James Russell Lowell was an American Romantic poet, critic, editor, and diplomat. He is associated with the Fireside Poets, a group of New England writers who were among the first American poets that rivaled the popularity of British poets.
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Famous James Russell Lowell Poems
The Fountain Of Youth
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
By no sadder spirit
Than blackbirds and thrushes,
That whistle to cheer it
All day in the bushes.
This woodland is haunted:
And in a small clearing,
Beyond sight or hearing
Of human annoyance,
The little fount gushes,
First smoothly, then dashes
And gurgles and flashes,
To the maples and ashes
Confiding its joyance;
Then, silent and glossy,
Slips winding and hiding
Through alder-stems mossy,
Through gossamer roots
Fine as nerves,
That tremble, as shoots
Through their magnetized curves
The allurement delicious
Of the water’s capricious
Thrills, gushes, and swerves.
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
I am writing no fiction;
And this fount, its sole daughter,
To the woodland was granted
To pour holy water
And win benediction;
In summer-noon flushes,
When all the wood hushes,
Blue dragon-flies knitting
To and fro in the sun,
With sidelong jerk flitting
Sink down on the rashes,
And, motionless sitting,
Hear it bubble and run,
Hear its low inward singing,
With level wings swinging
On green tasselled rushes,
To dream in the sun.
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
The great August noonlight!
Through myriad rifts slanted,
Leaf and bole thickly sprinkles
With flickering gold;
There, in warm August gloaming,
With quick, silent brightenings,
From meadow-lands roaming,
The firefly twinkles
His fitful heat-lightnings;
There the magical moonlight
With meek, saintly glory
Steeps summit and wold;
There whippoorwills plain in the solitudes hoary
With lone cries that wander
Now hither, now yonder,
Like souls doomed of old
To a mild purgatory;
But through noonlight and moonlight
The little fount tinkles
Its silver saints’-bells,
That no sprite ill-boding
May make his abode in
Those innocent dells.
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
When the phebe scarce whistles
Once an hour to his fellow.
And, where red lilies flaunted,
Balloons from the thistles
Tell summer’s disasters,
The butterflies yellow,
As caught in an eddy
Of air’s silent ocean,
Sink, waver, and steady
O’er goats’-beard and asters,
Like souls of dead flowers,
With aimless emotion
Still lingering unready
To leave their old bowers;
And the fount is no dumber,
But still gleams and flashes,
And gurgles and plashes,
To the measure of summer;
The butterflies hear it,
And spell-bound are holden,
Still balancing near it
O’er the goats’ beard so golden.
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
A vast silver willow,
I know not how planted,
(This wood is enchanted,
And full of surprises.)
Stands stemming a billow,
A motionless billow
Of ankle-deep mosses;
Two great roots it crosses
To make a round basin.
And there the Fount rises;
Ah, too pure a mirror
For one sick of error
To see his sad face in!
No dew-dropp is stiller
In its lupin-leaf setting
Than this water moss-bounded;
But a tiny sand-pillar
From the bottom keeps jetting,
And mermaid ne’er sounded
Through the wreaths of a shell,
Down amid crimson dulses
In some cavern of ocean,
A melody sweeter
Than the delicate pulses,
The soft, noiseless metre,
The pause and the swell
Of that musical motion:
I recall it, not see it;
Could vision be clearer?
Half I’m fain to draw nearer
Half tempted to flee it;
The sleeping Past wake not,
One forward step take not,
Ah! break not
That quietude rare!
By my step unaffrighted
A thrush hops before it,
And o’er it
A birch hangs delighted,
Dipping, dipping, dipping its tremulous hair;
Pure as the fountain, once
I came to the place,
(How dare I draw nearer?)
I bent o’er its mirror,
And saw a child’s face
Mid locks of bright gold in it;
Yes, pure as this fountain once,-
Since, bow much error!
Too holy a mirror
For the man to behold in it
His harsh, bearded countenance!
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
Ah, fly unreturning!
‘Tis a woodland enchanted,
Where wonderful chances
Luck flees from the cold one,
But leaps to the bold one
Why should I be daunted?
Still the smooth mirror glances,
Still the amber sand dances,
One look,-then away!
O magical glass!
