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.
 
Occasional Poems
Chicago
 
          The great fire at Chicago was on 8–10 October, 1871.

MEN said at vespers: “All is well!”
In one wild night the city fell;
Fell shrines of prayer and marts of gain
Before the fiery hurricane.
 
On threescore spires had sunset shone,        5
Where ghastly sunrise looked on none.
Men clasped each other’s hands, and said:
“The City of the West is dead!”
 
Brave hearts who fought, in slow retreat,
The fiends of fire from street to street,        10
Turned, powerless, to the blinding glare,
The dumb defiance of despair.
 
A sudden impulse thrilled each wire
That signalled round that sea of fire;
Swift words of cheer, warm heart-throbs came;        15
In tears of pity died the flame!
 
From East, from West, from South and North,
The messages of hope shot forth,
And, underneath the severing wave,
The world, full-handed, reached to save.        20
 
Fair seemed the old; but fairer still
The new, the dreary void shall fill
With dearer homes than those o’erthrown,
For love shall lay each corner-stone.
 
Rise, stricken city! from thee throw        25
The ashen sackcloth of thy woe;
And build, as to Amphion’s strain,
To songs of cheer thy walls again!
 
How shrivelled in thy hot distress
The primal sin of selfishness!        30
How instant rose, to take thy part,
The angel in the human heart!
 
Ah! not in vain the flames that tossed
Above thy dreadful holocaust;
The Christ again has preached through thee        35
The Gospel of Humanity!
 
Then lift once more thy towers on high,
And fret with spires the western sky,
To tell that God is yet with us,
And love is still miraculous!

  1871.
        40
 
 
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