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.
 
Religious Poems
My Soul and I
 
STAND still, my soul, in the silent dark
    I would question thee,
Alone in the shadow drear and stark
    With God and me!
 
What, my soul, was thy errand here?        5
    Was it mirth or ease,
Or heaping up dust from year to year?
    “Nay, none of these!”
 
Speak, soul, aright in His holy sight
    Whose eye looks still        10
And steadily on thee through the night:
    “To do His will!”
 
What hast thou done, O soul of mine,
    That thou tremblest so?
Hast thou wrought His task, and kept the line        15
    He bade thee go?
 
What, silent all! art sad of cheer?
    Art fearful now?
When God seemed far and men were near,
    How brave wert thou!        20
 
Aha! thou tremblest—well I see
    Thou ’rt craven grown.
Is it so hard with God and me
    To stand alone?
 
Summon thy sunshine bravery back,        25
    O wretched sprite!
Let me hear thy voice through this deep and black
    Abysmal night.
 
What hast thou wrought for Right and Truth,
    For God and Man,        30
From the golden hours of bright-eyed youth
    To life’s mid span?
 
Ah, soul of mine, thy tones I hear,
    But weak and low,
Like far sad murmurs on my ear        35
    They come and go.
 
“I have wrestled stoutly with the Wrong,
    And borne the Right
From beneath the footfall of the throng
    To life and light.        40
 
“Wherever Freedom shivered a chain,
    God speed, quoth I;
To Error amidst her shouting train
    I gave the lie.”
 
Ah, soul of mine! ah, soul of mine!        45
    Thy deeds are well:
Were they wrought for Truth’s sake or for thine?
    My soul, pray tell.
 
“Of all the work my hand hath wrought
    Beneath the sky,        50
Save a place in kindly human thought,
    No gain have I.”
 
Go to, go to! for thy very self
    Thy deeds were done:
Thou for fame, the miser for pelf,        55
    Your end is one!
 
And where art thou going, soul of mine?
    Canst see the end?
And whither this troubled life of thine
    Evermore doth tend?        60
 
What daunts thee now? what shakes thee so?
    My sad soul say.
“I see a cloud like a curtain low
    Hang o’er my way.
 
“Whither I go I cannot tell:        65
    That cloud hangs black,
High as the heaven and deep as hell
    Across my track.
 
“I see its shadow coldly enwrap
    The souls before.        70
Sadly they enter it, step by step,
    To return no more.
 
“They shrink, they shudder, dear God! they kneel
    To Thee in prayer.
They shut their eyes on the cloud, but feel        75
    That it still is there.
 
“In vain they turn from the dread Before
    To the Known and Gone;
For while gazing behind them evermore
    Their feet glide on.        80
 
“Yet, at times, I see upon sweet pale faces
    A light begin
To tremble, as if from holy places
    And shrines within.
 
“And at times methinks their cold lips move        85
    With hymn and prayer,
As if somewhat of awe, but more of love
    And hope were there.
 
“I call on the souls who have left the light
    To reveal their lot;        90
I bend mine ear to that wall of night,
    And they answer not.
 
“But I hear around me sighs of pain
    And the cry of fear,
And a sound like the slow sad dropping of rain,        95
    Each drop a tear!
 
“Ah, the cloud is dark, and day by day
    I am moving thither:
I must pass beneath it on my way—
    God pity me!—whither?”        100
 
Ah, soul of mine! so brave and wise
    In the life-storm loud,
Fronting so calmly all human eyes
    In the sunlit crowd!
 
Now standing apart with God and me        105
    Thou art weakness all,
Gazing vainly after the things to be
    Through Death’s dread wall.
 
But never for this, never for this
    Was thy being lent;        110
For the craven’s fear is but selfishness,
    Like his merriment.
 
Folly and Fear are sisters twain:
    One closing her eyes,
The other peopling the dark inane        115
    With spectral lies.
 
Know well, my soul, God’s hand controls
    Whate’er thou fearest;
Round Him in calmest music rolls
    Whate’er thou hearest.        120
 
What to thee is shadow, to Him is day,
    And the end He knoweth,
And not on a blind and aimless way
    The spirit goeth.
 
Man sees no future,—a phantom show        125
    Is alone before him;
Past Time is dead, and the grasses grow,
    And flowers bloom o’er him.
 
Nothing before, nothing behind;
    The steps of Faith        130
Fall on the seeming void, and find
    The rock beneath.
 
The Present, the Present is all thou hast
    For thy sure possessing;
Like the patriarch’s angel hold it fast        135
    Till it gives its blessing.
 
Why fear the night? why shrink from Death,
    That phantom wan?
There is nothing in heaven or earth beneath
    Save God and man.        140
 
Peopling the shadows we turn from Him
    And from one another;
All is spectral and vague and dim
    Save God and our brother!
 
Like warp and woof all destinies        145
    Are woven fast,
Linked in sympathy like the keys
    Of an organ vast.
 
Pluck one thread, and the web ye mar;
    Break but one        150
Of a thousand keys, and the paining jar
    Through all will run.
 
O restless spirit! wherefore strain
    Beyond thy sphere?
Heaven and hell, with their joy and pain,        155
    Are now and here.
 
Back to thyself is measured well
    All thou hast given;
Thy neighbor’s wrong is thy present hell,
    His bliss, thy heaven.        160
 
And in life, in death, in dark and light,
    All are in God’s care:
Sound the black abyss, pierce the deep of night,
    And He is there!
 
All which is real now remaineth,        165
    And fadeth never:
The hand which upholds it now sustaineth
    The soul forever.
 
Leaning on Him, make with reverent meekness
    His own thy will,        170
And with strength from Him shall thy utter weakness
    Life’s task fulfil;
 
And that cloud itself, which now before thee
    Lies dark in view,
Shall with beams of light from the inner glory        175
    Be stricken through.
 
And like meadow mist through autumn’s dawn
    Uprolling thin,
Its thickest folds when about thee drawn
    Let sunlight in.        180
 
Then of what is to be, and of what is done,
    Why queriest thou?
The past and the time to be are one,
    And both are now!

  1847.
 
 
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