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
The Hero
 
          The hero of the incident related in this poem was Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, the well-known philanthropist, who when a young man volunteered his aid in the Greek struggle for independence.

“OH for a knight like Bayard,
  Without reproach or fear;
My light glove on his casque of steel,
  My love-knot on his spear!
 
“Oh for the white plume floating        5
  Sad Zutphen’s field above,—
The lion heart in battle,
  The woman’s heart in love!
 
“Oh that man once more were manly,
  Woman’s pride, and not her scorn:        10
That once more the pale young mother
  Dared to boast ‘a man is born’!
 
“But, now life’s slumberous current
  No sun-bowed cascade wakes;
No tall, heroic manhood        15
  The level dulness breaks.
 
“Oh for a knight like Bayard,
  Without reproach or fear!
My light glove on his casque of steel,
  My love-knot on his spear!”        20
 
Then I said, my own heart throbbing
  To the time her proud pulse beat,
“Life hath its regal natures yet,
  True, tender, brave, and sweet!
 
“Smile not, fair unbeliever!        25
  One man, at least, I know,
Who might wear the crest of Bayard
  Or Sidney’s plume of snow.
 
“Once, when over purple mountains
  Died away the Grecian sun,        30
And the far Cyllenian ranges
  Paled and darkened, one by one,—
 
“Fell the Turk, a bolt of thunder,
  Cleaving all the quiet sky,
And against his sharp steel lightnings        35
  Stood the Suliote but to die.
 
“Woe for the weak and halting!
  The crescent blazed behind
A curving line of sabres,
  Like fire before the wind!        40
 
“Last to fly, and first to rally,
  Rode he of whom I speak,
When, groaning in his bridle-path,
  Sank down a wounded Greek.
 
“With the rich Albanian costume        45
  Wet with many a ghastly stain,
Gazing on earth and sky as one
  Who might not gaze again!
 
“He looked forward to the mountains,
  Back on foes that never spare,        50
Then flung him from his saddle,
  And placed the stranger there.
 
“‘Allah! hu!’ Through flashing sabres,
  Through a stormy hail of lead,
The good Thessalian charger        55
  Up the slopes of olives sped.
 
“Hot spurred the turbaned riders;
  He almost felt their breath,
Where a mountain stream rolled darkly down
  Between the hills and death.        60
 
“One brave and manful struggle,—
  He gained the solid land,
And the cover of the mountains,
  And the carbines of his band!”
 
“It was very great and noble,”        65
  Said the moist-eyed listener then,
“But one brave deed makes no hero;
  Tell me what he since hath been!”
 
“Still a brave and generous manhood,
  Still an honor without stain,        70
In the prison of the Kaiser,
  By the barricades of Seine.
 
“But dream not helm and harness
  The sign of valor true;
Peace hath higher tests of manhood        75
  Than battle ever knew.
 
“Wouldst know him now? Behold him,
  The Cadmus of the blind,
Giving the dumb lip language,
  The idiot-clay a mind.        80
 
“Walking his round of duty
  Serenely day by day,
With the strong man’s hand of labor
  And childhood’s heart of play.
 
“True as the knights of story,        85
  Sir Lancelot and his peers,
Brave in his calm endurance
  As they in tilt of spears.
 
“As waves in stillest waters,
  As stars in noonday skies,        90
All that wakes to noble action
  In his noon of calmness lies.
 
“Wherever outraged Nature
  Asks word or action brave,
Wherever struggles labor,        95
  Wherever groans a slave,—
 
“Wherever rise the peoples,
  Wherever sinks a throne,
The throbbing heart of Freedom finds
  An answer in his own.        100
 
“Knight of a better era,
  Without reproach or fear!
Said I not well that Bayards
  And Sidneys still are here?”

  1853.
 
 
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