Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892

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01. The Wish of Today
02. Forgiveness
03. Autumn Thoughts
04. The Trailing Arbutus
05. Storm on Lake Asquam
06. A Day
07. The Waiting
08. All's Well
09. Trust
10. Overruled
11. Requirement
12. Conduct (From the Mahābhārata)
13. The Light That is Felt
14. Laus Deo!
15. The Eternal Goodness
16. Maud Muller
17. The Corn Song
18. Barbara Frietchie
19. Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
20. Ichabod
21. Telling the Bees
22. The Farewell of a Virginia Slave Mother
23. The Christian Slave
24. The Fishermen
25. The Ship-Builders
26. The Huskers
Links to longer poems

01. The Wish of Today

I ask not now for gold to gild
      With mocking shine a weary frame;
The yearning of the mind is stilled--
      I ask not now for Fame.

A rose-cloud, dimly seen above,
      Melting in heaven's blue depths away--
O! sweet, fond dream of human Love!
      For thee I may not pray.

But, bowed in lowliness of mind,
      I make my humble wishes known--
I only ask a will resigned,
      O Father, to thine own!

Today, beneath thy chastening eye,
      I crave alone for peace and rest,
Submissive in thy hand to lie,
      And feel that it is best.

A marvel seems the Universe,
      A miracle our Life and Death;
A mystery which I cannot pierce,
      Around, above, beneath.

In vain I task my aching brain,
      In vain the sage's thought I scan'
I only feel how weak and vain,
      How poor and blind, is man.

And now my spirit sighs for home,
      And longs for light whereby to see,
And like a weary child, would come,
      O Father, unto Thee!

Though oft, like letters traced on sand,
      My weak resolves have passed away,
In mercy lend thy helping hand
      Unto my prayer today!

02. Forgiveness

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
      Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
      One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial place;
      Where, pondering how all human love and hate
      Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrong-doer, each with meekened face,
      And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
      Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

03. Autumn Thoughts

Gone hath the Spring, with all its flowers,
      And gone the Summer's pomp and show,
And Autumn, in his leafless bowers,
      Is waiting for the Winter's snow.

I said to Earth, so cold and gray,
      "An emblem of myself thou art."
"Not so," the Earth did seem to say,
      "For Spring shall warm my frozen heart."

I soothe my wintry sleep with dreams
      Of warmer sun and softer rain,
And wait to hear the sound of streams
      And songs of merry birds again.

But thou, from whom the Spring hath gone,
      For whom the flowers no longer blow,
Who standest blighted and forlorn,
      Like Autumn waiting for the snow;

No hope is thine of sunnier hours,
      Thy Winter shall no more depart;
No Spring revive thy wasted flowers,
      Nor Summer warm thy frozen heart.

04. The Trailing Arbutus

I wandered lonely where the pine-trees made
Against the bitter East their barricade,
      And, guided by its sweet
Perfume, I found, within a narrow dell,
The trailing spring flower tinted like a shell
      Amid dry leaves and mosses at my feet.

From under dead boughs, for whose loss the pines
Moaned ceaseless overhead, the blossoming vines
      Lifted their glad surprise,
While yet the bluebird smoothed in leafless trees
His feathers ruffled by the chill sea-breeze,
      And snow-drifts lingered under April skies.

As, pausing, o'er the lonely flower I bent,
I thought of lives thus lowly, clogged and pent,
      Which yet find room,
Through care and cumber, coldness and decay,
To lend a sweetness to the ungenial day
      And make the sad earth happier for their bloom.

05. Storm on Lake Asquam

A cloud, like that the old-time Hebrew saw
      On Carmel prophesying rain, began
      To lift itself o'er wooded Cardigan,
Growing and blackening. Suddenly, a flaw

Of chill wind menaced; then a strong blast beat
      Down the long valley's murmuring pines, and woke
      The noon-dream of the sleeping lake, and broke
Its smooth steel mirror at the mountains' feet.

Thunderous and vast, a fire-veined darkness swept
      Over the rough pine-bearded Asquam range;
      A wraith of tempest, wonderful and strange,
From peak to peak the cloudy giant stepped.

One moment, as if challenging the storm,
      Chocorua's tall, defiant sentinel
      Looked from his watch-tower; then the shadow fell,
And the wild rain-drift blotted out his form.

And over all the still unhidden sun,
      Weaving its light through slant-blown veils of rain,
      Smiled on the trouble, as hope smiles on pain;
And, when the tumult and the strife were done,

With one foot on the lake and one on land,
      Framing within his crescent's tinted streak
      A far-off picture of the Melvin peak,
Spent broken clouds the rainbow's angel spanned.

06. A Day

Talk not of sad November, when a day
      Of warm, glad sunshine fills the sky of noon,
      And a wind, borrowed from some morn of June,
Stirs the brown grasses and the leafless spray.

On the unfrosted pool the pillared pines
      Lay their long shafts of shadow: the small rill,
      Singing a pleasant song of summer still,
A line of silver, down the hill-slope shines.

Hushed the bird-voices and the hum of bees,
      In the thin grass the crickets pipe no more;
      But still the squirrel hoards his winter store,
And drops his nut-shells from the shag-bark trees.