Canst keep in thy bosom
Shades of leaf and of blossom
When summer days pass,
So that when thy wave hardens
It shapes as it pleases,
Unharmed by the breezes,
Its fine hanging gardens?
Hast those in thy keeping.
And canst not uncover,
The old shade of thy lover?
It is there! I have found it!
He wakes, the long sleeper!
The pool is grown deeper,
The sand dance is ending,
The white floor sinks, blending
With skies that below me
Are deepening and bending,
And a child’s face alone
That seems not to know me,
With hair that fades golden
In the heaven-glow round it,
Looks up at my own;
Ah, glimpse through the portal
That leads to the throne,
That opes the child’s olden
Ah, too holy vision
For thy skirts to be holden
By soiled hand of mortal!
It wavers, it scatters,
‘Tis gone past recalling!
A tear’s sudden falling
The magic cup shatters,
Breaks the spell of the waters,
And the sand cone once more,
With a ceaseless renewing,
Its dance is pursuing
On the silvery floor,
O’er and o’er,
With a noiseless and ceaseless renewing.
‘Tis a woodland enchanted!
If you ask me, Where is it?
I can but make answer,
”Tis past my disclosing;’
Not to choice is it granted
By sure paths to visit
The still pool enclosing
Its blithe little dancer;
But in some day, the rarest
Of many Septembers,
When the pulses of air rest,
And all things lie dreaming
In drowsy haze steaming
From the wood’s glowing embers,
Then, sometimes, unheeding,
And asking not whither,
By a sweet inward leading
My feet are drawn thither,
And, looking with awe in the magical mirror,
I see through my tears,
Half doubtful of seeing,
The face unperverted,
The warm golden being
Of a child of five years;
And spite of the mists and the error.
And the days overcast,
Can feel that I walk undeserted,
But forever attended
By the glad heavens that bended
O’er the innocent past;
Toward fancy or truth
Doth the sweet vision win me?
Dare I think that I cast
In the fountain of youth
The fleeting reflection
Of some bygone perfection
That still lingers in me?
For An Autograph
THOUGH old the thought and oft exprest,
‘Tis his at last who says it best,
I’ll try my fortune with the rest.
Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
His word or two, and then comes night.
‘Lo, time and space enough,’ we cry,
‘To write an epic! ‘ so we try
Our nibs upon the edge, and die.
Muse not which way the pen to hold,
Luck hates the slow and loves the bold,
Soon come the darkness and the cold.
Greatly begin! though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime,
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
Ah, with what lofty hope we came!
But we forget it, dream of fame,
And scrawl, as I do here, a name.
A beggar through the world am I,
From place to place I wander by.
Fill up my pilgrim’s scrip for me,
For Christ’s sweet sake and charity!
A little of thy steadfastness,
Bounded with leafy gracefulness,
Old oak, give me,
That the world’s blasts may round me blow,
And I yield gently to and fro,
While my stout-hearted trunk below
And firm-set roots unshaken be.
Some of thy stern, unyielding might,
Enduring still through day and night
Rude tempest-shock and withering blight,
That I may keep at bay
The changeful April sky of chance
And the strong tide of circumstance,-
Give me, old granite gray.
Some of thy pensiveness serene,
Some of thy never-dying green,
Put in this scrip of mine,
That griefs may fall like snowflakes light,
And deck me in a robe of white,
Ready to be an angel bright,
O sweetly mournful pine.
A little of thy merriment,
Of thy sparkling, light content,
Give me, my cheerful brook,
That I may still be full of glee
And gladsomeness, where’er I be,
Though fickle fate hath prisoned me
In some neglected nook.
Ye have been very kind and good
To me, since I’ve been in the wood;
Ye have gone nigh to fill my heart;
But good-by, kind friends, every one,
I’ve far to go ere set of sun;
Of all good things I would have part,
The day was high ere I could start,
And so my journey’s scarce begun.
Heaven help me! how could I forget
To beg of thee, dear violet!
Some of thy modesty,
That blossoms here as well, unseen,
As if before the world thou’dst been,
Oh, give, to strengthen me.
I cannot say a scene is fair
Because it is beloved of thee
But I shall love to linger there,
For sake of thy dear memory;
I would not be so coldly just
As to love only what I must.
I cannot say a thought is good
Because thou foundest joy in it;
Each soul must choose its proper food
Which Nature hath decreed most fit;
But I shall ever deem it so
Because it made thy heart o’erflow.
