San Blas Longfellow Connection, Mexico Pacific Coast,
A travel article about abandoned church bells in San Blas, a village just below the Tropic of Cancer on Mexico's Pacific Coast, inspired Longfellow to write a poem, his last poem.
An article in Harpers magazine prompted Longfellow to write The Bells of San Blas.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a celebrated American poet in the mid 1800s due in part to his poem, Evangeline, and Paul Revere's Ride, wrote a poem in 1882 about church bells the town of San Blass, In, "The Bells of San Blas", Longfellow used the bells as a symbol when he wrote about the small Mexican coastal village just before the end of his life. Although he never visited San Blas, he wrote about the bells in the old church and how mariners could hear them as they sailed south from Mazatlan. The bells, for him, stood as symbols of the changing world.
San Blas was founded 1768 as a boat building center because of its harbor and its surrounding hardwood forests.
From San Blas, Junipero Serra built a ship and departed for his mission building in California
The bells were the "voice of the past," the voice of the 16th and 17th century when Spain was spreading its power over the New World and over the Pacific to Asia. This was the age when priests and the church ruled the new lands. In doing so, they had enslaved the indigenous people.
By the mid eighteen hundreds, the time of Longfellow's writing, the old church, where the bells once hung, had fallen to disuse. The church, still a ruin today, had been abandoned when San Blas lost its importance as a commercial port. The hardwood forests used in shipbuilding had been stripped, the harbor silted up, and shipping had moved south to the deep water ports of Manzanillo and Acapulco. Sixty years earlier, Mexico had fought its 1810 revolution and gained independence from Spain. The new secular governments had expelled many of the religious orders and had federalized church property. Longfellow in the last few lines of the poem celebrates the end of church domination in the new world.
"O Bells of San Blas, in vain
Ye call back the Past again!
The Past is deaf to your prayer;
Out of the shadows of night
The world rolls into light;
It is daybreak everywhere.
In his use of the word light in the second to last line, Longfellow likely refers to the age of enlightenment. During this age of change, institutions, morals and customs were being questioned and challenged throughout Europe and the New World. The enlightenment would have been a common topic of philosophical debate in Longfellow's meetings with other scholars during his many trips to Europe.
The bells of Longfellow's poem once hung in the belfry of the church pictured right, now a ruin on a hill to the left as you enter the town of San Blas.
For a time the bells hung from a crude wooden scaffold at the base of the church in the village. They were then moved into the belfry of the church in the center of town.
Mexico had adopted a constitution based on the US constitution, both influenced by the enlightenment, both creating governments of a secular nature.
Longfellow was a lifelong supporter of the anti-slavery movement. This poem, his last, reveals his support for the end of slavery and injustice. Some reviewers of the poem believe that it reveals Longfellow's nostalgia for the past but the last six lines, added just before his death, would indicate his embracing of the future when he wrote, "it is daybreak everywhere."
The Bells of San Blas was the last poem written by Henry W. Longfellow. He wrote it in March of 1882, inspired by a travel article he had read in Harpers Magazine. He died on March 24 1882
Some information taken from Questia: See Full Poem: www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=3646607
Other views on the meaning of the Bells of San Blas: http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1248-did-you-know-the-bells-of-san-blas-nayarit-mexico
San Blas has a Longfellow Connection. He wrote about the Mexico Pacific Coast fishing village in Nayarit in the Poem, The Bells of San Blas