Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VIII. National Spirit
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VIII. National Spirit.  1904.
 
II. Freedom
The Reformer
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
 
ALL grim and soiled and brown and tan,
  I saw a Strong One, in his wrath,
Smiting the godless shrines of man
        Along his path.
 
The Church beneath her trembling dome        5
  Essayed in vain her ghostly charm:
Wealth shook within his gilded home
        With strange alarm.
 
Fraud from his secret chambers fled
  Before the sunlight bursting in:        10
Sloth drew her pillow o’er her head
        To drown the din.
 
“Spare,” Art implored, “yon holy pile;
  That grand old time-worn turret spare:”
Meek Reverence, kneeling in the aisle        15
        Cried out, “Forbear!”
 
Gray-bearded Use, who, deaf and blind,
  Groped for his old accustomed stone,
Leaned on his staff, and wept to find
        His seat o’erthrown.        20
 
Young Romance raised his dreamy eyes,
  O’erhung with paly locks of gold,—
“Why smite,” he asked in sad surprise,
        “The fair, the old?”
 
Yet louder rang the Strong One’s stroke,        25
  Yet nearer flashed his axe’s gleam;
Shuddering and sick of heart I woke,
        As from a dream.
 
I looked: aside the dust-cloud rolled,—
  The Waster seemed the Builder too;        30
Upspringing from the ruined Old
        I saw the New.
 
’T was but the ruin of the bad,—
  The wasting of the wrong and ill;
Whate’er of good the old time had        35
        Was living still.
 
Calm grew the brows of him I feared,
  The frown which awed me passed away,
And left behind a smile which cheered
        Like breaking day.        40
 
The grain grew green on battle-plains,
  O’er swarded war-mounds grazed the cow;
The slave stood forging from his chains
        The spade and plough.
 
Where frowned the fort, pavilions gay        45
  And cottage windows, flower-entwined,
Looked out upon the peaceful bay
        And hills behind.
 
Through vine-wreathed cups with wine once red,
  The lights on brimming crystal fell,        50
Drawn, sparkling, from the rivulet head
        And mossy well.
 
Through prison-walls, like Heaven-sent hope,
  Fresh breezes blew, and sunbeams strayed,
And with the idle gallows-rope        55
        The young child played.
 
Where the doomed victim in his cell
  Had counted o’er the weary hours,
Glad school-girls, answering to the bell,
        Came crowned with flowers.        60
 
Grown wiser for the lesson given,
  I fear no longer, for I know
That where the share is deepest driven
        The best fruits grow.
 
The outworn rite, the old abuse,        65
  The pious fraud transparent grown,
The good held captive in the use
        Of wrong alone,—
 
These wait their doom, from that great law
  Which makes the past time serve to-day;        70
And fresher life the world shall draw
        From their decay.
 
O backward-looking son of time!
  The new is old, the old is new,
The cycle of a change sublime        75
        Still sweeping through.
 
So wisely taught the Indian seer;
  Destroying Seva, forming Brahm,
Who wake by turn Earth’s love and fear,
        Are one, the same.        80
 
Idly as thou, in that old day
  Thou mournest, did thy sire repine;
So, in his time, thy child grown gray
        Shall sigh for thine.
 
But life shall on and upward go;        85
  The eternal step of Progress beats
To that great anthem, calm and slow,
        Which God repeats.
 
Take heart!—the Waster builds again,—
  A charmèd life old Goodness hath;        90
The tares may perish,—but the grain
        Is not for death.
 
God works in all things; all obey
  His first propulsion from the night:
Wake thou and watch!—the world is gray        95
        With morning light!
 
 
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