I love thee for that thou art fair;
And that thy spirit joys in aught
Createth a new beauty there,
With throe own dearest image fraught;
And love, for others’ sake that springs,
Gives half their charm to lovely things.
With A Pressed Flower
This little blossom from afar
Hath come from other lands to thine;
For, once, its white and drooping star
Could see its shadow in the Rhine.
Perchance some fair-haired German maid
Hath plucked one from the selfsame stalk,
And numbered over, half afraid,
Its petals in her evening walk.
‘He loves me, loves me not,’ she cries;
‘He loves me more than earth or heaven!’
And then glad tears have filled her eyes
To find the number was uneven.
And thou must count its petals well,
Because it is a gift from me;
And the last one of all shall tell
Something I’ve often told to thee.
But here at home, where we were born,
Thou wilt find blossoms just as true,
Down-bending every summer morn,
With freshness of New England dew.
For Nature, ever kind to love,
Hath granted them the same sweet tongue,
Whether with German skies above,
Or here our granite rocks among.
I saw the twinkle of white feet,
I saw the flush of robes descending;
Before her ran an influence fleet,
That bowed my heart like barley bending.
As, in bare fields, the searching bees
Pilot to blooms beyond our finding,
It led me on, by sweet degrees
Joy’s simple honey-cells unbinding.
Those Graces were that seemed grim Fates;
With nearer love the sky leaned o’er me;
The long-sought Secret’s golden gates
On musical hinges swung before me.
I saw the brimmed bowl in her grasp
Thrilling with godhood; like a lover
I sprang the proffered life to clasp;-
The beaker fell; the luck was over.
The Earth has drunk the vintage up;
What boots it patch the goblet’s splinters?
Can Summer fill the icy cup,
Whose treacherous crystal is but Winter’s?
O spendthrift haste! await the Gods;
The nectar crowns the lips of Patience;
Haste scatters on unthankful sods
The immortal gift in vain libations.
Coy Hebe flies from those that woo,
And shuns the hands would seize upon her;
Follow thy life, and she will sue
To pour for thee the cup of honor.
A presence both by night and day,
That made my life seem just begun,
Yet scarce a presence, rather say
The warning aureole of one.
And yet I felt it everywhere;
Walked I the woodland’s aisles along,
It seemed to brush me with its hair;
Bathed I, I heard a mermaid’s song.
How sweet it was! A buttercup
Could hold for me a day’s delight,
A bird could lift my fancy up
To ether free from cloud or blight.
Who was the nymph? Nay, I will see,
Methought, and I will know her near;
If such, divined, her charm can be,
Seen and possessed, how triply dear!
So every magic art I tried,
And spells as numberless as sand,
Until, one evening, by my side
I saw her glowing fulness stand.
I turned to clasp her, but ‘Farewell,’
Parting she sighed, ‘we meet no more;
Not by my hand the curtain fell
That leaves you conscious, wise, and poor.
‘Since you nave found me out, I go;
Another lover I must find,
Content his happiness to know,
Nor strive its secret to unwind.
Rippling through thy branches goes the sunshine,
Among thy leaves that palpitate forever;
Ovid in thee a pining Nymph had prisoned,
The soul once of some tremulous inland river,
Quivering to tell her woe, but, ah! dumb, dumb forever!
While all the forest, witched with slumberous moonshine,
Holds up its leaves in happy, happy stillness,
Waiting the dew, with breath and pulse suspended,
I hear afar thy whispering, gleamy islands,
And track thee wakeful still amid the wide-hung silence.
On the brink of some wood-nestled lakelet,
Thy foliage, like the tresses of a Dryad,
Dripping round thy slim white stem, whose shadow
Slopes quivering down the water’s dusky quiet,
Thou shrink’st as on her bath’s edge would some startled Naiad.
Thou art the go-between of rustic lovers;
Thy white bark has their secrets in its keeping;
Reuben writes here the happy name of Patience,
And thy lithe boughs hang murmuring and weeping
Above her, as she steals the mystery from thy keeping.
Thou art to me like my beloved maiden,
So frankly coy, so full of trembly confidences;
Thy shadow scarce seems shade, thy pattering leaflets
Sprinkle their gathered sunshine o’er my senses,
And Nature gives me all her summer confidences.
