By James Russell Lowell
(1819 - 1891)
 
 
After the Burial
 
 
YES, faith is a goodly anchor;
  When skies are sweet as a psalm,
At the bows it lolls so stalwart,
  In its bluff, broad-shouldered calm.
 
And when over breakers to leeward
  The tattered surges are hurled,
It may keep our head to the tempest,
  With its grip on the base of the world.
 
But, after the shipwreck, tell me
  What help in its iron thews,
Still true to the broken hawser,
  Deep down among sea-weed and ooze?
 
In the breaking gulfs of sorrow,
  When the helpless feet stretch out
And find in the deeps of darkness
  No footing so solid as doubt,
 
Then better one spar of Memory,
  One broken plank of the Past,
That our human heart may cling to,
  Though hopeless of shore at last!
 
To the spirit its splendid conjectures,
  To the flesh its sweet despair,
Its tears o’er the thin-worn locket
  With its anguish of deathless hair!
 
Immortal? I feel it and know it,
  Who doubts it of such as she?
But that is the pang’s very secret,—
  Immortal away from me.
 
There ’s a narrow ridge in the graveyard
  Would scarce stay a child in his race,
But to me and my thought it is wider
  Than the star-sown vague of Space.
 
Your logic, my friend, is perfect,
  Your moral most drearily true;
But, since the earth clashed on her coffin,
  I keep hearing that, and not you.
 
Console if you will, I can bear it;
  ’T is a well-meant alms of breath;
But not all the preaching since Adam
  Has made Death other than Death.
 
It is pagan; but wait till you feel it,—
  That jar of our earth, that dull shock
When the ploughshare of deeper passion
  Tears down to our primitive rock.
 
Communion in spirit! Forgive me,
  But I, who am earthly and weak,
Would give all my incomes from dream-land
  For a touch of her hand on my cheek.
 
That little shoe in the corner,
  So worn and wrinkled and brown,
With its emptiness confutes you,
  And argues your wisdom down.
 
 
An Autograph
 
 
O’ER the wet sands an insect crept
Ages ere man on earth was known—
And patient Time, while Nature slept,
The slender tracing turned to stone.
 
’T was the first autograph: and ours?
Prithee, how much of prose or song,
In league with the creative powers,
Shall ’scape Oblivion’s broom so long.
24th June, 1886.
 
 
A Stanza on Freedom
 
 
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 they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.
 
 
Auf Wiedersehen
 
Summer
 
 
THE LITTLE gate was reached at last,
  Half hid in lilacs down the lane;
She pushed it wide, and, as she past,
A wistful look she backward cast,
  And said,—“Auf wiedersehen!”
 
With hand on latch, a vision white
  Lingered reluctant, and again
Half doubting if she did aright,
Soft as the dews that fell that night,
  She said,—“Auf wiedersehen!”
 
The lamp’s clear gleam flits up the stair;
  I linger in delicious pain;
Ah, in that chamber, whose rich air
To breathe in thought I scarcely dare,
  Thinks she,—“Auf wiedersehen!”
 
’T is thirteen years; once more I press
  The turf that silences the lane;
I hear the rustle of her dress,
  I smell the lilacs, and—ah, yes,
  I hear,—“Auf wiedersehen!”
 
Sweet piece of bashful maiden art!
  The English words had seemed too fain,
But these—they drew us heart to heart,
Yet held us tenderly apart;
  She said,—“Auf wiedersehen!”
 
 
From “A Fable for Critics”
 
 
TO HIS COUNTRYMEN

THERE are one or two things I should just like to hint,
For you don’t often get the truth told you in print;
The most of you (this is what strikes all beholders)
Have a mental and physical stoop in the shoulders;
Though you ought to be free as the winds and the waves,
You’ve the gait and the manners of runaway slaves;
Though you brag of your New World, you don’t half believe in it;
And as much of the Old as is possible weave in it;
Your goddess of freedom, a tight, buxom girl,
With lips like a cherry and teeth like a pearl,
With eyes bold as Here ’s, and hair floating free,
And full of the sun as the spray of the sea,
Who can sing at a husking or romp at a shearing,
Who can trip through the forests alone without fearing,
Who can drive home the cows with a song through the grass,
Keeps glancing aside into Europe’s cracked glass,
Hides her red hands in gloves, pinches up her lithe waist,
And makes herself wretched with transmarine taste;
She loses her fresh country charm when she takes
Any mirror except her own rivers and lakes.
 
ON HIMSELF

There is Lowell, who’s striving Parnassus to climb
With a whole bale of isms tied together with rhyme,
He might get on alone, spite of brambles and boulders,
But he can’t with that bundle he has on his shoulders,
The top of the hill he will ne’er come nigh reaching
Till he learns the distinction ’twixt singing and preaching;
His lyre has some chords that would ring pretty well,
But he ’d rather by half make a drum of the shell,
And rattle away till he ’s old as Methusalem,
At the head of a march to the last new Jerusalem.
 
 
From “Rhœcus”
 
 
HEAR now this fairy legend of old Greece,
As full of gracious youth and beauty still
As the immortal freshness of that grace
Carved for all ages on some Attic Frieze.
 
