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 Hermit of the Thebaid
 
O STRONG, upwelling prayers of faith,
  From inmost founts of life ye start,—
The spirit’s pulse, the vital breath
  Of soul and heart!
 
From pastoral toil, from traffic’s din,        5
  Alone, in crowds, at home, abroad,
Unheard of man, ye enter in
  The ear of God.
 
Ye brook no forced and measured tasks,
  Nor weary rote, nor formal chains;        10
The simple heart, that freely asks
  In love, obtains.
 
For man the living temple is:
  The mercy-seat and cherubim,
And all the holy mysteries,        15
  He bears with him.
 
And most avails the prayer of love,
  Which, wordless, shapes itself in needs,
And wearies Heaven for naught above
  Our common needs.        20
 
Which brings to God’s all-perfect will
  That trust of His undoubting child
Whereby all seeming good and ill
  Are reconciled.
 
And, seeking not for special signs        25
  Of favor, is content to fall
Within the providence which shines
  And rains on all.
 
Alone, the Thebaid hermit leaned
  At noontime o’er the sacred word.        30
Was it an angel or a fiend
  Whose voice he heard?
 
It broke the desert’s hush of awe,
  A human utterance, sweet and mild;
And, looking up, the hermit saw        35
  A little child.
 
A child, with wonder-widened eyes,
  O’erawed and troubled by the sight
Of hot, red sands, and brazen skies,
  And anchorite.        40
 
“What dost thou here, poor man? No shade
  Of cool, green palms, nor grass, nor well,
Nor corn, nor vines.” The hermit said:
  “With God I dwell.
 
“Alone with Him in this great calm,        45
  I live not by the outward sense;
My Nile his love, my sheltering palm
  His providence.”
 
The child gazed round him. “Does God live
  Here only?—where the desert’s rim        50
Is green with corn, at morn and eve,
  We pray to Him.
 
“My brother tills beside the Nile
  His little field; beneath the leaves
My sisters sit and spin, the while        55
  My mother weaves.
 
“And when the millet’s ripe heads fall,
  And all the bean-field hangs in pod,
My mother smiles, and says that all
  Are gifts from God.        60
 
“And when to share our evening meal,
  She calls the stranger at the door,
She says God fills the hands that deal
  Food to the poor.”
 
Adown the hermit’s wasted cheeks        65
  Glistened the flow of human tears;
“Dear Lord!” he said, “Thy angel speaks,
  Thy servant hears.”
 
Within his arms the child he took,
  And thought of home and life with men;        70
And all his pilgrim feet forsook
  Returned again.
 
The palmy shadows cool and long,
  The eyes that smiled through lavish locks,
Home’s cradle-hymn and harvest-song,        75
  And bleat of flocks.
 
“O child!” he said, “thou teachest me
  There is no place where God is not;
That love will make, where’er it be,
  A holy spot.”        80
 
He rose from off the desert sand,
  And, leaning on his staff of thorn,
Went with the young child hand in hand,
  Like night with morn.
 
They crossed the desert’s burning line,        85
  And heard the palm-tree’s rustling fan,
The Nile-bird’s cry, the low of kine,
  And voice of man.
 
Unquestioning, his childish guide
  He followed, as the small hand led        90
To where a woman, gentle-eyed,
  Her distaff fed.
 
She rose, she clasped her truant boy,
  She thanked the stranger with her eyes;
The hermit gazed in doubt and joy        95
  And dumb surprise.
 
And lo!—with sudden warmth and light
  A tender memory thrilled his frame;
New-born, the world-lost anchorite
  A man became.        100
 
“O sister of El Zara’s race,
  Behold me!—had we not one mother?”
She gazed into the stranger’s face:
  “Thou art my brother!”
 
“O kin of blood! Thy life of use        105
  And patient trust is more than mine;
And wiser than the gray recluse
  This child of thine.
 
“For, taught of him whom God hath sent,
  That toil is praise, and love is prayer,        110
I come, life’s cares and pains content
  With thee to share.”
 
Even as his foot the threshold crossed,
  The hermit’s better life began;
Its holiest saint the Thebaid lost,        115
  And found a man!

  1854.
 
 
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