Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Poems Subjective and Reminiscent
Ego
 
Written in the Album of a Friend

ON page of thine I cannot trace
The cold and heartless commonplace,
A statue’s fixed and marble grace.
 
For ever as these lines I penned,
Still with the thought of thee will blend        5
That of some loved and common friend,
 
Who in life’s desert track has made
His pilgrim tent with mine, or strayed
Beneath the same remembered shade.
 
And hence my pen unfettered moves        10
In freedom which the heart approves,
The negligence which friendship loves.
 
And wilt thou prize my poor gift less
For simple air and rustic dress,
And sign of haste and carelessness?        15
 
Oh, more than specious counterfeit
Of sentiment or studied wit,
A heart like thine should value it.
 
Yet half I fear my gift will be
Unto thy book, if not to thee,        20
Of more than doubtful courtesy.
 
A banished name from Fashion’s sphere,
A lay unheard of Beauty’s ear,
Forbid, disowned,—what do they here?
 
Upon my ear not all in vain        25
Came the sad captive’s clanking chain,
The groaning from his bed of pain.
 
And sadder still, I saw the woe
Which only wounded spirits know
When Pride’s strong footsteps o er them go.        30
 
Spurned not alone in walks abroad,
But from the temples of the Lord
Thrust out apart, like things abhorred.
 
Deep as I felt, and stern and strong,
In words which Prudence smothered long,        35
My soul spoke out against the wrong;
 
Not mine alone the task to speak
Of comfort to the poor and weak,
And dry the tear on Sorrow’s cheek;
 
But, mingled in the conflict warm,        40
To pour the fiery breath of storm
Through the harsh trumpet of Reform;
 
To brave Opinion’s settled frown,
From ermined robe and saintly gown,
While wrestling reverenced Error down.        45
 
Founts gushed beside my pilgrim way,
Cool shadows on the greensward lay,
Flowers swung upon the bending spray.
 
And, broad and bright, on either hand,
Stretched the green slopes of Fairy-land,        50
With Hope’s eternal sunbow spanned;
 
Whence voices called me like the flow,
Which on the listener’s ear will grow,
Of forest streamlets soft and low.
 
And gentle eyes, which still retain        55
Their picture on the heart and brain,
Smiled, beckoning from that path of pain.
 
In vain! nor dream, nor rest, nor pause
Remain for him who round him draws
The battered mail of Freedom’s cause.        60
 
From youthful hopes, from each green spot
Of young Romance, and gentle Thought,
Where storm and tumult enter not;
 
From each fair altar, where belong
The offerings Love requires of Song        65
In homage to her bright-eyed throng;
 
With soul and strength, with heart and hand,
I turned to Freedom’s struggling band,
To the sad Helots of our land.
 
What marvel then that Fame should turn        70
Her notes of praise to those of scorn;
Her gifts reclaimed, her smiles withdrawn?
 
What matters it? a few years more,
Life’s surge so restless heretofore
Shall break upon the unknown shore!        75
 
In that far land shall disappear
The shadows which we follow here,
The mist-wreaths of our atmosphere!
 
Before no work of mortal hand,
Of human will or strength expand        80
The pearl gates of the Better Land;
 
Alone in that great love which gave
Life to the sleeper of the grave,
Resteth the power to seek and save.
 
Yet, if the spirit gazing through        85
The vista of the past can view
One deed to Heaven and virtue true;
 
If through the wreck of wasted powers,
Of garlands wreathed from Folly’s bowers,
Of idle aims and misspent hours,        90
 
The eye can note one sacred spot
By Pride and Self profanëd not,
A green place in the waste of thought,
 
Where deed or word hath rendered less
The sum of human wretchedness,        95
And Gratitude looks forth to bless;
 
The simple burst of tenderest feeling
From sad hearts worn by evil-dealing,
For blessing on the hand of healing;
 
Better than Glory’s pomp will be        100
That green and blessed spot to me,
A palm-shade in Eternity!
 
Something of Time which may invite
The purified and spiritual sight
To rest on with a calm delight.        105
 
And when the summer winds shall sweep
With their light wings my place of sleep,
And mosses round my headstone creep;
 
If still, as Freedom’s rallying sign,
Upon the young heart’s altars shine        110
The very fires they caught from mine;
 
If words my lips once uttered still,
In the calm faith and steadfast will
Of other hearts, their work fulfil;
 
Perchance with joy the soul may learn        115
These tokens, and its eye discern
The fires which on those altars burn;
 
A marvellous joy that even then,
The spirit hath its life again,
In the strong hearts of mortal men.        120
 
Take, lady, then, the gift I bring,
No gay and graceful offering,
No flower-smile of the laughing spring.
 
Midst the green buds of Youth’s fresh May,
With Fancy’s leaf-enwoven bay,        125
My sad and sombre gift I lay.
 
And if it deepens in thy mind
A sense of suffering human-kind,—
The outcast and the spirit-blind;
 
Oppressed and spoiled on every side,        130
By Prejudice, and Scorn, and Pride,
Life’s common courtesies denied;
 
Sad mothers mourning o’er their trust,
Children by want and misery nursed,
Tasting life’s bitter cup at first;        135
 
If to their strong appeals which come
From fireless hearth, and crowded room,
And the close alley’s noisome gloom,—
 
Though dark the hands upraised to thee
In mute beseeching agony,        140
Thou lend’st thy woman’s sympathy;
 
Not vainly on thy gentle shrine,
Where Love, and Mirth, and Friendship twine
Their varied gifts, I offer mine.

  1843.
 
 
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