  A youth named Rhœcus, wandering in the wood,
Saw an old oak just trembling to its fall,
And, feeling pity of so fair a tree,
He propped its gray trunk with admiring care,
And with a thoughtless footstep loitered on.
But, as he turned, he heard a voice behind
That murmured “Rhœcus!” ’T was as if the leaves,
Stirred by a passing breath, had murmured it,
And, while he paused bewildered, yet again
It murmured “Rhœcus!” softer than a breeze.
He started and beheld with dizzy eyes
What seemed the substance of a happy dream
Stand there before him, spreading a warm glow
Within the green glooms of the shadowy oak.
It seemed a woman’s shape, yet far too fair
To be a woman, and with eyes too meek
For any that were wont to mate with gods.
All naked like a goddess stood she there,
And like a goddess all too beautiful
To feel the guilt-born earthliness of shame.
“Rhœcus, I am the Dryad of this tree,
Thus she began, dropping her low-toned words
Serene, and full, and clear, as drops of dew,
“And with it I am doomed to live and die;
The rain and sunshine are my caterers,
Nor have I other bliss than simple life;
Now ask me what thou wilt, that I can give,
And with a thankful joy it shall be thine.”
 
  Then Rhœcus, with a flutter at the heart,
Yet by the prompting of such beauty bold,
Answered: “What is there that can satisfy
The endless craving of the soul but love?
Give me thy love, or but the hope of that
Which must be evermore my nature’s goal.”
After a little pause she said again,
“But with a glimpse of sadness in her tone,
I give it, Rhœcus, though a perilous gift;
An hour before the sunset meet me here.”
And straightway there was nothing he could see
But the green glooms beneath the shadowy oak,
And not a sound came to his straining ears
But the low trickling rustle of the leaves,
And far away upon an emerald slope
The falter of an idle shepherd’s pipe.
 
  Now, in those days of simpleness and faith,
Men did not think that happy things were dreams
Because they overstepped the narrow bourn
Of likelihood, but reverently deemed
Nothing too wondrous or too beautiful
To be the guerdon of a daring heart.
So Rhœcus made no doubt that he was blest,
And all along unto the city’s gate
Earth seemed to spring beneath him as he walked,
The clear, broad sky looked bluer than its wont,
And he could scarce believe he had not wings,
Such sunshine seemed to glitter through his veins
Instead of blood, so light he felt and strange.
 
  Young Rhœcus had a faithful heart enough,
But one that in the present dwelt too much,
And, taking with blithe welcome whatsoe’er
Chance gave of joy, was wholly bound in that,
Like the contented peasant of a vale,
Deemed it the world, and never looked beyond.
So, haply meeting in the afternoon
Some comrades who were playing at the dice,
He joined them, and forgot all else beside.
 
  The dice were rattling at the merriest,
And Rhœcus, who had met but sorry luck,
Just laughed in triumph at a happy throw,
When through the room there hummed a yellow bee
That buzzed about his ear with down-dropped legs
As if to light. And Rhœcus laughed and said,
Feeling how red and flushed he was with loss,
“By Venus! does he take me for a rose?”
And brushed him off with rough, impatient hand.
But still the bee came back, and thrice again
Rhœcus did beat him off with growing wrath.
Then through the window flew the wounded bee,
And Rhœcus, tracking him with angry eyes,
Saw a sharp mountain-peak of Thessaly
Against the red disk of the setting sun,—
And instantly the blood sank from his heart,
As if its very walls had caved away.
Without a word he turned, and, rushing forth,
Ran madly through the city and the gate,
And o’er the plain, which now the wood’s long shade,
By the low sun thrown forward broad and dim,
Darkened wellnigh unto the city’s wall.
 
  Quite spent and out of breath he reached the tree,
And, listening fearfully, he heard once more
The low voice murmur “Rhœcus!” close at hand:
Whereat he looked around him, but could see
Naught but the deepening glooms beneath the oak.
Then sighed the voice, “O Rhœcus! never-more
Shalt thou behold me or by day or night,
Me, who would fain have blessed thee with a love
More ripe and bounteous than ever yet
Filled up with nectar any mortal heart:
But thou didst scorn my humble messenger,
And sent’st him back to me with bruised wings.
We spirits only show to gentle eyes,
We ever ask an undivided love,
And he who scorns the least of Nature’s works
Is thenceforth exiled and shut out from all.
Farewell! for thou canst never see me more.”
 
  Then Rhœcus beat his breast and groaned aloud,
And cried “Be pitiful! forgive me yet
This once, and I shall never need it more!”
“Alas!” the voice returned, “’t is thou art blind,
Not I unmerciful; I can forgive,
But have no skill to heal thy spirit’s eyes;
Only the soul hath power o’er itself.”
With that again there murmured “Never-more!”
And Rhœcus after heard no other sound,
Except the rattling of the oak’s crisp leaves,
Like the long surf upon a distant shore
Raking the sea-worn pebbles up and down.
The night had gathered round him: o’er the plain
The city sparkled with its thousand lights,
And sounds of revel fell upon his ear
Harshly and like a curse; above, the sky,
With all its bright sublimity of stars,
Deepened, and on his forehead smote the breeze:
Beauty was all around him and delight,
But from that eve he was alone on earth.
 
 
From “The Biglow Papers”
 
 
WHAT MR. ROBINSON THINKS

GUVENER B. is a sensible man;
  He stays to his home an’ looks arter his folks;
He draws his furrer ez straight ez he can,
  An’ into nobody’s tater-patch pokes;
          But John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
 
My! aint it terrible? Wut shall we du?
  We can’t never choose him o’ course,—thet’s flat;
Guess we shall hev to come round, (don’t you?)
  An’ go in fer thunder an’ guns, an’ all that;
          Fer John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez he wunt vote fer Guvener B.
 
Gineral C. is a dreffle smart man:
  He ’s ben on all sides thet give places or pelf;
But consistency still wuz a part of his plan,—
  He ’s ben true to one party,—an’ thet is himself;—
          So John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez he shall vote fer Gineral C.
 
Gineral C. he goes in fer the war;
  He don’t vally princerple morn’n an old cud;
Wut did God make us raytional creeturs fer,
  But glory an’ gunpowder, plunder an’ blood?
          So John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez he shall vote fer Gineral C.
 
