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
Sumner
 
          “I am not one who has disgraced beauty of sentiment by deformity of conduct, or the maxims of a freeman by the actions of a slave; but, by the grace of God, I have kept my life unsullied.”—MILTON’S Defence of the People of England.

O MOTHER State! the winds of March
  Blew chill o’er Auburn’s Field of God,
Where, slow, beneath a leaden arch
  Of sky, thy mourning children trod.
 
And now, with all thy woods in leaf,        5
  Thy fields in flower, beside thy dead
Thou sittest, in thy robes of grief,
  A Rachel yet uncomforted!
 
And once again the organ swells,
  Once more the flag is half-way hung,        10
And yet again the mournful bells
  In all thy steeple-towers are rung.
 
And I, obedient to thy will,
  Have come a simple wreath to lay,
Superfluous, on a grave that still        15
  Is sweet with all the flowers of May.
 
I take, with awe, the task assigned;
  It may be that my friend might miss,
In his new sphere of heart and mind,
  Some token from my hand in this.        20
 
By many a tender memory moved,
  Along the past my thought I send;
The record of the cause he loved
  Is the best record of its friend.
 
No trumpet sounded in his ear,        25
  He saw not Sinai’s cloud and flame,
But never yet to Hebrew seer
  A clearer voice of duty came.
 
God said: “Break thou these yokes; undo
  These heavy burdens. I ordain        30
A work to last thy whole life through,
  A ministry of strife and pain.
 
“Forego thy dreams of lettered ease,
  Put thou the scholar’s promise by,
The rights of man are more than these.”        35
  He heard, and answered: “Here am I!”
 
He set his face against the blast,
  His feet against the flinty shard,
Till the hard service grew, at last,
  Its own exceeding great reward.        40
 
Lifted like Saul’s above the crowd,
  Upon his kingly forehead fell
The first sharp bolt of Slavery’s cloud,
  Launched at the truth he urged so well.
 
Ah! never yet, at rack or stake,        45
  Was sorer loss made Freedom’s gain,
Than his, who suffered for her sake
  The beak-torn Titan’s lingering pain!
 
The fixed star of his faith, through all
  Loss, doubt, and peril, shone the same;        50
As through a night of storm, some tall,
  Strong lighthouse lifts its steady flame.
 
Beyond the dust and smoke he saw
  The sheaves of Freedom’s large increase,
The holy fanes of equal law,        55
  The New Jerusalem of peace.
 
The weak might fear, the worldling mock,
  The faint and blind of heart regret;
All knew at last th’ eternal rock
  On which his forward feet were set.        60
 
The subtlest scheme of compromise
  Was folly to his purpose bold;
The strongest mesh of party lies
  Weak to the simplest truth he told.
 
One language held his heart and lip,        65
  Straight onward to his goal he trod,
And proved the highest statesmanship
  Obedience to the voice of God.
 
No wail was in his voice,—none heard,
  When treason’s storm-cloud blackest grew,        70
The weakness of a doubtful word;
  His duty, and the end, he knew.
 
The first to smite, the first to spare;
  When once the hostile ensigns fell,
He stretched out hands of generous care        75
  To lift the foe he fought so well.
 
For there was nothing base or small
  Or craven in his soul’s broad plan;
Forgiving all things personal,
  He hated only wrong to man.        80
 
The old traditions of his State,
  The memories of her great and good,
Took from his life a fresher date,
  And in himself embodied stood.
 
How felt the greed of gold and place,        85
  The venal crew that schemed and planned,
The fine scorn of that haughty face,
  The spurning of that bribeless hand!
 
If than Rome’s tribunes statelier
  He wore his senatorial robe,        90
His lofty port was all for her,
  The one dear spot on all the globe.
 
If to the master’s plea he gave
  The vast contempt his manhood felt,
He saw a brother in the slave,—        95
  With man as equal man he dealt.
 
Proud was he? If his presence kept
  Its grandeur wheresoe’er he trod,
As if from Plutarch’s gallery stepped
  The hero and the demigod,        100
 
None failed, at least, to reach his ear,
  Nor want nor woe appealed in vain;
The homesick soldier knew his cheer,
  And blessed him from his ward of pain.
 