Whether my heart with hope or sorrow tremble,
Thou sympathizest still; wild and unquiet,
I fling me down; thy ripple, like a river,
Flows valleyward, where calmness is, and by it
My heart is floated down into the land of quiet.
What Is So Rare As A Day In June
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature’s palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer’s lowing,
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
‘Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,
‘Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season’s youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep ‘neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.
One kiss from all others prevents me,
And sets all my pulses astir,
And burns on my lips and torments me:
‘Tis the kiss that I fain would give her.
One kiss for all others requites me,
Although it is never to be,
And sweetens my dreams and invites me:
‘Tis the kiss that she dare not give me.
Ah, could it he mine, it were sweeter
Than honey bees garner in dream,
Though its bliss on my lips were fleeter
Than a swallow’s dip to the stream.
And yet, thus denied, it can never
In the prose of life vanish away;
O’er my lips it must hover forever,
The sunshine and shade of my day.
What were I, Love, if I were stripped of thee,
If thine eyes shut me out whereby I live.
Thou, who unto my calmer soul dost give
Knowledge, and Truth, and holy Mystery,
Wherein Truth mainly lies for those who see
Beyond the earthly and the fugitive,
Who in the grandeur of the soul believe,
And only in the Infinite are free?
Without thee I were naked, bleak, and bare
As yon dead cedar on the sea-cliff’s brow;
And Nature’s teachings, which come to me now,
Common and beautiful as light and air,
Would be as fruitless as a stream which still
Slips through the wheel of some old ruined mill.
Then Thorstein looked at Hakon, where he sate,
Mute as a cloud amid the stormy hall,
And said: ‘O Skald, sing now an olden song,
Such as our fathers heard who led great lives;
And, as the bravest on a shield is borne
Along the waving host that shouts him king,
So rode their thrones upon the thronging seas!’
Then the old man arose; white-haired he stood,
White-bearded with eyes that looked afar
From their still region of perpetual snow,
Over the little smokes and stirs of men:
His head was bowed with gathered flakes of years,
As winter bends the sea-foreboding pine,
But something triumphed in his brow and eye,
Which whoso saw it, could not see and crouch:
Loud rang the emptied beakers as he mused,
Brooding his eyried thoughts; then, as an eagle
Circles smooth-winged above the wind-vexed woods,
5o wheeled his soul into the air of song
High o’er the stormy hall; and thus he sang:
‘The fletcher for his arrow-shaft picks out
Wood closest-grained, long-seasoned, straight as light;
And, from a quiver full of such as these,
The wary bow-man, matched against his peers,
Long doubting, singles yet once more the best.
Who is it that can make such shafts as Fate?
What archer of his arrows is so choice,
Or hits the white so surely? They are men,
The chosen of her quiver; nor for her
Will every reed suffice, or cross-grained stick
At random from life’s vulgar fagot plucked:
Such answer household ends; but she will have
Souls straight and clear, of toughest fibre, sound
Down to the heart of heart; from these she strips
All needless stuff, all sapwood; hardens them;
From circumstance untoward feathers plucks
Crumpled and cheap; and barbs with iron will:
The hour that passes is her quiver-boy;
When she draws bow, ’tis not across the wind,
Nor ‘gainst the sun, her haste-snatched arrow sings,
For sun and wind have plighted faith to her
Ere men have heard the sinew twang, behold,
In the butt’s heart her trembling messenger!
‘The song is old and simple that I sing;
Good were the days of yore, when men were tried
By ring of shields, as now by ring of gold;
But, while the gods are left, and hearts of men,
And the free ocean, still the days are good;
Through the broad Earth roams Opportunity
And knocks at every door of but or hall,
Until she finds the brave soul that she wants.’
He ceased, and instantly the frothy tide
Of interrupted wassail roared along;
But Leif, the son of Eric, sat apart
Musing, and, with his eyes upon the fire,
Saw shapes of arrows, lost as soon as seen;
lint then with that resolve his heart was bent,
Which, like a humming shaft, through many a stripe
Of day and night across the unventured seas,
Shot the brave prow to cut on Vinland sands
The first rune in the Saga of the West.
