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
Channing
 
          The last time I saw Dr. Channing was in the summer of 1841, when, in company with my English friend, Joseph Sturge, so well known for his philanthropic labors and liberal political opinions, I visited him in his summer residence in Rhode Island. In recalling the impressions of that visit, it can scarcely be necessary to say, that I have no reference to the peculiar religious opinions of a man whose life, beautifully and truly manifested above the atmosphere of sect, is now the world’s common legacy.

NOT vainly did old poets tell,
  Nor vainly did old genius paint
God’s great and crowning miracle,
  The hero and the saint!
 
For even in a faithless day        5
  Can we our sainted ones discern;
And feel, while with them on the way,
  Our hearts within us burn.
 
And thus the common tongue and pen
  Which, world-wide, echo Channing’s fame,        10
As one of Heaven’s anointed men,
  Have sanctified his name.
 
In vain shall Rome her portals bar,
  And shut from him her saintly prize,
Whom, in the world’s great calendar,        15
  All men shall canonize.
 
By Narragansett’s sunny bay,
  Beneath his green embowering wood,
To me it seems but yesterday
  Since at his side I stood.        20
 
The slopes lay green with summer rains,
  The western wind blew fresh and free,
And glimmered down the orchard lanes
  The white surf of the sea.
 
With us was one, who, calm and true,        25
  Life’s highest purpose understood,
And, like his blessed Master, knew
  The joy of doing good.
 
Unlearned, unknown to lettered fame,
  Yet on the lips of England’s poor        30
And toiling millions dwelt his name,
  With blessings evermore.
 
Unknown to power or place, yet where
  The sun looks o’er the Carib sea,
It blended with the freeman’s prayer        35
  And song of jubilee.
 
He told of England’s sin and wrong,
  The ills her suffering children know,
The squalor of the city’s throng,
  The green field’s want and woe.        40
 
O’er Channing’s face the tenderness
  Of sympathetic sorrow stole,
Like a still shadow, passionless,
  The sorrow of the soul.
 
But when the generous Briton told        45
  How hearts were answering to his own,
And Freedom’s rising murmur rolled
  Up to the dull-eared throne,
 
I saw, methought, a glad surprise
  Thrill through that frail and pain-worn frame,        50
And, kindling in those deep, calm eyes,
  A still and earnest flame.
 
His few, brief words were such as move
  The human heart,—the Faith-sown seeds
Which ripen in the soil of love        55
  To high heroic deeds.
 
No bars of sect or clime were felt,
  The Babel strife of tongues had ceased,
And at one common altar knelt
  The Quaker and the priest.        60
 
And not in vain: with strength renewed,
  And zeal refreshed, and hope less dim,
For that brief meeting, each pursued
  The path allotted him.
 
How echoes yet each Western hill        65
  And vale with Channing’s dying word!
How are the hearts of freemen still
  By that great warning stirred!
 
The stranger treads his native soil.
  And pleads, with zeal unfelt before,        70
The honest right of British toil,
  The claim of England’s poor.
 
Before him time-wrought barriers fall,
  Old fears subside, old hatreds melt,
And, stretching o’er the sea’s blue wall,        75
  The Saxon greets the Celt.
 
The yeoman on the Scottish lines,
  The Sheffield grinder, worn and grim,
The delver in the Cornwall mines,
  Look up with hope to him.        80
 
Swart smiters of the glowing steel,
  Dark feeders of the forge’s flame,
Pale watchers at the loom and wheel,
  Repeat his honored name.
 
And thus the influence of that hour        85
  Of converse on Rhode Island’s strand
Lives in the calm, resistless power
  Which moves our fatherland.
 
God blesses still the generous thought,
  And still the fitting word He speeds        90
And Truth, at His requiring taught,
  He quickens into deeds.
 
Where is the victory of the grave?
  What dust upon the spirit lies?
God keeps the sacred life he gave,—        95
  The prophet never dies!

  1844.
 
 
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