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
Rantoul
 
          No more fitting inscription could be placed on the tombstone of Robert Rantoul than this: “He died at his post in Congress, and his last words were a protest in the name of Democracy against the Fugitive-Slave Law.”

ONE day, along the electric wire
  His manly word for Freedom sped;
We came next morn: that tongue of fire
  Said only, “He who spake is dead!”
 
Dead! while his voice was living yet,        5
  In echoes round the pillared dome!
Dead! while his blotted page lay wet
  With themes of state and loves of home!
 
Dead! in that crowning grace of time,
  That triumph of life’s zenith hour!        10
Dead! while we watched his manhood’s prime
  Break from the slow bud into flower!
 
Dead! he so great, and strong, and wise,
  While the mean thousands yet drew breath;
How deepened, through that dread surprise,        15
  The mystery and the awe of death!
 
From the high place whereon our votes
  Had borne him, clear, calm, earnest, fell
His first words, like the prelude notes
  Of some great anthem yet to swell.        20
 
We seemed to see our flag unfurled,
  Our champion waiting in his place
For the last battle of the world,
  The Armageddon of the race.
 
Through him we hoped to speak the word        25
  Which wins the freedom of a land;
And lift, for human right, the sword
  Which dropped from Hampden’s dying hand.
 
For he had sat at Sidney’s feet,
  And walked with Pym and Vane apart;        30
And, through the centuries, felt the beat
  Of Freedom’s march in Cromwell’s heart.
 
He knew the paths the worthies held,
  Where England’s best and wisest trod;
And, lingering, drank the springs that welled        35
  Beneath the touch of Milton’s rod.
 
No wild enthusiast of the right,
  Self-poised and clear, he showed alway
The coolness of his northern night,
  The ripe repose of autumn’s day.        40
 
His steps were slow, yet forward still
  He pressed where others paused or failed;
The calm star clomb with constant will,
  The restless meteor flashed and paled!
 
Skilled in its subtlest wile, he knew        45
  And owned the higher ends of Law;
Still rose majestic on his view
  The awful Shape the schoolman saw.
 
Her home the heart of God; her voice
  The choral harmonies whereby        50
The stars, through all their spheres, rejoice,
  The rhythmic rule of earth and sky!
 
We saw his great powers misapplied
  To poor ambitions; yet, through all,
We saw him take the weaker side,        55
  And right the wronged, and free the thrall.
 
Now, looking o’er the frozen North,
  For one like him in word and act,
To call her old, free spirit forth,
  And give her faith the life of fact,—        60
 
To break her party bonds of shame,
  And labor with the zeal of him
To make the Democratic name
  Of Liberty the synonyme,—
 
We sweep the land from hill to strand,        65
  We seek the strong, the wise, the brave,
And, sad of heart, return to stand
  In silence by a new-made grave!
 
There, where his breezy hills of home
  Look out upon his sail-white seas,        70
The sounds of winds and waters come,
  And shape themselves to words like these:
 
“Why, murmuring, mourn that he, whose power
  Was lent to Party over-long,
Heard the still whisper at the hour        75
  He set his foot on Party wrong?
 
“The human life that closed so well
  No lapse of folly now can stain:
The lips whence Freedom’s protest fell
  No meaner thought can now profane.        80
 
“Mightier than living voice his grave
  That lofty protest utters o’er;
Through roaring wind and smiting wave
  It speaks his hate of wrong once more.
 
“Men of the North! your weak regret        85
  Is wasted here; arise and pay
To freedom and to him your debt,
  By following where he led the way!”

  1853.
 
 
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