, toll!
Nor ever let thy throat
Keep dumb its warning note
Till Freedom's perils be outbraved!
Toll! Roland, toll!
Till Freedom's flag, wherever waved,
Shall shadow not a man enslaved!
Toll! Roland, toll! --
From Northern lake to Southern strand!
Toll! Roland, toll! --
Till friend and foe, at thy command,
Shall clasp once more each other's hand,
And shout, one-voiced, God save the land!
And love the land that God hath saved!
Toll! Roland, toll!

April 16, 1861.

The famous bell Roland of Ghent, as Motley relates, was an object of great affection to the people, because it rang to arm them when Liberty was in danger.

The Great bell of Roland refers to a bell cast in the year 1314 which hung in the belfrey of St. Bavon's cathedral in the city of Gent (Ghent), Flanders, Belgium. This was a large bell, almost 7 feet in diameter. It it was used to summon a free people to arms, against tyrants and tax collectors, and could be heard for great distances. The tower was destroyed by Charles V in 1540. The bell was badly cracked. In 1659, the bell was melted down, and replaced with "The Triumphant Bell", in 1660. This bell cracked in 1914, and was repaired in 2003.


The Sexton's Tale, And Other Poems.
Copyright 1867
Sheldon And Company, New York.