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 Answer
 
SPARE me, dread angel of reproof,
  And let the sunshine weave to-day
Its gold-threads in the warp and woof
  Of life so poor and gray.
 
Spare me awhile; the flesh is weak.        5
  These lingering feet, that fain would stray
Among the flowers, shall some day seek
  The strait and narrow way.
 
Take off thy ever-watchful eye,
  The awe of thy rebuking frown;        10
The dullest slave at times must sigh
  To fling his burdens down;
 
To drop his galley’s straining oar,
  And press, in summer warmth and calm,
The lap of some enchanted shore        15
  Of blossom and of balm.
 
Grudge not my life its hour of bloom,
  My heart its taste of long desire;
This day be mine: be those to come
  As duty shall require.        20
 
The deep voice answered to my own,
  Smiting my selfish prayers away;
“To-morrow is with God alone,
  And man hath but to-day.
 
“Say not, thy fond, vain heart within,        25
  The Father’s arm shall still be wide,
When from these pleasant ways of sin
  Thou turn’st at eventide.
 
“‘Cast thyself down,’ the tempter saith,
  ‘And angels shall thy feet upbear.’        30
He bids thee make a lie of faith,
  And blasphemy of prayer.
 
“Though God be good and free be heaven,
  No force divine can love compel;
And, though the song of sins forgiven        35
  May sound through lowest hell,
 
“The sweet persuasion of His voice
  Respects thy sanctity of will.
He giveth day: thou hast thy choice
  To walk in darkness still;        40
 
“As one who, turning from the light,
  Watches his own gray shadow fall,
Doubting, upon his path of night,
  If there be day at all!
 
“No word of doom may shut thee out,        45
  No wind of wrath may downward whirl,
No swords of fire keep watch about
  The open gates of pearl;
 
“A tenderer light than moon or sun,
  Than song of earth a sweeter hymn,        50
May shine and sound forever on,
  And thou be deaf and dim.
 
“Forever round the Mercy-seat
  The guiding lights of Love shall burn;
But what if, habit-bound, thy feet        55
  Shall lack the will to turn?
 
“What if thine eye refuse to see,
  Thine ear of Heaven’s free welcome fail,
And thou a willing captive be,
  Thyself thy own dark jail?        60
 
“Oh, doom beyond the saddest guess,
  As the long years of God unroll,
To make thy dreary selfishness
  The prison of a soul!
 
“To doubt the love that fain would break        65
  The fetters from thy self-bound limb;
And dream that God can thee forsake
  As thou forsakest Him!”

  1863.
 
 
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