Rose Hartwick Thorpe
One of the most popular poems of the 19th century, it had faded into obscurity by the early decades of the 20th century. In its day it was read in classrooms and from pulpits across America, and was said to be a favorite of Queen Victoria
Penned in April 1867
, Thorpe based the poem on a story called "Love and Loyalty" that she found in the September 1865
issue of Peterson’s Magazine
, a woman’s periodical which she read avidly. The story, set during the English civil war
, was about Bessie, the beautiful (of course) daughter of a forester
, and her love Basil. Basil was a Cavalier
captured by the Puritan
s and sentenced to be shot as a spy
upon the ringing of the curfew bell. Bessie sprang to the rescue by preventing the bell from ringing, delaying the execution
long enough for her to secure a pardon
from Oliver Cromwell
Thorpe penned her version in trochaic heptameter
and initially called it "Bessie and the Curfew", but ditched that dull title for the haunting refrain "Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight", which probably helped its immense popularity. Eventually, in 1870
, she sent her poem to the Commercial Advertiser
, a Detroit, MI newspaper
, where she had previously published some of her work. From there, it was reprinted and read across the country. Thorpe, however, would receive little in the way of compensation despite that popularity, and though she continued to be recognized as a poet until her death, she would never again enjoy this level of success.
's sun was setting oe'r the hilltops far away,
Filling all the land with beauty at the close of one sad day;
And its last rays kissed the forehead of a man and maiden fair,--
He with steps so slow and weary; she with sunny, floating hair;
He with bowed head, sad and thoughtful, she, with lips all cold and white,
Struggling to keep back the murmur, "Curfew
must not ring to-night!"
," Bessie's white lips faltered, pointing to the prison
With its walls tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp and cold,--
"I've a lover
in the prison, doomed this very night to die
At the ringing of the curfew, and no earthly help is nigh
will not come till sunset
;" and her lips grew strangely white,
As she spoke in husky whispers, "Curfew must not ring to-night!"
"Bessie," calmly spoke the sexton (every word pierced her young heart
Like a gleaming death
-winged arrow, like a deadly poisoned dart),
"Long, long years I've rung the curfew from that gloomy, shadowed tower
Every evening, just at sunset, it has tolled the twilight
I have done my duty
ever, tried to do it just and right:
Now I'm old, I will not miss it. Curfew bell must ring to-night!"
Wild her eyes and pale her features, stern and white her thoughtful brow,
As within her secret bosom, Bessie made a solemn vow
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
"At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die."
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. "Curfew must not ring to-night!"
She with quick step bounded forward, sprang within the old church
Left the old man coming slowly, paths he'd trod so oft before.
Not one moment paused the maiden, But with eye and cheek aglow,
Staggered up the gloomy tower, Where the bell swung to and fro;
As she climbed the slimy ladder, On which fell no ray of light,
Upward still, her pale lips saying, "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"
She has reached the topmost ladder, o'er her hangs the great dark bell;
Awful is the gloom
beneath her, like the pathway down to hell
See! the ponderous tongue is swinging; 'tis the hour of curfew now,
And the sight has chilled her bosom, stopped her breath, and paled her brow.
Shall she let it ring? No, never! Her eyes flash with sudden light,
As she springs, and grasps it firmly: "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"
Out she swung,-- far out. The city Seemed a speck of light below,--
There twixt heaven
suspended, As the bell swung to and fro.
And the sexton at the bell-rope, old and deaf, heard not the bell,
Sadly thought that twilight curfew rang young Basil's funeral knell
"Still the maiden, clinging firmly, quivering lip and fair face white,
Stilled her frightened heart's wild throbbing: "Curfew shall not ring tonight!"
It was o'er, the bell ceased swaying; and the maiden stepped once more
Firmly on the damp old ladder, where, for hundred years before,
Human foot had not been planted. The brave deed that she had done
Should be told long ages after. As the rays of setting sun
Light the sky with golden beauty, aged sires, with heads of white,
Tell the children why the curfew did not ring that one sad night.
O'er the distant hills comes Cromwell. Bessie sees him; and her brow,
Lately white with sickening horror, has no anxious traces now.
At his feet she tells her story, shows her hands, all bruised and torn;
And her sweet young face, still hagggard, with the anguish it had worn,
Touched his heart with sudden pity, lit his eyes with misty light.
"Go! your lover lives," said Cromwell. "Curfew shall not ring to-night!"
Wide they flung the massive portals, led the prisoner forth to die,
All his bright young life before him. Neath the darkening English sky,
Bessie came, with flying footsteps, eyes aglow with lovelight sweet;
Kneeling on the turf beside him, laid his pardon
at his feet.
In his brave, strong arms he clasped her, kissed the face upturned and white,
Whispered, "Darling, you have saved me, curfew will not ring to-night."