Winter Evening Hymn To My Fire
Nicotia, dearer to the Muse
Than all the grape’s bewildering juice,
We worship, unforbid of thee;
And as her incense floats and curls
In airy spires and wayward whirls,
Or poises on its tremulous stalk
A flower of frailest reverie,
So winds and loiters, idly free,
The current of unguided talk,
Now laughter-rippled, and now caught
In smooth dark pools of deeper thought
Meanwhile thou mellowest every word,
A sweetly unobtrusive third;
For thou hast magic beyond wine
To unlock natures each to each;
The unspoken thought thou canst divine;
Thou fill’st the pauses of the speech
With whispers that to dreamland reach,
And frozen fancy-springs unchain
In Arctic outskirts of the brain.
Sun of all inmost confidences,
To thy rays doth the heart unclose
Its formal calyx of pretences,
That close against rude day’s offences,
And open its shy midnight rose!
May Is A Pious Fraud
May is a pious fraud of the almanac.
A ghastly parody of real Spring
Shaped out of snow and breathed with eastern wind;
Or if, o’er-confident, she trust the date,
And, with her handful of anemones,
Herself as shivery, steal into the sun,
The season need but turn his hour-glass round,
And Winter suddenly, like crazy Lear,
Reels back, and brings the dead May in his arms,
Her budding breasts and wan dislustred front
With frosty streaks and drifts of his white beard
All overblown. Then, warmly walled with books,
While my wood-fire supplies the sun’s defect,
Whispering old forest-sagas in its dreams,
I take my May down from the happy shelf
Where perch the world’s rare song-birds in a row,
Waiting my choice to upen with full breast,
And beg an alms of springtime, ne’er denied
Indoors by vernal Chaucer, whose fresh woods
Throb thick with merle and mavis all the years.
The Candidate’s Creed
I du believe in Freedom’s cause,
Ez fur away ez Paris is;
I love to see her stick her claws
In them infarnal Pharisees;
It’s wal enough agin a king
To dror resolves and triggers,—
But libbaty’s a kind o’ thing
Thet don’t agree with niggers.
I du believe the people want
A tax on teas and coffees,
Thet nothin’ aint extravygunt,—
Purvidin’ I’m in office;
For I hev loved my country sence
My eye-teeth filled their sockets,
An’ Uncle Sam I reverence,
Partic’larly his pockets.
I du believe in ANY plan
O’ levyin’ the taxes,
Ez long ez, like a lumberman,
I git jest wut I axes:
I go free-trade thru thick an’ thin,
Because it kind o’ rouses
The folks to vote—and keep us in
Our quiet custom-houses.
I du believe it’s wise an’ good
To sen’ out furrin missions,
Thet is, on sartin understood
An’ orthydox conditions;—
I mean nine thousan’ dolls. per ann.,
Nine thousan’ more fer outfit,
An’ me to recommend a man
The place ‘ould jest about fit.
I du believe in special ways
O’ prayin’ an’ convartin’;
The bread comes back in many days,
An’ buttered, tu, fer sartin;—
I mean in preyin’ till one busts
On wut the party chooses,
An’ in convartin’ public trusts
To very privit uses.
I do believe hard coin the stuff
Fer ‘lectioneers to spout on;
The people’s ollers soft enough
To make hard money out on;
Dear Uncle Sam pervides fer his,
An’ gives a good-sized junk to all—
I don’t care HOW hard money is,
Ez long ez mine’s paid punctooal.
I du believe with all my soul
In the gret Press’s freedom,
To pint the people to the goal
An’ in the traces lead ’em:
Palsied the arm thet forges yokes
At my fat contracts squintin’,
An’ wilhered be the nose thet pokes
Inter the gov’ment printin’!
I du believe thet I should give
Wut’s his’n unto Caesar,
Fer it’s by him I move an’ live,
From him my bread an’ cheese air
I du believe thet all o’ me
Doth bear his souperscription,—
Will, conscience, honor, honesty,
An’ things o’ thet description.
I du believe in prayer an’ praise
To him thet hez the grantin’
O’ jobs—in every thin’ thet pays,
But most of all in CANTIN’;
This doth my cup with marcies fill,
This lays all thought o’ sin to rest—
I DON’T believe in princerple,
But, O, I DU in interest.