We were gittin’ on nicely up here to our village,
  With good old idees o’ wut’s right an’ wut aint,
We kind o’ thought Christ went agin war an’ pillage,
  An’ thet eppyletts worn’t the best mark of a saint;
          But John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez this kind o’ thing’s an exploded idee.
 
The side of our country must ollers be took,
  An’ Presidunt Polk, you know, he is our country.
An’ the angel thet writes all our sins in a book
  Puts the debit to him, an’ to us the per contry;
          An’ John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez this is his view o’ the thing to a T.
 
Parson Wilbur he calls all these argimunts lies;
  Sez they ’re nothin’ on airth but jest fee, faw, fum;
An’ thet all this big talk of our destinies
  Is half on it ign’ance, an’ t’other half rum;
          But John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez it aint no sech thing;an’, of course, so must we.
 
Parson Wilbur sez he never heerd in his life
  Thet th’ Apostles rigged out in their swaller-tail coats,
An’ marched round in front of a drum an’ a fife,
  To git some on ’em office, an’ some on ’em votes;
          But John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez they didn’t know everythin’ down in Judee.
 
Wal, it ’sa marcy we ’ve gut folks to tell us
  The rights an’ the wrongs o’ these matters, I vow,—
God sends country lawyers, an’ other wise fellers,
  To start the world’s team wen it gits in a slough;
          Fer John P.
          Robinson he
    Sez the world ’ll go right, ef he hollers out Gee!
 
THE CANDIDATE’S LETTER

DEAR SIR,—You wish to know my notions
  On sartin pints thet rile the land;
There ’s nothin’ thet my natur so shuns
  Ez bein’ mum or underhand;
I ’m a straight-spoken kind o’ creetur
  Thet blurts right out wut’s in his head,
An’ ef I ’ve one pecooler feetur,
  It is a nose thet wunt be led.
 
So, to begin at the beginnin’
  An’ come direcly to the pint,
I think the country’s underpinnin’
  Is some consid’ble out o’jint;
I aint agoin’ to try your patience
  By tellin’ who done this or thet,
I don’t make no insinooations,
  I jest let on I smell a rat.
 
Thet is, I mean, it seems to me so,
  But, ef the public think I ’m wrong,
I wunt deny but wut I be so,—
  An’, fact, it don’t smell very strong;
My mind’s tu fair to lose its balance
  An’ say wich party hez most sense;
There may be folks o’ greater talence
  Thet can’t set stiddier on the fence.
 
I ’m an eclectic; ez to choosin’
  ’Twixt this an’ thet, I ’m plaguy lawth;
I leave a side thet looks like losin’,
  But (wile there ’s doubt) I stick to both;
I stan’ upon the Constitution,
  Ez preudunt statesmun say, who ’ve planned
A way to git the most profusion
  O’ chances ez to ware they ’ll stand.
 
Ez fer the war, I go agin it,—
  I mean to say I kind o’ du,—
Thet is, I mean thet, bein’ in it,
  The best way wuz to fight it thru;
Not but wut abstract war is horrid,
  I sign to thet with all my heart,—
But civlyzation doos git forrid
  Sometimes upon a powder-cart.
 
About thet darned Proviso matter
  I never hed a grain o’ doubt,
Nor I aint one my sense to scatter
  So ’st no one could n’t pick it out;
My love fer North an’ South is equil,
  So I ’ll jest answer plump an’ frank,
No matter wut may be the sequil,—
  Yes, Sir, I am agin a Bank.
 
Ez to the answerin’ o’ questions,
  I ’m an off ox at bein’ druv,
Though I aint one thet ary test shuns
  I ’ll give our folks a helpin’ shove;
Kind o’ permiscoous I go it
  Fer the holl country, an’ the ground
I take, ez nigh ez I can show it,
  Is pooty gen’ally all round.
 
I don’t appruve o’ givin’ pledges;
  You’d ough’ to leave a feller free,
An’ not fo knockin’ out the wedges
  To ketch his fingers in the tree;
Pledges air awfle breachy cattle
  Thet preudunt farmers don’t turn out,—
Ez long’z the people git their rattle,
  Wut is there fer’m to grout about?
 
Ez to the slaves, there ’s no confusion
  In my idees consarnin’ them,—
I think they air an Institution,
  A sort of—yes, jest so,—ahem:
Do I own any? Of my merit
  On thet pint you yourself may jedge;
All is, I never drink no sperit,
  Nor I haint never signed no pledge.
 
Ez to my princerples, I glory
  In hevin’ nothin’ o’ the sort;
I aint a Wig, I aint a Tory,
  I ’m jest a canderdate, in short;
Thet’s fair an’ square an’ parpendicler
  But, ef the Public cares a fig
To hev me an’thin’ in particler,
  Wy, I ’m a kind o’ peri-Wig.
 
P. S.

EZ we’re a sort o’ privateerin’,
  O’ course, you know, it ’ssheer an’ sheer,
An’ there is suthin’ wuth your hearin’
  I ’ll mention in your privit ear;
Ef you git me inside the White House,
  Your head with ile I ’ll kin’ o’ ’nint
By gittin’ you inside the Light-house
  Down to the eend o’ Jaalam Pint.
 
An’ ez the North hez took to brustlin’
  At bein’scrouged frum off the roost,
I ’ll tell ye wut ’ll save all tusslin’
  An’ give our side a harnsome boost,—
Tell ’em thet on the Slavery question
  I ’m RIGHT, although to speak I ’m lawth;
This gives you a safe pint to rest on,
  An’ leaves me frontin’ South by North.
 
THE COURTIN’

GOD makes sech nights, all white an’ still
  Fur ’z you can look or listen,
Moonshine an’ snow on field an’ hill,
  All silence an’ all glisten.
 
