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.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
The Legend of St. Mark
 
          “This legend [to which my attention was called by my friend Charles Summer], is the subject of a celebrated picture by Tintoretto, of which Mr. Rogers possesses the original sketch. The slave lies on the ground, amid a crowd of spectators, who look on, animated by all the various emotions of sympathy, rage, terror; a woman, in front, with a child in her arms, has always been admired for the lifelike vivacity of her attitude and expression. The executioner holds up the broken implements; St. Mark, with a headlong movement, seems to rush down from heaven in haste to save his worshipper. The dramatic grouping in this picture is wonderful; the coloring, in its gorgeous depth and harmony, is, in Mr. Rogers’s sketch, finer than in the picture.”—MRS. JAMESON’S Sacred and Legendary Art, i. 154.

THE DAY is closing dark and cold,
  With roaring blast and sleety showers;
And through the dusk the lilacs wear
  The bloom of snow, instead of flowers.
 
I turn me from the gloom without,        5
  To ponder o’er a tale of old;
A legend of the age of Faith,
  By dreaming monk or abbess told.
 
On Tintoretto’s canvas lives
  That fancy of a loving heart,        10
In graceful lines and shapes of power,
  And hues immortal as his art.
 
In Provence (so the story runs)
  There lived a lord, to whom, as slave,
A peasant-boy of tender years        15
  The chance of trade or conquest gave.
 
Forth-looking from the castle tower,
  Beyond the hills with almonds dark,
The straining eye could scarce discern
  The chapel of the good St. Mark.        20
 
And there, when bitter word or fare
  The service of the youth repaid,
By stealth, before that holy shrine,
  For grace to bear his wrong, he prayed.
 
The steed stamped at the castle gate,        25
  The boar-hunt sounded on the hill;
Why stayed the Baron from the chase,
  With looks so stern, and words so ill?
 
“Go, bind yon slave! and let him learn,
  By scath of fire and strain of cord,        30
How ill they speed who give dead saints
  The homage due their living lord!”
 
They bound him on the fearful rack,
  When, through the dungeon’s vaulted dark,
He saw the light of shining robes,        35
  And knew the face of good St. Mark.
 
Then sank the iron rack apart,
  The cords released their cruel clasp,
The pincers, with their teeth of fire,
  Fell broken from the torturer’s grasp.        40
 
And lo! before the Youth and Saint,
  Barred door and wall of stone gave way;
And up from bondage and the night
  They passed to freedom and the day!
 
O dreaming monk! thy tale is true;        45
  O painter! true thy pencil’s art;
In tones of hope and prophecy,
  Ye whisper to my listening heart!
 
Unheard no burdened heart’s appeal
  Moans up to God’s inclining ear;        50
Unheeded by his tender eye,
  Falls to the earth no sufferer’s tear.
 
For still the Lord alone is God!
  The pomp and power of tyrant man
Are scattered at his lightest breath,        55
  Like chaff before the winnower’s fan.
 
Not always shall the slave uplift
  His heavy hands to Heaven in vain.
God’s angel, like the good St. Mark,
  Comes shining down to break his chain!        60
 
O weary ones! ye may not see
  Your helpers in their downward flight;
Nor hear the sound of silver wings
  Slow beating through the hush of night!
 
But not the less gray Dothan shone,        65
  With sunbright watchers bending low,
That Fear’s dim eye beheld alone
  The spear-heads of the Syrian foe.
 
There are, who, like the Seer of old,
  Can see the helpers God has sent,        70
And how life’s rugged mountain-side
  Is white with many an angel tent!
 
They hear the heralds whom our Lord
  Sends down his pathway to prepare;
And light, from others hidden, shines        75
  On their high place of faith and prayer.
 
Let such, for earth’s despairing ones,
  Hopeless, yet longing to be free,
Breathe once again the Prophet’s prayer:
  “Lord, ope their eyes, that they may see!”

  1849.
        80
 
 
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