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 Vision of Echard
 
THE BENEDICTINE ECHARD
  Sat by the wayside well,
Where Marsberg sees the bridal
  Of the Sarre and the Moselle.
 
Fair with its sloping vineyards        5
  And tawny chestnut bloom,
The happy vale Ausonius sung
  For holy Treves made room.
 
On the shrine Helena builded
  To keep the Christ coat well,        10
On minster tower and kloster cross,
  The westering sunshine fell.
 
There, where the rock-hewn circles
  O’erlooked the Roman’s game,
The veil of sleep fell on him,        15
  And his thought a dream became.
 
He felt the heart of silence
  Throb with a soundless word,
And by the inward ear alone
  A spirit’s voice he heard.        20
 
And the spoken word seemed written
  On air and wave and sod,
And the bending walls of sapphire
  Blazed with the thought of God:
 
“What lack I, O my children?        25
  All things are in my hand;
The vast earth and the awful stars
  I hold as grains of sand.
 
“Need I your alms? The silver
  And gold are mine alone;        30
The gifts ye bring before me
  Were evermore my own.
 
“Heed I the noise of viols,
  Your pomp of masque and show?
Have I not dawns and sunsets?        35
  Have I not winds that blow?
 
“Do I smell your gums of incense?
  Is my ear with chantings fed?
Taste I your wine of worship,
  Or eat your holy bread?        40
 
“Of rank and name and honors
  Am I vain as ye are vain?
What can Eternal Fulness
  From your lip-service gain?
 
“Ye make me not your debtor        45
  Who serve yourselves alone;
Ye boast to me of homage
  Whose gain is all your own.
 
“For you I gave the prophets,
  For you the Psalmist’s lay:        50
For you the law’s stone tables,
  And holy book and day.
 
“Ye change to weary burdens
  The helps that should uplift;
Ye lose in form the spirit,        55
  The Giver in the gift.
 
“Who called ye to self-torment,
  To fast and penance vain?
Dream ye Eternal Goodness
  Has joy in mortal pain?        60
 
“For the death in life of Nitria,
  For your Chartreuse ever dumb,
What better is the neighbor,
  Or happier the home?
 
“Who counts his brother’s welfare        65
  As sacred as his own,
And loves, forgives, and pities,
  He serveth me alone.
 
“I note each gracious purpose,
  Each kindly word and deed;        70
Are ye not all my children?
  Shall not the Father heed?
 
“No prayer for light and guidance
  Is lost upon mine ear:
The child’s cry in the darkness        75
  Shall not the Father hear?
 
“I loathe your wrangling councils,
  I tread upon your creeds;
Who made ye mine avengers,
  Or told ye of my needs;        80
 
“I bless men and ye curse them,
  I love them and ye hate;
Ye bite and tear each other,
  I suffer long and wait.
 
“Ye bow to ghastly symbols,        85
  To cross and scourge and thorn;
Ye seek his Syrian manger
  Who in the heart is born.
 
“For the dead Christ, not the living,
  Ye watch His empty grave,        90
Whose life alone within you
  Has power to bless and save.
 
“O blind ones, outward groping,
  The idle quest forego;
Who listens to His inward voice        95
  Alone of Him shall know.
 
“His love all love exceeding
  The heart must needs recall,
Its self-surrendering freedom,
  Its loss that gaineth all.        100
 
“Climb not the holy mountains,
  Their eagles know not me;
Seek not the Blessed Islands,
  I dwell not in the sea.
 
“Gone is the mount of Meru,        105
  The triple gods are gone,
And, deaf to all the lama’s prayers,
  The Buddha slumbers on.
 
“No more from rocky Horeb
  The smitten waters gush;        110
Fallen is Bethel’s ladder,
  Quenched is the burning bush.
 
“The jewels of the Urim
  And Thummim all are dim;
The fire has left the altar,        115
  The sign the teraphim.
 
“No more in ark or hill grove
  The Holiest abides;
Not in the scroll’s dead letter
  The eternal secret hides.        120
 
“The eye shall fail that searches
  For me the hollow sky;
The far is even as the near,
  The low is as the high.
 
“What if the earth is hiding        125
  Her old faiths, long outworn?
What is it to the changeless truth
  That yours shall fail in turn?
 
“What if the o’erturned altar
  Lays bare the ancient lie?        130
What if the dreams and legends
  Of the world’s childhood die?
 
“Have ye not still my witness
  Within yourselves alway,
My hand that on the keys of life        135
  For bliss or bale I lay?
 
“Still, in perpetual judgment,
  I hold assize within,
With sure reward of holiness,
  And dread rebuke of sin.        140
 
“A light, a guide, a warning,
  A presence ever near,
Through the deep silence of the flesh
  I reach the inward ear.
 
“My Gerizim and Ebal        145
  Are in each human soul,
The still, small voice of blessing,
  And Sinai’s thunder-roll.
 
“The stern behest of duty,
  The doom-book open thrown,        150
The heaven ye seek, the hell ye fear,
  Are with yourselves alone.”
*        *        *        *        *
A gold and purple sunset
  Flowed down the broad Moselle;
On hills of vine and meadow lands        155
  The peace of twilight fell.
 
A slow, cool wind of evening
  Blew over leaf and bloom;
And, faint and far, the Angelus
  Rang from Saint Matthew’s tomb.        160
 
Then up rose Master Echard,
  And marvelled: “Can it be
That here, in dream and vision,
  The Lord hath talked with me?”
 
He went his way; behind him        165
  The shrines of saintly dead,
The holy coat and nail of cross,
  He left unvisited.
 
He sought the vale of Eltzbach
  His burdened soul to free,        170
Where the foot-hills of the Eifel
  Are glassed in Laachersee.
 
And, in his Order’s kloster,
  He sat, in night-long parle,
With Tauler of the Friends of God,        175
  And Nicolas of Basle.
 
And lo! the twain made answer:
  “Yea, brother, even thus
The Voice above all voices
  Hath spoken unto us.        180
 
“The world will have its idols,
  And flesh and sense their sign:
But the blinded eyes shall open,
  And the gross ear be fine.
 
“What if the vision tarry?        185
  God’s time is always best;
The true Light shall be witnessed,
  The Christ within confessed.
 
“In mercy or in judgment
  He shall turn and overturn,        190
Till the heart shall be His temple
Where all of Him shall learn.”

  1878.
 
 
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