Zekle crep’ up quite unbeknown
  An’ peeked in thru the winder,
An’ there sot Huldy all alone,
  ’ith no one nigh to hender.
 
A fireplace filled the room’s one side
  With half a cord o’ wood in—
There warn’t no stoves (tell comfort died)
  To bake ye to a puddin’.
 
The wa’nut logs shot sparkles out
  Towards the pootiest, bless her,
An’ leetle flames danced all about
  The chiny on the dresser.
 
Agin the chimbley crook-necks hung,
  An’ in amongst ’em rusted
The ole queen’s-arm thet gran’ther Young
  Fetched back f’om Concord busted.
 
The very room, coz she was in,
  Seemed warm f’om floor to ceilin’,
An’ she looked full ez rosy agin
  Ez the apples she was peelin’.
 
’T was kin’ o’ kingdom-come to look
  On sech a blessed cretur;
A dogrose blushin’ to a brook
  Ain’t modester nor sweeter.
 
He was six foot o’ man, A 1,
  Clear grit an’ human natur’;
None could n’t quicker pitch a ton
  Nor dror a furrer straighter.
 
He ’d sparked it with full twenty gals,
  He ’d squired ’em, danced ’em, druv ’em,
Fust this one, an’ then thet, by spells—
  All is, he could n’t love ’em.
 
But long o’ her his veins ’ould run
  All crinkly like curled maple;
The side she breshed felt full o’sun
  Ez a south slope in Ap’il.
 
She thought no v’ice hed sech a swing
  Ez hisn in the choir;
My! when he made Ole Hundred ring,
  She Knowed the Lord was nigher.
 
An’ she ’d blush scarlit, right in prayer,
  When her new meetin’-bunnet
Felt somehow thru its crown a pair
  O’blue eyes sot upun it.
 
Thet night, I tell ye, she looked some!
  She seemed to ’ve gut a new soul,
For she felt sartin-sure he ’d come,
  Down to her very shoe-sole.
 
She heered a foot, an’ knowed it tu,
  A-raspin’ on the scraper,—
All ways to once her feelins flew
  Like sparks in burnt-up paper.
 
He kin’o’l’itered on the mat,
  Some doubtfle o’ the sekle;
His heart kep’ goin’ pity-pat,
  But hern went pity Zekle.
 
An’ yit she gin her cheer a jerk
  Ez though she wished him furder,
An’ on her apples kep’ to work,
  Parin’ away like murder.
 
“You want to see my Pa, I s’pose?”
  “Wal … no … I come dasignin’”—
“To see my Ma? She ’s sprinklin’ clo’es
  Agin to-morrer’s i’nin’.”
 
To say why gals acts so or so,
  Or don’t, ’ould be presumin’;
Mebby to mean yes an’ say no
  Comes nateral to women.
 
He stood a spell on one foot fust,
  Then stood a spell on t’other,
An’ on which one he felt the wust
  He couldn’t ha’ told ye nuther.
 
Says he, “I ’d better call agin”;
  Says she, “Think likely, Mister”;
Thet last word pricked him like a pin,
  An’ … Wal, he up an’ kist her.
 
When Ma bimeby upon ’em slips,
  Huldy sot pale ez ashes,
All kin’o’ smily roun’ the lips
  An’ teary roun’ the lashes.
 
For she was jes’ the quiet kind
  Whose naturs never vary,
Like streams that keep a summer mind
  Snowhid in Jenooary.
 
The blood clost roun’ her heart felt glued
  Too tight for all expressin’,
Tell mother see how metters stood,
  An’ gin’em both her blessin’.
 
Then her red come back like the tide
  Down to the Bay o’Fundy,
An’all I know is they was cried
  In meetin’ come nex’ Sunday.
 
MR. HOSEA BIGLOW TO THE EDITOR OF “THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY”

WHERE ’S Peace? I start, some clear-blown night,
  When gaunt stone walls grow numb an’ number,
An’ creakin’ ’cross the snow-crus’ white,
  Walk the col’ starlight into summer;
Up grows the moon, an’ swell by swell
  Thru the pale pasturs silvers dimmer
Than the last smile thet strives to tell
  O’ love gone heavenward in its shimmer.
 
I hev ben gladder o’ sech things
  Than cocks o’spring or bees o’clover,
They filled my heart with livin’ springs,
  But now they seem to freeze ’em over;
Sights innercent ez babes on knee,
  Peaceful ez eyes o’ pastur’d cattle,
Jes’ coz they be so, seem to me
  To rile me more with thoughts o’ battle.
 
Indoors an’ out by spells I try;
  Ma’am Natur’ keeps her spin-wheel goin’,
But leaves my natur’ stiff and dry
  Ez fiel’s o’ clover arter mowin’;
An’ her jes’ keepin’ on the same,
  Calmer ’n a clock, an’ never carin’,
An’ findin’ nary thing to blame,
  Is wus than ef she took to swearin’.
 
Rat-tat-tat-tattle thru the street
  I hear the drummers makin’ riot,
An’ I set thinkin’ o’ the feet
  Thet follered once an’ now are quiet,—
White feet ez snowdrops innercent,
  Thet never knowed the paths o’ Satan,
Whose comin’ step ther’s ears thet won’t,
  No, not lifelong, leave off awaitin’.
 
Why, hain’t I held ’em on my knee?
  Didn’t I love to see ’em growin’,
Three likely lads ez wal could be,
  Hahnsome an’ brave an’ not tu knowin’?
I set an’look into the blaze
  Whose natur’, jes’ like theirn, keeps climbin’,
Ez long ’z it lives, in shinin’ ways,
  An’ half despise myself for rhymin’.
 
