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
The Landmarks
 
          This poem was read at a meeting of citizens of Boston having for its object the preservation of the Old South Church famous in Colonial and Revolutionary history.

I.
THROUGH the streets of Marblehead
Fast the red-winged terror sped;
 
Blasting, withering, on it came,
With its hundred tongues of flame,
 
Where St. Michael’s on its way        5
Stood like chained Andromeda,
 
Waiting on the rock, like her,
Swift doom or deliverer!
 
Church that, after sea-moss grew
Over walls no longer new,        10
 
Counted generations five,
Four entombed and one alive;
 
Heard the martial thousand tread
Battleward from Marblehead;
 
Saw within the rock-walled bay        15
Treville’s lilied pennons play,
 
And the fisher’s dory met
By the barge of Lafayette,
 
Telling good news in advance
Of the coming fleet of France!        20
 
Church to reverend memories dear,
Quaint in desk and chandelier;
 
Bell, whose century-rusted tongue
Burials tolled and bridals rung;
 
Loft, whose tiny organ kept        25
Keys that Snetzler’s hand had swept;
 
Altar, o’er whose tablet old
Sinai’s law its thunders rolled!
 
Suddenly the sharp cry came:
“Look! St. Michael’s is aflame!”        30
 
Round the low tower wall the fire
Snake-like wound its coil of ire.
 
Sacred in its gray respect
From the jealousies of sect,
 
“Save it,” seemed the thought of all,        35
“Save it, though our roof-trees fall!”
 
Up the tower the young men sprung;
One, the bravest, outward swung
 
By the rope, whose kindling strands
Smoked beneath the holder’s hands,        40
 
Smiting down with strokes of power
Burning fragments from the tower.
 
Then the gazing crowd beneath
Broke the painful pause of breath;
 
Brave men cheered from street to street,        45
With home’s ashes at their feet;
 
Houseless women kerchiefs waved:
“Thank the Lord! St. Michael’s saved!”
 
II.
In the heart of Boston town
Stands the church of old renown,        50
 
From whose walls the impulse went
Which set free a continent;
 
From whose pulpit’s oracle
Prophecies of freedom fell;
 
And whose steeple-rocking din        55
Rang the nation’s birth-day in!
 
Standing at this very hour
Perilled like St. Michael’s tower,
 
Held not in the clasp of flame,
But by mammon’s grasping claim.        60
 
Shall it be of Boston said
She is shamed by Marblehead?
 
City of our pride! as there,
Hast thou none to do and dare?
 
Life was risked for Michael’s shrine;        65
Shall not wealth be staked for thine?
 
Woe to thee, when men shall search
Vainly for the Old South Church;
 
When from Neck to Boston Stone,
All thy pride of place is gone;        70
 
When from Bay and railroad car,
Stretched before them wide and far,
 
Men shall only see a great
Wilderness of brick and slate,
 
Every holy spot o’erlaid        75
By the commonplace of trade!
 
City of our love! to thee
Duty is but destiny.
 
True to all thy record saith,
Keep with thy traditions faith;        80
 
Ere occasion ’s overpast,
Hold its flowing forelock fast;
 
Honor still the precedents
Of a grand munificence;
 
In thy old historic way        85
Give, as thou didst yesterday
 
At the South-land’s call, or on
Need’s demand from fired St. John.
 
Set thy Church’s muffled bell
Free the generous deed to tell.        90
 
Let thy loyal hearts rejoice
In the glad, sonorous voice,
 
Ringing from the brazen mouth
Of the bell of the Old South,—
 
Ringing clearly, with a will,        95
“What she was is Boston still!”

  1879.
 
 
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