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
The Shadow and the Light
 
          “And I sought, whence is Evil: I set before the eye of my spirit the whole creation; whatsoever we see therein,—sea, earth, air, stars, trees, moral creatures,—yea, whatsoever there is we do not see,—angels and spiritual powers. Where is evil, and whence comes it, since God the Good hath created all things? Why made He anything at all of evil, and not rather by His Almightiness cause it not to be? These thoughts I turned in my miserable heart, overcharged with most gnawing cares.” “And, admonished to return to myself, I entered even into my inmost soul, Thou being my guide, and beheld even beyond my soul and mind the Light unchangeable. He who knows the Truth knows what that Light is, and he that knows it knows Eternity! O Truth, who art Eternity! Love, who art Truth! Eternity, who art Love! And I beheld that Thou madest all things good, and to Thee is nothing whatsoever evil. From the angel to the worm, from the first motion to the last, Thou settest each in its place, and everything is good in its kind. Woe is me!—how high art Thou in the highest, how deep in the deepest! and Thou never departest from us and we scarcely return to Thee.”—AUGUSTINE’S Soliloquies, Book VII.

  THE FOURTEEN centuries fall away
    Between us and the Afric saint,
  And at his side we urge, to-day,
The immemorial quest and old complaint.
 
  No outward sign to us is given,—        5
    From sea or earth comes no reply;
  Hushed as the warm Numidian heaven
He vainly questioned bends our frozen sky.
 
  No victory comes of all our strife,—
    From all we grasp the meaning slips;        10
  The Sphinx sits at the gate of life,
With the old question on her awful lips.
 
  In paths unknown we hear the feet
    Of fear before, and guilt behind;
  We pluck the wayside fruit, and eat        15
Ashes and dust beneath its golden rind.
 
  From age to age descends unchecked
    The sad bequest of sire to son,
  The body’s taint, the mind’s defect;
Through every web of life the dark threads run.        20
 
  Oh, why and whither? God knows all;
    I only know that He is good,
  And that whatever may befall
Or here or there, must be the best that could.
 
  Between the dreadful cherubim        25
    A Father’s face I still discern,
  As Moses looked of old on Him,
And saw His glory into goodness turn!
 
  For He is merciful as just;
    And so, by faith correcting sight,        30
  I bow before His will, and trust
Howe’er they seem He doeth all things right;
 
  And dare to hope that He will make
    The rugged smooth, the doubtful plain;
  His mercy never quite forsake;        35
His healing visit every realm of pain;
 
  That suffering is not His revenge
    Upon His creatures weak and frail,
  Sent on a pathway new and strange
With feet that wander and with eyes that fail;        40
 
  That, o’er the crucible of pain,
    Watches the tender eye of Love
  The slow transmuting of the chain
Whose links are iron below to gold above!
 
  Ah me! we doubt the shining skies,        45
    Seen through our shadows of offence,
  And drown with our poor childish cries
The cradle-hymn of kindly Providence.
 
  And still we love the evil cause,
    And of the just effect complain:        50
  We tread upon life’s broken laws,
And murmur at our self-inflicted pain;
 
  We turn us from the light, and find
    Our spectral shapes before us thrown,
  As they who leave the sun behind        55
Walk in the shadows of themselves alone.
 
  And scarce by will or strength of ours
    We set our faces to the day;
  Weak, wavering, blind, the Eternal Powers
Alone can turn us from ourselves away.        60
 
  Our weakness is the strength of sin,
    But love must needs be stronger far,
  Outreaching all and gathering in
The erring spirit and the wandering star.
 
  A Voice grows with the growing years;        65
    Earth, hushing down her bitter cry,
  Looks upward from her graves, and hears,
“The Resurrection and the Life am I.”
 
  O Love Divine!—whose constant beam
    Shines on the eyes that will not see,        70
  And waits to bless us, while we dream
Thou leavest us because we turn from thee!
 
  All souls that struggle and aspire,
    All hearts of prayer by thee are lit;
  And, dim or clear, thy tongues of fire        75
On dusky tribes and twilight centuries sit.
 
  Nor bounds, nor clime, nor creed thou know’st,
    Wide as our need thy favors fall;
  The white wings of the Holy Ghost
Stoop, seen or unseen, o’er the heads of all.        80
 
  O Beauty, old yet ever new! 1
    Eternal Voice, and Inward Word,
  The Logos of the Greek and Jew,
The old sphere-music which the Samian heard!
 
  Truth which the sage and prophet saw,        85
    Long sought without, but found within,
  The Law of Love beyond all law,
The Life o’erflooding mortal death and sin!
 
  Shine on us with the light which glowed
    Upon the trance-bound shepherd’s way,        90
  Who saw the Darkness overflowed
And drowned by tides of everlasting Day. 2
 
  Shine, light of God!—make broad thy scope
    To all who sin and suffer; more
  And better than we dare to hope        95
With Heaven’s compassion make our longings poor!

  1860.
 
Note 1. “Too late I loved Thee, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! And lo! Thou wert within, and I abroad searching for thee. Thou wert with me, but I was not with Thee.”—August. Soliloq., Book X. [back]
Note 2. “And I saw that there was an Ocean of Darkness and Death: but an infinite Ocean of Light and Love flowed over the Ocean of Darkness: And in that I saw the infinite Love of God.”—George Fox’s Journal. [back]
 
 
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