Wut ’s words to them whose faith an’ truth
  On War’s red techstone rang true metal,
Who ventered life an’ love an’ youth
  For the gret prize o’ death in battle?
To him who, deadly hurt, agen
  Flashed on afore the charge’s thunder,
Tippin’ with fire the bolt of men
  Thet rived the Rebel line asunder?
 
’Tain’t right to hev the young go fust,
  All throbbin’ full o’ gifts an’ graces,
Leavin’ life’s paupers dry ez dust
  To try an’ make b’lieve fill their places:
Nothin’ but tells us wut we miss,
  Ther’s gaps our lives can’t never fay in,
An’ thet world seems so fur from this
  Lef’ for us loafers to grow gray in!
 
My eyes cloud up for rain; my mouth
  Will take to twitchin’ roun’ the corners;
I pity mothers, tu, down South,
  For all they sot among the scorners:
I ’d sooner take my chance to stan’
  At Jedgment where your meanest slave is,
Than at God’s bar hol’ up a han’
  Ez drippin’ red ez yourn, Jeff Davis!
 
Come, Peace! not like a mourner bowed
  For honor lost an’ dear ones wasted,
But proud, to meet a people proud,
  With eyes thet tell o’ triumph tasted!
Come, with han’ grippin’ on the hilt,
  An’ step thet proves ye Victory’s daughter!
Longin’ for you, our sperits wilt
  Like shipwrecked men’s on raf’s for water.
 
Come, while our country feels the lift
  Of a gret instinct shoutin’ “Forwards!”
An’ knows thet freedom ain’t a gift
  Thet tarries long in han’s o’cowards!
Come, sech ez mothers prayed for, when
  They kissed their cross with lips thet quivered,
An’ bring fair wages for brave men,
  A nation saved, a race delivered!
 
 
From “The Vision of Sir Launfal”
 
 
  FOR a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we buy with a whole soul’s tasking;
  ’T is heaven alone that is given away,
’T is only God may be had for the asking;
No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.
 
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,
  A tilt 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,
’T is 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 other 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!
 
 
Hebe
 
 
  I SAW the twinkle of white feet,
I saw the flash of robes descending;
  Before her ran an influence fleet,
That bowed my heart like barely 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.
 
 
In a Copy of Omar Khayyám
 
 
THESE pearls of thought in Persian gulfs were bred,
Each softly lucent as a rounded moon;
The diver Omar plucked them from their bed,
Fitzgerald strung them on an English thread.
 
Fit rosary for a queen, in shape and hue,
When Contemplation tells her pensive beads
Of mortal thoughts, forever old and new.
Fit for a queen? Why, surely then for you!
 
The moral? Where Doubt’s eddies toss and twirl
Faith’s slender shallop till her footing reel,
Plunge: if you find not peace beneath the whirl,
Groping, you may like Omar grasp a pearl.
 
 
International Copyright
 
 
IN vain we call old notions fudge,
  And bend our conscience to our dealing;
The Ten Commandments will not budge,
  And stealing will continue stealing.
 
 
In the Twilight
 
 
MEN say the sullen instrument,
  That, from the Master’s bow,
  With pangs of joy or woe,
Feels music’s soul through every fibre sent,
  Whispers the ravished strings
More than he knew or meant;
  Old summers in its memory glow;
  The secrets of the wind it sings;
  It hears the April-loosened springs;
    And mixes with its mood
    All it dreamed when it stood
    In the murmurous pine-wood
          Long ago!
The magical moonlight then
  Steeped every bough and cone;
The roar of the brook in the glen
  Came dim from the distance blown;
The wind through its glooms sang low,
  And it swayed to and fro
    With delight as it stood
    In the wonderful wood,
          Long ago!
 
O my life, have we not had seasons
  That only said, Live and rejoice?
That asked not for causes and reasons,
  But made us all feeling and voice?
When we went with the winds in their blowing,
  When Nature and we were peers,
And we seemed to share in the flowing
  Of the inexhaustible years?
  Have we not from the earth drawn juices
  Too fine for earth’s sordid uses?
    Have I heard, have I seen
      All I feel, all I know?
    Doth my heart overween?
    Or could it have been
          Long ago?
 
Sometimes a breath floats by me,
  An odor from Dreamland sent,
That makes the ghost seem nigh me
  Of a splendor that came and went,
Of a life lived somewhere, I know not
  In what diviner sphere,
Of memories that stay not and go not,
  Like music heard once by an ear
    That cannot forget or reclaim it,
    A something so shy, it would shame it
      To make it a show,
    A something too vague, could I name it,
      For others to know,
    As if I had lived it or dreamed it,
    As if I had acted or schemed it,
          Long ago!
 
And yet, could I live it over,
  This life that stirs in my brain,
Could I be both maiden and lover,
Moon and tide, bee and clover,
  As I seem to have been, once again,
Could I but speak it and show it,
  This pleasure more sharp than pain,
    That baffles and lures me so,
The world should once more have a poet,
    Such as it had
    In the ages glad,
          Long ago!
 
 
Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration
 
July 21, 1865
 
 
I

    WEAK-WINGED is song,
Nor aims at that clear-ethered height
Whither the brave deed climbs for light:
    We seem to do them wrong,
Bringing our robin’s-leaf to deck their hearse
Who in warm life-blood wrote their nobler verse,
Our trivial song to honor those who come
With ears attuned to strenuous trump and drum,
And shaped in squadron-strophes their desire,
Live battle-odes whose lines were steel and fire,
    Yet sometimes feathered words are strong,
A gracious memory to buoy up and save
From Lethe ’s dreamless ooze, the common grave
    Of the unventurous throng.
 
