Ode to Big Ben
This poem appears in the 15th of October, 1859 edition of Punch. Big Ben, the largest bell ever to be cast, cracked clean in half after it was installed. It was later recast and reinstalled in 1862 and has remained there since.
A VOICE ran through the town,
Sad as the airy tongue which spread
The news through Hellas, “mighty Pan is Dead !”
A voice ran through the town,
And men went up and down,
Whisp’ring the awful fact,
“Big Ben is cracked!”
Heavy the tidings fell.
Could it be true ? The Bell,
Whose ponderous iron tongue
Gong-like, the hours had rung,
Till Westminster put cotton in her ears !
The Bell, whose solemn, slow, ding-dong,
Disgusted Common-Law-Court praters,
And Parliamentary debaters,
Proclaiming “Time is short and talk is long !”
The Bell, in strife conceived, in struggle cast,
by DENISON, looked down upon by BARBY
The Bell of many blue-bookshung at last,
After so many perils, to miscarry!
Commissioners of Works came, went, and came,
‘Ere out of MEARS’S mould his frame,
Majestic he upreared :
And when at length his voice was heard,
Doctors of Music listened to his E :
Great Tweedle-dum with greater Tweedle-dee,
In solemn conclave on the question sat,
Was it E sharp E natural E flat ?
But what his E was, little cared the crowd,
They only knew that E was loud,
And were content with that.
So Big Ben had a sound to fit his size;
But how to lift him nearer to the skies,
To the gilt cock-loft crowning BARRY’S tower?
Where fix the tackle how apply the power?
All questions to give pause, For Lo,
Like that great architect, his house who planned,
But left no place wherein the stairs could stand,
Illustrious BARRY, ever so,
His clock-tower’s plan prepares.
Leaving no room for clock and bells to get up-stairs.
Then DENT and DENISON their wrath’s full vials poured,
On BARRY, and on QUARM, BARRY’S factotum :
And letters through the Times were fiercely showered,
(Most wearisome to all but those who wrote ’em,)
While, like the bier of MAHOMET, up-hung
‘Twixt Earth and Heaven, Big Ben was slung;
Till, at the last, by wond’rous engineering,
And checks, and counter- checks, and side-way steering,
Up in the tower he swung ;
Arid at the monster in his gilded chamber
(Like the proverbial fly in amber),
Bold climbers gazed, with scarce believing stare,
And “wondered how the devil he got there.”
At length at length our clock-tower had a voice!
In Gothic clock-face eke it could rejoice
So Gothic in blue lettering indeed,
Save antiquaries, none the time o’day might read
But clocks need hands to show the tune,
As well as bells the hours to chime,
And works to move their wheels.
The face and bell, and works are there.
But where the hands? And echo answered “where?”
Then the Times columns showed,
How the old feud still glowed,
And DENISON and BAKRY, truceless foes,
On the clock-hands astride, were fiercely bandying blows!
Meanwhile the vacant clock-face, without fingers,
In spite of Time and Tide in idlesse lingers,
Until the public voice, in fierce assault,
“Whose the fault?”
“Not mine not” mine,” quoth DENT, My clock was made, and went.”
“Not mine,” quoth BARKY, with mellifluous benison
Upon smooth-speaking DEXISON.
“Notlmme,” quoth DENISON, as to old Harry
He recommended BARRY.
That battle duly fought at last,
The hour and minute-hands are cast:
Upon the Gothic face,
At length they take their place
At length the clock is going,
And DENISON and DENT, and BARRY all are crowing !
And now the Quarter Bells are hung,
And, humble seconds to Big Ben, give tongue,
And joyous Westminster at length may say, ” We have a Clock that tells the time of day :
Though many years have in the work been lost,
And twenty thousand pounds it cost, We have our clock and tisn’t we that pay.”
With BARRY, DENISON, & Co., sore grieved,
London, from charge and counter-charge relieved,
At last, beheld the lingering work achieved,
Yet scarce its possibility believed.
But there before us, palpable to sight,
Upon the Campanile’s gilded height
In Gothic gravity and pride of place,
Shone the gold-checkered and* blue-lettered face-
Nothing that to a clock pertains there lacked,
Nor hands that marked the minutes and the hours
Nor quarter-bells that spoke, with humbler powers,
While vibrant, with a voice that shook the towers,
Big Ben boomed out, at length a mighty fact !
For weeks we heard the sound,
Tolling the hours, for miles and miles around ;
But scarce our tympanums familiar had grown
With that portentous tone
When lo ! strange silence, falling
On ears unwonted, tells the news appalling
Big Ben is cracked !
Where the crack came, and how
Whether in rim or bow
If in his frame congenitally hid
Whether the hammer fell,
Not wisely but too well,
Hitting him harder than folks thought it did
Nobody seems to know or no one likes to tell.
Was’t that they braced him up too tight ?
Was ‘t that his metal was too slight ?
Alas, we know not we but know the fact,
Big Ben is cracked !
The biggest Bell that tasked the biggest skills,
Begot the biggest strifes, and biggest bills,
The biggest charges and recriminations
Biggest assaults on biggest reputations
les pace BARRY, DENISON & Co.
The biggest job, crowned by the biggest mull
That even the account-books of JOHN BULL,
So rich in big jobs and big mulls, can show !