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.
 
At Sundown
An Outdoor Reception
 
          The substance of these lines, hastily pencilled several years ago. I find among such of my unprinted scraps as have escaped the waste-basket and the fire. In transcribing it I have made some changes, additions, and omissions.

ON these green banks, where falls too soon
The shade of Autumn’s afternoon,
The south wind blowing soft and sweet,
The water gliding at my feet,
The distant northern range uplit        5
By the slant sunshine over it,
With changes of the mountain mist
From tender blush to amethyst,
The valley’s stretch of shade and gleam
Fair as in Mirza’s Bagdad dream,        10
With glad young faces smiling near
And merry voices in my ear,
I sit, methinks, as Hafiz might
In Iran’s Garden of Delight.
For Persian roses blushing red,        15
Aster and gentian bloom instead;
For Shiraz wine, this mountain air;
For feast, the blueberries which I share
With one who proffers with stained hands
Her gleanings from yon pasture lands,        20
Wild fruit that art and culture spoil,
The harvest of an untilled soil;
And with her one whose tender eyes
Reflect the change of April skies,
Midway ’twixt child and maiden yet,        25
Fresh as Spring’s earliest violet;
And one whose look and voice and ways
Make where she goes idyllic days;
And one whose sweet, still countenance
Seems dreamful of a child’s romance;        30
And others, welcome as are these,
Like and unlike, varieties
Of pearls on nature’s chaplet strung,
And all are fair, for all are young.
Gathered from seaside cities old,        35
From midland prairie, lake, and wold,
From the great wheat-fields, which might feed
The hunger of a world at need,
In healthful change of rest and play
Their school-vacations glide away.        40
 
No critics these: they only see
An old and kindly friend in me,
In whose amused, indulgent look
Their innocent mirth has no rebuke.
They scarce can know my rugged rhymes,        45
The harsher songs of evil times,
Nor graver themes in minor keys
Of life’s and death’s solemnities;
But haply, as they bear in mind
Some verse of lighter, happier kind,—        50
Hints of the boyhood of the man,
Youth viewed from life’s meridian,
Half seriously and half in play
My pleasant interviewers pay
Their visit, with no fell intent        55
Of taking notes and punishment.
 
As yonder solitary pine
Is ringed below with flower and vine,
More favored than that lonely tree,
The bloom of girlhood circles me.        60
In such an atmosphere of youth
I half forget my age’s truth;
The shadow of my life’s long date
Runs backward on the dial-plate,
Until it seems a step might span        65
The gulf between the boy and man.
 
My young friends smile, as if some jay
On bleak December’s leafless spray
Essayed to sing the songs of May.
Well, let them smile, and live to know,        70
When their brown locks are flecked with snow,
’T is tedious to be always sage
And pose the dignity of age,
While so much of our early lives
On memory’s playground still survives,        75
And owns, as at the present hour,
The spell of youth’s magnetic power.
 
But though I feel, with Solomon,
’T is pleasant to behold the sun,
I would not if I could repeat        80
A life which still is good and sweet;
I keep in age, as in my prime,
A not uncheerful step with time,
And, grateful for all blessings sent,
I go the common way, content        85
To make no new experiment.
On easy terms with law and fate,
For what must be I calmly wait,
And trust the path I cannot see,—
That God is good sufficeth me.        90
And when at last on life’s strange play
The curtain falls, I only pray
That hope may lose itself in truth,
And age in Heaven’s immortal youth,
And all our loves and longing prove        95
The foretaste of diviner love!
 
The day is done. Its afterglow
Along the west is burning low.
My visitors, like birds, have flown;
I hear their voices, fainter grown,        100
And dimly through the dusk I see
Their ’kerchiefs wave good-night to me,—
Light hearts of girlhood, knowing nought
Of all the cheer their coming brought;
And, in their going, unaware        105
Of silent-following feet of prayer:
Heaven make their budding promise good
With flowers of gracious womanhood!
 
 
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