II

To-day our Reverend Mother welcomes back
Her wisest Scholars, those who understood
The deeper teaching of her mystic tome,
And offered their fresh lives to make it good:
    No lore of Greece or Rome,
No science peddling with the names of things,
Or reading stars to find inglorious fates,
    Can lift our life with wings
Far from Death’s idle gulf that for the many waits
    And lengthen out our dates
With that clear fame whose memory sings
In manly hearts to come, and nerves them and dilates:
Nor such thy teaching, Mother of us all!
    Not such the trumpet-call
    Of thy diviner mood,
    That could thy sons entice
From happy homes and toils, the fruitful nest
Of those half-virtues which the world calls best,
    Into War’s tumult rude;
    But rather far that stern device
The sponsors chose that round thy cradle stood
    In the dim, unventured wood,
    The VERITAS that lurks beneath
    The letter’s unprolific sheath,
Life of whate’er makes life worth living,
Seed-grain of high emprise, immortal food,
One heavenly thing whereof earth hath the giving.
 
III

Many loved Truth, and lavished life’s best oil
  Amid the dust of books to find her,
Content at last, for guerdon of their toil,
  With the cast mantle she hath left behind her.
    Many in sad faith sought for her,
    Many with crossed hands sighed for her;
    But these our brothers, fought for her,
    At life’s dear peril wrought for her,
    So loved her that they died for her,
    Tasting the raptured fleetness
    Of her divine completeness:
      Their higher instinct knew
Those love her best who to themselves are true,
And what they dare to dream of, dare to do;
    They followed her and found her
    Where all may hope to find,
Not in the ashes of the burnt-out mind,
But beautiful, with danger’s sweetness round her
    Where faith made whole with deed
    Breathes its awakening breath
    Into the lifeless creed,
    They saw her plumed and mailed,
    With sweet, stern face unveiled,
And all-repaying eyes, look proud on them in death
 
IV

Our slender life runs rippling by, and glides
  Into the silent hollow of the past;
      What is there that abides
  To make the next age better for the last?
      Is earth too poor to give us
  Something to live for here that shall outlive us?
      Some more substantial boon
Than such as flows and ebbs with Fortune’s
      The little that we see
      From doubt is never free;
      The little that we do
      Is but half-nobly true;
      With our laborious hiving
What men call treasure, and the gods call dross,
  Life seems a jest of Fate’s contriving,
  Only secure in every one’s conniving,
A long account of nothings paid with loss,
Where we poor puppets, jerked by unseen wires,
After our little hour of strut and rave,
With all our pasteboard passions and desires,
Loves, hates, ambitions, and immortal fires,
Are tossed pell-mell together in the grave.
But stay! no age was e’er degenerate,
Unless men held it at too cheap a rate,
For in our likeness still we shape our fate.
    Ah, there is something here
  Unfathomed by the cynic’s seer,
  Something that gives our feeble light
  A high immunity from Night,
Something that leaps life’s narrow bars
To claim its birthright with the hosts of heaven;
  A seed of sunshine that can leaven
Our earthly dullness with the beams of stars,
      And glorify our clay
With light from fountains elder than the Day;
  A conscience more divine than we,
  A gladness fed with secret tears,
  A vexing, forward-reaching sense
  Of some more noble permanence;
    A light across the sea,
Which haunts the soul and will not let it be,
Still becoming from the heights of undegenerate years.
 
V

    Whither leads the path
      To ampler fates that leads?
      Not down through flowery meads,
      To reap an aftermath
    Of youth’s vainglorious weeds,
    But up the steep, amid the wrath
    And shock of deadly-hostile creeds,
    Where the world’s best hope and stay
By battle’s flashes gropes a desperate way,
And every turf the fierce foot clings to bleeds.
    Peace hath her not ignoble wreath,
    Ere yet the sharp, decisive word
Light the black lips of cannon, and the sword
      Dreams in its easeful sheath;
But some day the live coal behind the thought
      Whether from Baäl’s stone obscence,
      Or from the shrine serene
      Of God’s pure altar brought,
Bursts up in flame; the war of tongue and pen
Learns with what deadly purpose it was fraught,
And, helpless in the fiery passion caught,
Shakes all the pillared state with shock of men:
Some day the soft Ideal that we wooed
Confronts us fiercely, foe-beset, pursued,
And cries reproachful: “Was it, then, my praise,
And not myself was loved? Prove now thy truth;
I claim of thee the promise of thy youth;
Give me thy life, or cower in empty phrase,
The victim of thy genius, not its mate!”
  Life may be given in many ways,
  And loyalty to Truth be sealed,
As bravely in the closet as the field,
    So bountiful is Fate;
    But then to stand beside her,
    When craven churls deride her,
To front a lie in arms and not to yield,
    This shows, methinks, God’s plan
    And measure of a stalwart man,
    Limbed like the old heroic breeds,
Who stand self-poised on manhood’s solid earth,
Not forced to frame excuses for his birth,
Fed from within with all the strength he needs.
 