Safely his dearest friends may own        105
  The slight defects he never hid,
The surface-blemish in the stone
  Of the tall, stately pyramid.
 
Suffice it that he never brought
  His conscience to the public mart;        110
But lived himself the truth he taught,
  White-souled, clean-handed, pure of heart.
 
What if he felt the natural pride
  Of power in noble use, too true
With thin humilities to hide        115
  The work he did, the lore he knew?
 
Was he not just? Was any wronged
  By that assured self-estimate?
He took but what to him belonged,
  Unenvious of another’s state.        120
 
Well might he heed the words he spake,
  And scan with care the written page
Through which he still shall warm and wake
  The hearts of men from age to age.
 
Ah! who shall blame him now because        125
  He solaced thus his hours of pain!
Should not the o’erworn thresher pause,
  And hold to light his golden grain?
 
No sense of humor dropped its oil
  On the hard ways his purpose went;        130
Small play of fancy lightened toil;
  He spake alone the thing he meant.
 
He loved his books, the Art that hints
  A beauty veiled behind its own,
The graver’s line, the pencil’s tints,        135
  The chisel’s shape evoked from stone.
 
He cherished, void of selfish ends,
  The social courtesies that bless
And sweeten life, and loved his friends
  With most unworldly tenderness.        140
 
But still his tired eyes rarely learned
  The glad relief by Nature brought;
Her mountain ranges never turned
  His current of persistent thought.
 
The sea rolled chorus to his speech        145
  Three-banked like Latium’s tall trireme,
With laboring oars; the grove and beach
  Were Forum and the Academe.
 
The sensuous joy from all things fair
  His strenuous bent of soul repressed,        150
And left from youth to silvered hair
  Few hours for pleasure, none for rest.
 
For all his life was poor without,
  O Nature, make the last amends!
Train all thy flowers his grave about,        155
  And make thy singing-birds his friends!
 
Revive again, thou summer rain,
  The broken turf upon his bed!
Breathe, summer wind, thy tenderest strain
  Of low, sweet music overhead!        160
 
With calm and beauty symbolize
  The peace which follows long annoy,
And lend our earth-bent, mourning eyes,
  Some hint of his diviner joy.
 
For safe with right and truth he is,        165
  As God lives he must live alway;
There is no end for souls like his,
  No night for children of the day!
 
Nor cant nor poor solicitudes
  Made weak his life’s great argument;        170
Small leisure his for frames and moods
  Who followed Duty where she went.
 
The broad, fair fields of God he saw
  Beyond the bigot’s narrow bound;
The truths he moulded into law        175
  In Christ’s beatitudes he found.
 
His state-craft was the Golden Rule,
  His right of vote a sacred trust;
Clear, over threat and ridicule,
  All heard his challenge: “Is it just?”        180
 
And when the hour supreme had come,
  Not for himself a thought he gave;
In that last pang of martyrdom,
  His care was for the half-freed slave.
 
Not vainly dusky hands upbore,        185
  In prayer, the passing soul to heaven
Whose mercy to His suffering poor
  Was service to the Master given.
 
Long shall the good State’s annals tell,
  Her children’s children long be taught,        190
How, praised or blamed, he guarded well
  The trust he neither shunned nor sought.
 
If for one moment turned thy face,
  O Mother, from thy son, not long
He waited calmly in his place        195
  The sure remorse which follows wrong.
 
Forgiven be the State he loved
  The one brief lapse, the single blot;
Forgotten be the stain removed,
  Her righted record shows it not!        200
 
The lifted sword above her shield
  With jealous care shall guard his fame;
The pine-tree on her ancient field
  To all the winds shall speak his name.
 
The marble image of her son        205
  Her loving hands shall yearly crown,
And from her pictured Pantheon
  His grand, majestic face look down.
 
O State so passing rich before,
  Who now shall doubt thy highest claim?        210
The world that counts thy jewels o’er
  Shall longest pause at Summer’s name!

  1874.
 
 
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