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.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
Amy Wentworth
 
To William Bradford

AS they who watch by sick-beds find relief
Unwittingly from the great stress of grief
And anxious care, in fantasies outwrought
From the hearth’s embers flickering low, or caught
From whispering wind, or tread of passing feet,        5
Or vagrant memory calling up some sweet
Snatch of old song or romance, whence or why
They scarcely know or ask,—so, thou and I,
Nursed in the faith that Truth alone is strong
In the endurance which outwearies Wrong,        10
With meek persistence baffling brutal force,
And trusting God against the universe,—
We, doomed to watch a strife we may not share
With other weapons than the patriot’s prayer,
Yet owning, with full hearts and moistened eyes,        15
The awful beauty of self-sacrifice,
And wrung by keenest sympathy for all
Who give their loved ones for the living wall
’Twixt law and treason,—in this evil day
May haply find, through automatic play        20
Of pen and pencil, solace to our pain,
And hearten others with the strength we gain.
I know it has been said our times require
No play of art, nor dalliance with the lyre,
No weak essay with Fancy’s chloroform        25
To calm the hot, mad pulses of the storm,
But the stern war-blast rather, such as sets
The battle’s teeth of serried bayonets,
And pictures grim as Vernet’s. Yet with these
Some softer tints may blend, and milder keys        30
Relieve the storm-stunned ear. Let us keep sweet,
If so we may, our hearts, even while we eat
The bitter harvest of our own device
And half a century’s moral cowardice.
As Nürnberg sang while Wittenberg defied,        35
And Kranach painted by his Luther’s side,
And through the war-march of the Puritan
The silver stream of Marvell’s music ran,
So let the household melodies be sung,
The pleasant pictures on the wall be hung,—        40
So let us hold against the hosts of night
And slavery all our vantage-ground of light.
Let Treason boast its savagery, and shake
From its flag-folds its symbol rattlesnake,
Nurse its fine arts, lay human skins in tan,        45
And carve its pipe-bowls from the bones of man,
And make the tale of Fijian banquets dull
By drinking whiskey from a loyal skull,—
But let us guard, till this sad war shall cease,
(God grant it soon!) the graceful arts of peace:        50
No foes are conquered who the victors teach
Their vandal manners and barbaric speech.
 
And while, with hearts of thankfulness, we bear
Of the great common burden our full share,
Let none upbraid us that the waves entice        55
Thy sea-dipped pencil, or some quaint device,
Rhythmic and sweet, beguiles my pen away
From the sharp strifes and sorrows of to-day.
Thus, while the east-wind keen from Labrador
Sings in the leafless elms, and from the shore        60
Of the great sea comes the monotonous roar
Of the long-breaking surf, and all the sky
Is gray with cloud, home-bound and dull, I try
To time a simple legend to the sounds
Of winds in the woods, and waves on pebbled bounds,—        65
A song for oars to chime with, such as might
Be sung by tired sea-painters, who at night
Look from their hemlock camps, by quiet cove
Or beach, moon-lighted, on the waves they love.
(So hast thou looked, when level sunset lay        70
On the calm bosom of some Eastern bay,
And all the spray-moist rocks and waves that rolled
Up the white sand-slopes flashed with ruddy gold.)
Something it has—a flavor of the sea,
And the sea’s freedom—which reminds of thee.        75
Its faded picture, dimly smiling down
From the blurred fresco of the ancient town,
I have not touched with warmer tints in vain,
If, in this dark, sad year, it steals one thought from pain.
*        *        *        *        *
      Her fingers shame the ivory keys        80
        They dance so light along;
      The bloom upon her parted lips
        Is sweeter than the song.
 
      O perfumed suitor, spare thy smiles!
        Her thoughts are not of thee;        85
      She better loves the salted wind,
        The voices of the sea.
 
      Her heart is like an outbound ship
        That at its anchor swings;
      The murmur of the stranded shell        90
        Is in the song she sings.
 
      She sings, and, smiling, hears her praise,
        But dreams the while of one
      Who watches from his sea-blown deck
        The icebergs in the sun.        95
 
      She questions all the winds that blow,
        And every fog-wreath dim,
      And bids the sea-birds flying north
        Bear messages to him.
 
      She speeds them with the thanks of men        100
        He perilled life to save,
      And grateful prayers like holy oil
        To smooth for him the wave.
 
      Brown Viking of the fishing-smack!
        Fair toast of all the town!—        105
      The skipper’s jerkin ill beseems
        The lady’s silken gown!
 
      But ne’er shall Amy Wentworth wear
        For him the blush of shame
      Who dares to set his manly gifts        110
        Against her ancient name.
 
      The stream is brightest at its spring,
        And blood is not like wine;
      Nor honored less than he who heirs
        Is he who founds a line.        115
 
      Full lightly shall the prize be won,
        If love be Fortune’s spur;
      And never maiden stoops to him
        Who lifts himself to her.
 
      Her home is brave in Jaffrey Street,        120
        With stately stairways worn
      By feet of old Colonial knights
        And ladies gentle-born.
 
      Still green about its ample porch
        The English ivy twines,        125
      Trained back to show in English oak
        The herald’s carven signs.
 
      And on her, from the wainscot old,
        Ancestral faces frown,—
      And this has worn the soldier’s sword,        130
        And that the judge’s gown.
 
      But, strong of will and proud as they,
        She walks the gallery floor
      As if she trod her sailor’s deck
        By stormy Labrador!        135
 
      The sweetbrier blooms on Kittery-side,
        And green are Eliot’s bowers;
      Her garden is the pebbled beach,
        The mosses are her flowers.
 
      She looks across the harbor-bar        140
        To see the white gulls fly;
      His greeting from the Northern sea
        Is in their clanging cry.
 
      She hums a song, and dreams that he,
        As in its romance old,        145
      Shall homeward ride with silken sails
        And masts of beaten gold!
 
      Oh, rank is good, and gold is fair,
        And high and low mate ill;
      But love has never known a law        150
        Beyond its own sweet will!

  1862.
 
 
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