VI

    Such was he, our Martyr-Chief,
    Whom late the Nation he had led,
    With ashes on her head,
Wept with the passion of an angry grief:
Forgive me, if from present things I turn
To speak what in my heart will beat and burn,
And hang my wreath on his world-honored urn.
      Nature, they say, doth dote,
      And cannot make a man
      Save on some worn-out plan,
      Repeating us by rote:
For him her Old-World moulds aside she threw,
And, choosing sweet clay from the breast
      Of the unexhausted West,
With stuff untainted shaped a hero new,
Wise, steadfast in the strength of God, and true.
      How beautiful to see
Once more a shepherd of mankind indeed,
Who loved his charge, but never loved to lead;
One whose meek flock the people joyed to be,
    Not lured by any cheat of birth,
    But by his clear-grained human worth,
And brave old wisdom of sincerity!
    They knew that outward grace is dust;
    They could not choose but trust
In that sure-footed mind’s unfaltering skill,
      And supple-tempered will
That bent like perfect steel to spring again and thrust.
His was no lonely mountain-peak of mind,
Thrusting to thin air o’er our cloudy bars,
A sea-mark now, now lost in vapor’s blind;
Broad prairie rather, genial, level-lined,
Fruitful and friendly for all human kind,
Yet also nigh to heaven and loved of loftiest stars.
      Nothing of Europe here,
Or, then, of Europe fronting mornward still,
    Ere any names of Serf and Peer
    Could Nature’s equal scheme deface
    And thwart her genial will;
Here was a type of the true elder race,
And one of Plutarch’s men talked with us face to face.
    I praise him not; it were too late,
And some innative weakness there must be
In him who condescends to victory
Such as the Present gives, and cannot wait,
    Safe in himself as in a fate.
      So always firmly he:
      He knew to bide his time,
      And can his fame abide,
Still patient in his simple faith sublime,
    Till the wise years decide.
  Great captains, with their guns and drums,
    Disturb our judgment for the hour,
      But at last silence comes;
These all are gone, and, standing like a tower,
  Our children shall behold his fame,
The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame,
New birth of our new soil, the first American.
 
VII

Long as man’s hope insatiate can discern
Or only guess some more inspiring goal
Outside of Self, enduring as the pole,
Along whose course the flying axles burn
Of spirits bravely-pitched, earth’s manlier brood,
    Long as below we cannot find
The meed that stills the inexorable mind;
So long this faith to some ideal Good,
Under whatever mortal names it masks,
Freedom, Law, Country, this ethereal mood
That thanks the Fates for their severer tasks,
  Feeling its challenged pulses leap,
While others skulk in subterfuges cheap,
And, set in Danger’s van, has all the boon it asks,
  Shall win man’s praise and woman’s love,
  Shall be a wisdom that we set above
All other skills and gifts to culture dear,
A virtue round whose forehead we inwreathe
Laurels that with a living passion breathe
When other crowns grow, while we twine them, sear.
What brings us thronging these high rites to pay,
And seal these hours the noblest of our year,
Save that our brothers found this better way?
 
VIII

  We sit here in the Promised Land
  That flow with Freedom’s honey and milk;
  But ’t was they won it, sword in hand,
Making the nettle danger soft for us as silk.
We welcome back our bravest and out best;—
Ah me! not all! some come not with the rest,
Who went forth brave and bright as any here!
I strive to mix some gladness with my strain,
        But the sad strings complain,
        And will not please the ear:
I sweep them for a pæn, but they wane
        Again and yet again
Into a dirge, and die away, in pain.
In these brave ranks I only see the gaps,
Thinking of dear ones whom the dumb turf wraps,
Dark to the triumph which they died to gain:
    Fitlier may others greet the living,
    For me the past is unforgiving;
        I with uncovered head
        Salute the sacred dead,
Who went, and who return not.—Say not so!
’T is not the grapes of Canaan that repay,
But the high faith that failed not by the way;
Virtue treads paths that end not in the grave,
No bar of endless night exiles the brave;
        And to the saner mind
We rather seem the dead that stayed behind.
Blow, trumpets, all your exultations blow!
For never shall their aureoled presence lack:
I see them muster in a gleaming row,
With ever-youthful brows that nobler show;
We find in our dull road their shining track;
        In every nobler mood
We feel the orient of their spirit glow,
Part of our life’s unalterable good,
Of all our saintlier aspiration;
        They come transfigured back,
Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
Beautiful evermore, and with the rays
Of morn of their white Shields of Expectation!
 
IX

        But is there hope to save
Even this ethereal essence from the grave?
What ever ’scaped Oblivion’s subtle wrong
Save a few clarion names, or golden threads of song?
        Before my nursing eye
The mighty ones of old sweep by,
Disvoicëd now and insubstantial things,
As noisy once as we; poor ghosts of kings,
Shadows of empire wholly gone to dust,
And many races, nameless long ago,
To darkness driven by that imperious gust
Of ever-rushing Time that here doth Blow:
O visionary world, condition strange,
Where naught abiding is but only Change,
Where the deep-bolted stars themselves still shift and range!
Shall we to more continuance make pretence?
Renown builds tombs; a life-estate is Wit;
        And, bit by bit,
The cunning years steal all from us but woe;
Leaves are we, whose decays no harvest sow.
      But, when we vanish hence,
Shall they lie forceless in the dark below,
Save to make green their little length of sods,
Or deepen pansies for a year or two,
Who now to us are shining-sweet as gods?
Was dying all they had the skill to do?
That were not fruitless: but the Soul resents
Such short-lived service, as if blind events
Ruled without her, or earth could so endure,
She claims a more divine investiture
Of longer tenure than Fame’s airy rents;
Whate’er she touches doth her nature share;
Her inspiration haunts the ennobled air,
      Gives eyes to mountains blind,
Ears to the deaf earth, voices to the wind,
And her clear trump sings succor everywhere
By lonely bivouacs to the wakeful mind;
For soul inherits all that soul could dare:
      Yea, Manhood hath a wider span
And larger privilege of life than man.
The single deed, the private sacrifice,
So radiant now through proudly-hidden tears,
Is covered up erelong from mortal eyes
With thoughtless drift of the deciduous years,
But that high privilege that makes all men peers,
That leap of heart whereby a people rise
        Up to a noble anger’s height,
And, flamed on by the Fates, not shrink, but grow more bright,
That swift validity in noble veins,
Of choosing danger and disdaining shame,
        Of being set on flame
By the pure fire that flies all contact base
By wraps its chosen with angelic might,
        These are imperishable gains,
Sure as the sun, medicinal as light,
These hold great futures in their lusty reins
And certify to earth a new imperial race.
 
