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.
 
Appendix I. Early and Uncollected Verses
The Missionary
 
          “It is an awful, an arduous thing to root out every affection for earthly things, so as to live only for another world. I am now far, very far, from you all; and as often as I look around and see the Indian scenery, I sigh to think of the distance which separates us.”—Letters of Henry Martyn, from India.

“SAY, whose is this fair picture, which the light
From the unshutter’d window rests upon
Even as a lingering halo? Beautiful!
The keen, fine eye of manhood, and a lip
Lovely as that of Hylas, and impressed        5
With the bright signet of some brilliant thought;
That broad expanse of forehead, clear and high,
Marked visibly with the characters of mind,
And the free locks around it, raven black,
Luxuriant and unsilver’d!—who was he?”        10
 
A friend, a more than brother. In the spring
And glory of his being he went forth
From the embraces of devoted friends,
From ease and quiet happiness, from more—
From the warm heart that loved him with a love        15
Holier than earthly passion, and to whom
The beauty of his spirit shone above
The charms of perishing nature. He went forth
Strengthened to suffer, gifted to subdue
The might of human passion, to pass on        20
Quietly to the sacrifice of all
The lofty hopes of boyhood, and to turn
The high ambition written on that brow,
From its first dream of power and human fame,
Unto a task of seeming lowliness,        25
Yet God-like in its purpose. He went forth
To bind the broken spirit, to pluck back
The heathen from the wheel of Juggernaut;
To place the spiritual image of a God
Holy and just and true, before the eye        30
Of the dark-minded Brahmin, and unseal
The holy pages of the Book of Life,
Fraught with sublimer mysteries than all
The sacred tomes of Vedas, to unbind
The widow from her sacrifice, and save        35
The perishing infant from the worshipped river!
 
“And, lady, where is he?” He slumbers well
Beneath the shadow of an Indian palm.
There is no stone above his grave. The wind,
Hot from the desert, as it stirs the leaves        40
Heavy and long above him, sighs alone
Over his place of slumber.

                        “God forbid
That he should die alone!” Nay, not alone.
His God was with him in that last dread hour;
His great arm underneath him, and His smile        45
Melting into a spirit full of peace.
And one kind friend, a human friend, was near—
One whom his teachings and his earnest prayers
Had snatch’d as from the burning. He alone
Felt the last pressure of his failing hand,        50
Caught the last glimpse of his closing eye,
And laid the green turf over him with tears,
And left him with his God.

                        “And was it well,
Dear lady, that this noble mind should cast
Its rich gifts on the waters? That a heart        55
Full of all gentleness and truth and love
Should wither on the suicidal shrine
Of a mistaken duty? If I read
Aright the fine intelligence which fills
That amplitude of brow, and gazes out        60
Like an indwelling spirit from that eye,
He might have borne him loftily among
The proudest of his land, and with a step
Unfaltering ever, steadfast and secure,
Gone up the paths of greatness,—bearing still        65
A sister spirit with him, as some star,
Preëminent in Heaven, leads steadily up
A kindred watcher, with its fainter beams
Baptized in its great glory. Was it well
That all this promise of the heart and mind        70
Should perish from the earth, and leave no trace.
Unfolding like the Cereus of the clime
Which hath its sepulchre, but in the night
Of pagan desolation—was it well?”
 
Thy will be done, O Father!—it was well.        75
What are the honors of a perishing world
Grasp’d by a palsied finger? the applause
Of the unthoughtful multitude which greets
The dull ear of decay? the wealth that loads
The bier with costly drapery, and shines        80
In tinsel on the coffin, and builds up
The cold substantial monument? Can these
Bear up the sinking spirit in that hour
When heart and flesh are failing, and the grave
Is opening under us? Oh, dearer then        85
The memory of a kind deed done to him
Who was our enemy, one grateful tear
In the meek eye of virtuous suffering,
One smile call’d up by unseen charity
On the wan lips of hunger, or one prayer        90
Breathed from the bosom of the penitent—
The stain’d with crime and outcast, unto whom
Our mild rebuke and tenderness of love
A merciful God hath bless’d.

                            “But, lady, say,
Did he not sometimes almost sink beneath        95
The burden of his toil, and turn aside
To weep above his sacrifice, and cast
A sorrowing glance upon his childhood’s home,
Still green in memory? Clung not to his heart
Something of earthly hope uncrucified,        100
Of earthly thought unchastened? Did he bring
Life’s warm affections to the sacrifice—
Its loves, hopes, sorrows—and become as one
Knowing no kindred but a perishing world,
No love but of the sin-endangered soul,        105
No hope but of the winning back to life
Of the dead nations, and no passing thought
Save of the errand wherewith he was sent
As to a martyrdom?”

                    Nay, though the heart
Be consecrated to the holiest work        110
Vouchsafed to mortal effort, there will be
Ties of the earth around it, and, through all
Its perilous devotion, it must keep
Its own humanity. And it is well.
Else why wept He, who with our nature veiled        115
The spirit of a God, o’er lost Jerusalem,
And the cold grave of Lazarus? And why
In the dim garden rose his earnest prayer,
That from his lips the cup of suffering
Might pass, if it were possible?

                    My friend
        120
Was of a gentle nature, and his heart
Gushed like a river-fountain of the hills,
Ceaseless and lavish, at a kindly smile,
A word of welcome, or a tone of love.
Freely his letters to his friends disclosed        125
His yearnings for the quiet haunts of home,
For love and its companionship, and all
The blessings left behind him; yet above
Its sorrows and its clouds his spirit rose,
Tearful and yet triumphant, taking hold        130
Of the eternal promises of God,
And steadfast in its faith.

                            Here are some lines
Penned in his lonely mission-house and sent
To a dear friend at home who even now
Lingers above them with a mournful joy,        135
Holding them well-nigh sacred as a leaf
Plucked from the record of a breaking heart.
 
 
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