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 Singer
 
          This poem was written on the death of Alice Cary. Her sister Phœbe, heart-broken by her loss, followed soon after. Noble and richly gifted, lovely in person and character, they left behind them only friends and admirers.

YEARS since (but names to me before),
Two sisters sought at eve my door;
Two song-birds wandering from their nest,
A gray old farm-house in the West.
 
How fresh of life the younger one,        5
Half smiles, half tears, like rain in sun!
Her gravest mood could scarce displace
The dimples of her nut-brown face.
 
Wit sparkled on her lips not less
For quick and tremulous tenderness;        10
And, following close her merriest glance,
Dreamed through her eyes the heart’s romance.
 
Timid and still, the elder had
Even then a smile too sweetly sad;
The crown of pain that all must wear        15
Too early pressed her midnight hair.
 
Yet ere the summer eve grew long,
Her modest lips were sweet with song;
A memory haunted all her words
Of clover-fields and singing birds.        20
 
Her dark, dilating eyes expressed
The broad horizons of the west;
Her speech dropped prairie flowers; the gold
Of harvest wheat about her rolled.
 
Fore-doomed to song she seemed to me:        25
I queried not with destiny:
I knew the trial and the need,
Yet, all the more, I said, God speed!
 
What could I other than I did?
Could I a singing-bird forbid?        30
Deny the wind-stirred leaf? Rebuke
The music of the forest brook?
 
She went with morning from my door,
But left me richer than before;
Thenceforth I knew her voice of cheer,        35
The welcome of her partial ear.
 
Years passed: through all the land her name
A pleasant household word became:
All felt behind the singer stood
A sweet and gracious womanhood.        40
 
Her life was earnest work, not play;
Her tired feet climbed a weary way;
And even through her lightest strain
We heard an undertone of pain.
 
Unseen of her her fair fame grew,        45
The good she did she rarely knew,
Unguessed of her in life the love
That rained its tears her grave above.
 
When last I saw her, full of peace,
She waited for her great release;        50
And that old friend so sage and bland,
Our later Franklin, held her hand.
 
For all that patriot bosoms stirs
Had moved that woman’s heart of hers,
And men who toiled in storm and sun        55
Found her their meet companion.
 
Our converse, from her suffering bed
To healthful themes of life she led:
The out-door world of bud and bloom
And light and sweetness filled her room.        60
 
Yet evermore an underthought
Of loss to come within us wrought,
And all the while we felt the strain
Of the strong will that conquered pain.
 
God giveth quietness at last!        65
The common way that all have passed
She went, with mortal yearnings fond,
To fuller life and love beyond.
 
Fold the rapt soul in your embrace,
My dear ones! Give the singer place        70
To you, to her,—I know not where,—
I lift the silence of a prayer.
 
For only thus our own we find;
The gone before, the left behind,
All mortal voices die between;        75
The unheard reaches the unseen.
 
Again the blackbirds sing; the streams
Wake, laughing, from their winter dreams,
And tremble in the April showers
The tassels of the maple flowers.        80
 
But not for her has spring renewed
The sweet surprises of the wood;
And bird and flower are lost to her
Who was their best interpreter!
 
What to shut eyes has God revealed?        85
What hear the ears that death has sealed?
What undreamed beauty passing show
Requites the loss of all we know?
 
O silent land, to which we move,
Enough if there alone be love,        90
And mortal need can ne’er outgrow
What it is waiting to bestow!
 
O white soul! from that far-off shore
Float some sweet song the waters o’er,
Our faith confirm, our fears dispel,        95
With the old voice we loved so well!

  1871.
 
 
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