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.
 
Personal Poems
To ——, with a Copy of Woolman’s Journal
 
   “Get the writings of John Woolman by heart.”—Essays of Elia.

MAIDEN! with the fair brown tresses
  Shading o’er thy dreamy eye,
Floating on thy thoughtful forehead
  Cloud wreaths of its sky.
 
Youthful years and maiden beauty,        5
  Joy with them should still abide,—
Instinct take the place of Duty,
  Love, not Reason, guide.
 
Ever in the New rejoicing,
  Kindly beckoning back the Old,        10
Turning, with the gift of Midas,
  All things into gold.
 
And the passing shades of sadness
  Wearing even a welcome guise,
As, when some bright lake lies open        15
  To the sunny skies,
 
Every wing of bird above it,
  Every light cloud floating on,
Glitters like that flashing mirror
  In the self-same sun.        20
 
But upon thy youthful forehead
  Something like a shadow lies;
And a serious soul is looking
  From thy earnest eyes.
 
With an early introversion,        25
  Through the forms of outward things,
Seeking for the subtle essence,
  And the hidden springs.
 
Deeper than the gilded surface
  Hath thy wakeful vision seen,        30
Farther than the narrow present
  Have thy journeyings been.
 
Thou hast midst Life’s empty noises
  Heard the solemn steps of Time,
And the low mysterious voices        35
  Of another clime.
 
All the mystery of Being
  Hath upon thy spirit pressed,—
Thoughts which, like the Deluge wanderer,
  Find no place of rest:        40
 
That which mystic Plato pondered,
  That which Zeno heard with awe,
And the star-rapt Zoroaster
  In his night-watch saw.
 
From the doubt and darkness springing        45
  Of the dim, uncertain Past,
Moving to the dark still shadows
  O’er the Future cast,
 
Early hath Life’s mighty question
  Thrilled within thy heart of youth,        50
With a deep and strong beseeching:
  What and where is Truth?
 
Hollow creed and ceremonial,
  Whence the ancient life hath fled,
Idle faith unknown to action,        55
  Dull and cold and dead.
 
Oracles, whose wire-worked meanings
  Only wake a quiet scorn,—
Not from these thy seeking spirit
  Hath its answer drawn.        60
 
But, like some tired child at even,
  On thy mother Nature’s breast,
Thou, methinks, art vainly seeking
  Truth, and peace, and rest.
 
O’er that mother’s rugged features        65
  Thou art throwing Fancy’s veil,
Light and soft as woven moonbeams,
  Beautiful and frail!
 
O’er the rough chart of Existence,
  Rocks of sin and wastes of woe,        70
Soft airs breathe, and green leaves tremble,
  And cool fountains flow.
 
And to thee an answer cometh
  From the earth and from the sky,
And to thee the hills and waters        75
  And the stars reply.
 
But a soul-sufficing answer
  Hath no outward origin;
More than Nature’s many voices
  May be heard within.        80
 
Even as the great Augustine
  Questioned earth and sea and sky, 1
And the dusty tomes of learning
  And old poesy.
 
But his earnest spirit needed        85
  More than outward Nature taught;
More than blest the poet’s vision
  Or the sage’s thought.
 
Only in the gathered silence
  Of a calm and waiting frame,        90
Light and wisdom as from Heaven
  To the seeker came.
 
Not to ease and aimless quiet
  Doth that inward answer tend,
But to works of love and duty        95
  As our being’s end;
 
Not to idle dreams and trances,
  Length of face, and solemn tone,
But to Faith, in daily striving
  And performance shown.        100
 
Earnest toil and strong endeavor
  Of a spirit which within
Wrestles with familiar evil
  And besetting sin;
 
And without, with tireless vigor,        105
  Steady heart, and weapon strong,
In the power of truth assailing
  Every form of wrong.
 
Guided thus, how passing lovely
  Is the track of Woolman’s feet!        110
And his brief and simple record
  How serenely sweet!
 
O’er life’s humblest duties throwing
  Light the earthling never knew,
Freshening all its dark waste places        115
  As with Hermon’s dew.
 
All which glows in Pascal’s pages,
  All which sainted Guion sought,
Or the blue-eyed German Rahel
  Half-unconscious taught:        120
 
Beauty, such as Goethe pictured,
  Such as Shelley dreamed of, shed
Living warmth and starry brightness
  Round that poor man’s head.
 
Not a vain and cold ideal,        125
  Not a poet’s dream alone,
But a presence warm and real,
  Seen and felt and known.
 
When the red right-hand of slaughter
  Moulders with the steel it swung,        130
When the name of seer and poet
  Dies on Memory’s tongue,
 
All bright thoughts and pure shall gather
  Round that meek and suffering one,—
Glorious, like the seer-seen angel        135
  Standing in the sun!
 
Take the good man’s book and ponder
  What its pages say to thee;
Blessed as the hand of healing
  May its lesson be.        140
 
If it only serves to strengthen
  Yearnings for a higher good,
For the fount of living waters
  And diviner food;
 
If the pride of human reason        145
  Feels its meek and still rebuke,
Quailing like the eye of Peter
  From the Just One’s look!
 
If with readier ear thou heedest
  What the Inward Teacher saith,        150
Listening with a willing spirit
  And a childlike faith,—
 
Thou mayst live to bless the giver,
  Who, himself but frail and weak,
Would at least the highest welfare        155
  Of another seek;
 
And his gift, though poor and lowly
  It may seem to other eyes,
Yet may prove an angel holy
  In a pilgrim’s guise.

  1840.
        160
 
Note 1. August. Soliloq. cap. xxxi. “Interrogavi Terram,” etc. [back]
 
 
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