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
My Namesake
 
          Addressed to Francis Greenleaf Allinson of Burlington, New Jersey.

YOU scarcely need my tardy thanks,
  Who, self-rewarded, nurse and tend—
A green leaf on your own Green Banks—
  The memory of your friend.
 
For me, no wreath, bloom-woven, hides        5
  The sobered brow and lessening hair:
For aught I know, the myrtled sides
  Of Helicon are bare.
 
Their scallop-shells so many bring
  The fabled founts of song to try,        10
They ’ve drained, for aught I know, the spring
  Of Aganippe dry.
 
Ah well!—The wreath the Muses braid
  Proves often Folly’s cap and bell;
Methinks, my ample beaver’s shade        15
  May serve my turn as well.
 
Let Love’s and Friendship’s tender debt
  Be paid by those I love in life.
Why should the unborn critic whet
  For me his scalping-knife?        20
 
Why should the stranger peer and pry
  One’s vacant house of life about,
And drag for curious ear and eye
  His faults and follies out?—
 
Why stuff, for fools to gaze upon,        25
  With chaff of words, the garb he wore,
As corn-husks when the ear is gone
  Are rustled all the more?
 
Let kindly Silence close again,
  The picture vanish from the eye,        30
And on the dim and misty main
  Let the small ripple die.
 
Yet not the less I own your claim
  To grateful thanks, dear friends of mine.
Hang, if it please you so, my name        35
  Upon your household line.
 
Let Fame from brazen lips blow wide
  Her chosen names, I envy none:
A mother’s love, a father’s pride,
  Shall keep alive my own!        40
 
Still shall that name as now recall
  The young leaf wet with morning dew,
The glory where the sunbeams fall
  The breezy woodlands through.
 
That name shall be a household word,        45
  A spell to waken smile or sigh;
In many an evening prayer be heard
  And cradle lullaby.
 
And thou, dear child, in riper days
  When asked the reason of thy name,        50
Shalt answer: “One ’t were vain to praise
  Or censure bore the same.
 
“Some blamed him, some believed him good,
  The truth lay doubtless ’twixt the two;
He reconciled as best he could        55
  Old faith and fancies new.
 
“In him the grave and playful mixed,
  And wisdom held with folly truce,
And Nature compromised betwixt
  Good fellow and recluse.        60
 
“He loved his friends, forgave his foes;
  And, if his words were harsh at times,
He spared his fellow-men,—his blows
  Fell only on their crimes.
 
“He loved the good and wise, but found        65
  His human heart to all akin
Who met him on the common ground
  Of suffering and of sin.
 
“Whate’er his neighbors might endure
  Of pain or grief his own became;        70
For all the ills he could not cure
  He held himself to blame.
 
“His good was mainly an intent,
  His evil not of forethought done;
The work he wrought was rarely meant        75
  Or finished as begun.
 
“Ill served his tides of feeling strong
  To turn the common mills of use;
And, over restless wings of song,
  His birthright garb hung loose!        80
 
“His eye was beauty’s powerless slave,
  And his the ear which discord pains;
Few guessed beneath his aspect grave
  What passions strove in chains.
 
“He had his share of care and pain,        85
  No holiday was life to him;
Still in the heirloom cup we drain
  The bitter drop will swim.
 
“Yet Heaven was kind, and here a bird
  And there a flower beguiled his way;        90
And, cool, in summer noons, he heard
  The fountains plash and play.
 
“On all his sad or restless moods
  The patient peace of Nature stole;
The quiet of the fields and woods        95
  Sank deep into his soul.
 
“He worshipped as his fathers did,
  And kept the faith of childish days,
And, howsoe’er he strayed or slid,
  He loved the good old ways.        100
 
“The simple tastes, the kindly traits,
  The tranquil air, and gentle speech,
The silence of the soul that waits
  For more than man to teach.
 
“The cant of party, school, and sect,        105
  Provoked at times his honest scorn,
And Folly, in its gray respect,
  He tossed on satire’s horn.
 
“But still his heart was full of awe
  And reverence for all sacred things;        110
And, brooding over form and law,
  He saw the Spirit’s wings!
 
“Life’s mystery wrapt him like a cloud;
  He heard far voices mock his own,
The sweep of wings unseen, the loud,        115
  Long roll of waves unknown.
 
“The arrows of his straining sight
  Fell quenched in darkness; priest and sage,
Like lost guides calling left and right,
  Perplexed his doubtful age.        120
 
“Like childhood, listening for the sound
  Of its dropped pebbles in the well,
All vainly down the dark profound
  His brief-lined plummet fell.
 
“So, scattering flowers with pious pains        125
  On old beliefs, of later creeds,
Which claimed a place in Truth’s domains,
  He asked the title-deeds.
 
“He saw the old-time’s groves and shrines
  In the long distance fair and dim;        130
And heard, like sound of far-off pines,
  The century-mellowed hymn!
 
“He dared not mock the Dervish whirl,
  The Brahmin’s rite, the Lama’s spell;
God knew the heart; Devotion’s pearl        135
  Might sanctify the shell.
 
“While others trod the altar stairs
  He faltered like the publican;
And, while they praised as saints, his prayers
  Were those of sinful man.        140
 
“For, awed by Sinai’s Mount of Law,
  The trembling faith alone sufficed,
That, through its cloud and flame, he saw
  The sweet, sad face of Christ!
 
“And listening, with his forehead bowed,        145
  Heard the Divine compassion fill
The pauses of the trump and cloud
  With whispers small and still.
 
“The words he spake, the thoughts he penned,
  Are mortal as his hand and brain,        150
But, if they served the Master’s end,
  He has not lived in vain!”
 
Heaven make thee better than thy name,
  Child of my friends!—For thee I crave
What riches never bought, nor fame        155
  To mortal longing gave.
 
I pray the prayer of Plato old:
  God make thee beautiful within,
And let thine eyes the good behold
  In everything save sin!        160
 
Imagination held in check
  To serve, not rule, thy poisëd mind;
Thy Reason, at the frown or beck
  Of Conscience, loose or bind.
 
No dreamer thou, but real all,—        165
  Strong manhood crowning vigorous youth;
Life made by duty epical
  And rhythmic with the truth.
 
So shall that life the fruitage yield
  Which trees of healing only give,        170
And green-leafed in the Eternal field
  Of God, forever live!

  1856.
 
 
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