The Belfry Pigeon

A poem by Nathaniel Parker Willis

On the cross-beam under the Old South bell
The nest of a pigeon is builded well.
In summer and winter that bird is there,
Out and in with the morning air:
I love to see him track the street,
With his wary eye and active feet;
And I often watch him as he springs,
Circling the steeple with easy wings,
’Till across the dial his shade has passed.
And the belfry edge is gained at last.
’Tis a bird I love, with its brooding note,
And the trembling throb in its mottled throat;
There’s a human look in its swelling breast,
And the gentle curve of its lowly crest;
And I often stop with the fear I feel,
He runs so close to the rapid wheel.

Whatever is rung on that noisy bell,
Chime of the hour or funeral knell,
The dove in the belfry must hear it well.
When the tongue swings out to the midnight moon,
When the sexton cheerly rings for noon,
When the clock strikes clear at morning light,
When the child is waked with “nine at night”,
When the chimes play soft in the Sabbath air,
Filling the spirit with tones of prayer,
Whatever tale in the bell is heard,
He broods on his folded feet unstirred,
Or rising half in his rounded nest,
He takes the time to smoothe his breast,
Then drops again with filmed eyes,
And sleeps as the last vibration dies.
Sweet bird! I would that I could be
A hermit in the crowd like thee!
With wings to fly to wood and glen,
Thy lot, like mine, is cast with men;
And daily, with unwilling feet,
I tread, like thee, the crowded street;
But, unlike me, when day is o’er,
Thou canst dismiss the world and soar,
Or, at a half felt wish for rest,
Canst smoothe the feathers on thy breast,
And drop, forgetful, to thy nest.

I would that in such wings of gold
I could my weary heart upfold;
And while the world throngs on beneath,
Smoothe down my cares and calmly breathe;
And only sad with others’ sadness,
And only glad with others’ gladness,
Listen, unstirred, to knell or chime,
And, lapt in quiet, bide my time.

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