X

        Who now shall sneer?
    Who dare again to say we trace
    Our lines to a plebeian race?
        Roundhead and Cavalier!
Dumb are those names erewhile in battle loud,
Dream-footed as the shadow of a cloud,
  They fit across the ear:
That is best blood that hath most iron in ’t
To edge resolve with, pouring without stint
      For what makes manhood dear.
    Tell us not of Plantagenets,
Hapsburgs, and Guelfs, whose thin bloods crawl
Down from some victor in a border-brawl!
    How poor their outworn coronets,
Matched with one leaf of that plain civic wreath
Our brave for honor’s blazon shall bequeath,
Through whose desert a rescued Nation sets
Her heel on treason, and the trumpet hears
Shout victory, tingling Europe’s sullen ears
With vain revetment and more vain regrets!
 
XI

      Not in anger, not in pride,
      Pure from passion’s mixture rude
      Ever to base earth allied,
      But with far-heard gratitude,
      Still with heart and voice renewed,
To heroes living and dear martyrs dead,
The strain should close that consecrates our brave.
  Lift the heart and lift the head!
      Lofty be its mood and grave,
      Not without a martial ring,
      Not without a prouder tread
      And a peal of exultation:
      Little right has he to sing
      Through whose heart in such a hour
      Beats no march of conscious power,
      Sweeps no tumult of elation!
      T’ is no Man we celebrate,
      By his country’s victories great,
A hero half, and half the whim of Fate,
      But the pith and marrow of a Nation
      Drawing force from all her men,
      Highest, humblest, weakest, all,
      For her time of need, and then
      Pulsing it again through them,
Till the basest can no longer cower,
Feeling his soul spring up divinely tall,
Touched but in passing by her mantle-hem.
Come back, then, noble pride, for ’t is her dower!
      How could poet ever tower,
      If his passions, hopes, and fears,
      If his triumphs and his tears,
      Kept not measure with his people?
Boom, cannon, boom to all the winds and waves!
Clash out, glad bells, from every rocking steeple!
Banners, a-dance with triumph, bend your staves!
    And from every mountain-peak
Let beacon-fire to answering beacon speak,
Katahdin tell Monadnock, Whiteface he,
And so leap on in light from sea to sea,
      Till the glad news be sent
      Across a kindling continent,
Making earth feel more firm and air breathe braver:
“Be proud! for she is saved, and all have helped to save her!
She that lifts up the manhood of the poor,
She of the open soul and open door,
With room about her hearth for all mankind!
The fire is dreadful in her eyes no more;
From her bold front the helm she doth unbind,
Sends all her handmaid armies back to spin,
And bids her navies, that so lately hurled
Their crashing battle, hold their thunders in.
Swimming like birds of calm along the unharmful shore.
No challenge sends she to the elder world,
That looked askance and hated; a light scorn
Plays o’er her mouth, as round her mighty knees
She calls her children back, and waits the morn
Of nobler day, enthroned between her subject seas.”
 
XII

Bow down, dear Land, for thou hast found release!
  Thy God, in these distempered days,
Hath taught thee the sure wisdom of His ways,
And through thine enemies hath wrought thy peace!
      Bow down in prayer and praise!
No poorest in thy borders but may now
Lift to the juster skies a man’s enfranchised brow.
O Beautiful! my Country! ours once more!
Smoothing thy gold of war-dishevelled hair
O’er such sweet brows as never other wore,
      And letting thy set lips,
      Freed from wrath’s pale eclipse,
The rosy edges of their smile lay bare,
What words divine of lover or of poet
Could tell our love and make thee know it,
Among the Nations bright beyond compare?
      What were our lives without thee?
      What all our lives to save thee?
      We reck not what we gave thee;
      We will not dare to doubt thee,
But ask whatever else, and we will dare!
 
 
Palinode
 
Autumn
 
 
STILL thirteen years: ’t is 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!”
 
 
She Came and Went
 
 
AS a twig trembles, which a bird
  Lights on to sing, then leaves unbent,
So is my memory thrilled and stirred;—
  I only know she came and went.
 
As clasps some lake, by gusts unriven,
  The blue dome’s measureless content,
So my soul held that moment’s heaven;—
  I only know she came and went.
 
As, at one bound, our swift spring heaps
  The orchards full of bloom and scent,
So clove her May my wintry sleeps;—
  I only know she came and went.
 
An angel stood and met my gaze,
  Through the low doorway of my tent;
The tent is struck, the vision stays;—
  I only know she came and went.
 
Oh, when the room grows slowly dim,
  And life’s last oil is nearly spent,
One gush of light these eyes will brim,
  Only to think she came and went.
 
 
The First Snow-Fall
 
 
THE SNOW had begun in the gloaming,
  And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
  With a silence deep and white.
 
Every pine and fir and hemlock
  Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
  Was ridged inch deep with pearl.
 
From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
  Came Chanticleer’s muffled crow,
The stiff rails softened to swan’s-down,
  And still fluttered down the snow.
 
I stood and watched by the window
  The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
  Like brown leaves whirling by.
 
I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
  Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
  As did robins the babes in the wood.
 
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
  Saying, “Father, who makes it snow?”
And I told of the good All-father
  Who cares for us here below.
 
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
  And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o’er our first great sorrow,
  When that mound was heaped so high.
 
I remembered the gradual patience
  That fell from that cloud like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
  The scar that renewed our woe.
 
And again to the child I whispered,
  “The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
  Alone can make it fall!”
 
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
  And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
  Folded close under deepening snow.
 
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