I du believe in bein’ this
Or thet, ez it may happen
One way, or t’ other hendiest is
To ketch the people nappin’;
It aint by princerples nor men
My preudent course is steadied—
I scent wich pays the best, an’ then
Go into it baldheaded.
I du believe thet holdin’ slaves
Comes nat’ral tu a President,
Let ‘lone the rowdedow it saves
To have a wal-broke precedunt;
Fer any office, small or gret,
I could’nt ax with no face,
Without I’d been, thru dry an’ wet,
The unrizziest kind o’ doughface.
I du believe wutever trash
‘ll keep the people in blindness,—
Thet we the Mexicans can thrash
Right inter brotherly kindness—
Thet bombshells, grape, an’ powder ‘n’ ball
Air good-will’s strongest magnets—
Thet peace, to make it stick at all,
Must be druv in with bagnets.
In short, I firmly du believe
In Humbug generally,
Fer it’s a thing thet I perceive
To hev a solid vally;
This heth my faithful shepherd ben,
In pasturs sweet heth led me,
An’ this’ll keep the people green
To feed ez they have fed me.
Song: To M.L.
A lily thou wast when I saw thee first,
A lily-bud not opened quite,
That hourly grew more pure and white,
By morning, and noontide, and evening nursed:
In all of nature thou hadst thy share;
Thou wast waited on
By the wind and sun;
The rain and the dew for thee took care;
It seemed thou never couldst be more fair.
A lily thou wast when I saw thee first,
A lily-bud; but oh, how strange,
How full of wonder was the change,
When, ripe with all sweetness, thy full bloom burst!
How did the tears to my glad eyes start,
When the woman-flower
Reached its blossoming hour,
And I saw the warm deeps of thy golden heart!
Glad death may pluck thee, but never before
The gold dust of thy bloom divine
Hath dropped from thy heart into mine,
To quicken its faint germs of heavenly lore;
For no breeze comes nigh thee but carries away
Some impulses bright
Of fragrance and light,
Which fall upon souls that are lone and astray,
To plant fruitful hopes of the flower of day.
They are slaves who fear to speak,
For the fallen and the weak;
They are slaves who will not choose,
Hatred, scoffing and abuse;
Rather than in silence shrink,
From the truth their needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be,
In the right with two or three.
Still thirteen years: ’tis autumn now
On field and hill, in heart and brain;
The naked trees at evening sough;
The leaf to the forsaken bough
Sighs not,- ‘Auf wiedersehen!‘
Two watched yon oriole’s pendent dome,
That now is void, and dank with rain,
And one,- oh, hope more frail than foam!
The bird to his deserted home
Sings not,- ‘Auf wiedersehen!‘
The loath gate swings with rusty creak;
Once, parting there, we played at pain:
There came a parting, when the weak
And fading lips essayed to speak
Vainly,- ‘Auf wiedersehen!‘
Somewhere is comfort, somewhere faith,
Though thou in outer dark remain;
One sweet sad voice ennobles death,
And still, for eighteen centuries saith
Softly,- ‘Auf wiedersehen!‘
If earth another grave must bear,
Yet heaven hath won a sweeter strain,
And something whispers my despair,
That, from an orient chamber there,
Floats down, ‘Auf wiedersehen!‘
The Present Crisis
When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth’s aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime
Of the century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.
Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,
When the travail of the Ages wrings earth’s systems to and fro;
At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,
Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth’s yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future’s heart.
So the Evil’s triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where’er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.
For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth’s electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity’s vast frame
Though its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame; –
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide;
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet ’tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.
Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,
That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion’s sea;
Not an ear in court or market for the low foreboding cry
Of those Crises, God’s stern winnowers, from whose feet earth’s chaff must fly;
Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by.
Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s page but record
One death- grapple in the darkness ‘twist old system and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, –
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din,
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within, –
‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.’
Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,
Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;
Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play?
Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.
Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes, – they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,
By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s supreme design.
By the light of burning heretics Christ’s bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back,
And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned
One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned
Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned.
For humanity sweeps onward: where today the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes into History’s golden urn.
‘Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves
Of a legendary virtue carved upon our father’s graves,
Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;
Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time?
Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, that make Plymouth Rock sublime?
They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past’s;
But we make their truth our falsehood thinking that hath made us free,
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee
The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea.
They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom’s new-lit altar-fires;
Shall we make their creed our jailor? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of today?
New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.