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John Harris: 'Falmouth Fire, 1862'

John Harris was born in 1820 in Bolenowe, a small village not far from Camborne, in Cornwall. His father was a miner at Dolcoath Tin Mine where young John also started at the age of 10. he began writing poetry as a child, usually in the open air where he was inspired by nature. After 20 years working in the mine, one of his poems was eventually published in a magazine. It attracted notice, and he was encouraged to produce a collection, which was published in 1853. Shortly after, he obtained a position as a Scripture Reader in Falmouth, where he stayed until his death in 1884. He published several volumes of poetry, including his masterpiece, the loco-descriptive poem A Story of Carn Brea. None of his poetry is now in print, but I am making a selection available on my Cornish Poetry page. This page contains the full-text of 'Falmouth Fire, 1862'.


MIDNIGHT was on the mountains,
     Midnight was on the town,
And sleep, the balmy seraph,
     Came sweetly, gently down,
Sealing the lids of sorrow,
     Hushing the storm of strife,
And calming down to quiet
     The busy hum of life.

The stars were in their dwellings,
     Watching the world below,
And on her path of silver
     The white moon travell'd slow;
When forth the monster hurried,
     With fury on his crest,
And fire upon his forehead,
     And flames upon his breast.

With awful, savage grandeur,
     The roof he rushes o'er,
Forcing his flaming fingers
     Through window and through door.
The ships within the harbour,
     The boats a-near the place,
Are shining in the anger
     That flashes from his face.

With lurid look he rushes
     Across the narrow street,
Thrusting his red arms upward,
     Which in the centre meet,
And hiss with raging fury,
     No waters scarce can tame,
Or art avail to lessen,
     A canopy of flame.

The youth, the timid maiden,
     And manhood in its prime,
Old age, o'errun with wrinkles,
     And whiten'd much by time,
The mother with her baby
     Beneath the shining star,-
All rush before the monster,
     Whose eyelids flash afar.

Yet, in this dread tornado,
     The breeze of mercy flows;
No human life was injured
     In all this rush of woes.
God saved the stricken parent,
     And child upon his knee:
No lot, however bitter,
     But it might bitterer be.

We pass not by the matron,
     Who, in the dreadful roar,
Rose up to leave her dwelling,
     Perchance for evermore;
And from the shelf her Bible
     She snatch'd with tearful eyes,
The best of all her treasures,
     Her chiefest, richest prize.

God bless the noble-hearted,
     For many a generous deed,
For bounty richly flowing,
     In this the time of need!
In other climes are heroes,
     Whose names illustrious stand;
But none are truly greater
     Than in our native land.


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