Softly the dark green hemlocks whisper: high
      Above, the spires of yellowing larches show,
      Where the woodpecker and home-loving crow
And jay and nut-hatch winter's threat defy.

O gracious beauty, ever new and old!
      O sights and sounds of nature, doubly dear
      When the low sunshine warns the closing year
Of snow-blown fields and waves of Arctic cold!

Close to my heart I fold each lovely thing
      The sweet day yields; and, not disconsolate,
      With the calm patience of the woods I wait
For leaf and blossom when God gives us Spring!

07. The Waiting

An oriflamme is a red banner raised in battle.

I wait and watch: before my eyes
      Methinks the night grows thin and gray;
I wait and watch the eastern skies
To see the golden spears uprise
      Beneath the oriflamme of day!

Like one whose limbs are bound in trance
      I hear the day-sounds swell and grow,
And see across the twilight glance,
Troop after troop, in swift advance,
      The shining ones with plumes of snow!

I know the errand of their feet,
      I know what mighty work is theirs;
I can but lift up hands unmeet,
The threshing-floors of God to beat,
      And speed them with unworthy prayers.

I will not dream in vain despair
      The steps of progress wait for me
The puny leverage of a hair
The planet's impulse well may spare,
      A drop of dew the tided sea.

The loss, if loss there be, is mine,
      And yet not mine if understood;
For one shall grasp and one resign,
One drink life's rue, and one its wine,
      And God shall make the balance good.

Oh power to do! Oh baffled will!
      Oh prayer and action! ye are one.
Who may not strive, may yet fulfil
The harder task of standing still,
      And good but wished with God is done!

08. All's Well

The clouds, which rise with thunder, slake
      Our thirsty souls with rain;
The blow most dreaded falls to break
      From off our limbs a chain;
And wrongs of man to man but make
      The love of God more plain.
As through the shadowy lens of even
The eye looks farthest into heaven
On gleams of star and depths of blue
The glaring sunshine never knew!

09. Trust

The same old baffling questions! O my friend,
I cannot answer them. In vain I send
My soul into the dark, where never burn
      The lamps of science, nor the natural light
Of Reason's sun and stars! I cannot learn
Their great and solemn meanings, nor discern
The awful secrets of the eyes which turn
      Evermore on us through the day and night
      With silent challenge and a dumb demand,
Proffering the riddles of the dread unknown,
Like the calm Sphinxes, with their eyes of stone,
      Questioning the centuries from their veils of sand!
I have no answer for myself or thee,
Save that I learned beside my mother's knee;
"All is of God that is, and is to be;
      And God is good." Let this suffice us still,
      Resting in childlike trust upon His will
Who moves to His great ends unthwarted by the ill.

10. Overruled

The threads our hands in blindness spin
No self-determined plan weaves in;
The shuttle of the unseen powers
Works out a pattern not as ours.

Ah! small the choice of him who sings
What sound shall leave the smitten strings;
Fate holds and guides the hand of art;
The singer's is the servant's part.

The wind-harp chooses not the tone
That through its trembling threads is blown;
The patient organ cannot guess
What hand its passive keys shall press.

Through wish, resolve, and act, our will
Is moved by undreamed forces still;
And no man measures in advance
His strength with untried circumstance.

As streams take hue from shade and sun,
As runs the life the song must run;
But, glad or sad, to His good end
God grant the varying notes may tend!

11. Requirement

We live by Faith; but Faith is not the slave
      Of text and legend. Reason's voice and God's,
      Nature's and Duty's, never are at odds.
What asks our Father of His children, save
Justice and mercy and humility,
      A reasonable service of good deeds,
      Pure living, tenderness to human needs,
Reverence and trust, and prayer for light to see
The Master's footprints in our daily ways?
      No knotted scourge nor sacrificial knife,
      But the calm beauty of an ordered life
Whose very breathing is unworded praise!--
A life that stands as all true lives have stood,
Firm-rooted in the faith that God is Good.

12. Conduct (From the Mahābhārata)

Heed how thou livest. Do no act by day
Which from the night shall drive thy peace away.
In months of sun so live that months of rain
Shall still be happy. Evermore restrain
Evil and cherish good, so shall there be
Another and a happier life for thee.

13. The Light That is Felt

A tender child of summers three,
      Seeking her little bed at night,
Paused on the dark stair timidly.
"Oh, mother! Take my hand," said she,
      "And then the dark will all be light."

We older children grope our way
      From dark behind to dark before;
And only when our hands we lay,
Dear Lord, in Thine, the night is day,
      And there is darkness nevermore.

Reach downward to the sunless days
      Wherein our guides are blind as we,
And faith is small and hope delays;
Take Thou the hands of prayer we raise,
      And let us feel the light of Thee!

14. Laus Deo!

Whittier wrote this to express his joy over the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery.

            It is done!
      Clang of bell and roar of gun
Send the tidings up and down.
      How the belfries rock and reel!
      How the great guns, peal on peal,
Fling the joy from town to town!

            Ring, O bells!
      Every stroke exulting tells
Of the burial hour of crime.
      Loud and long, that all may hear,
      Ring for every listening ear
Of Eternity and Time!

            Let us kneel:
      God's own voice is in that peal,
And this spot is holy ground.
      Lord, forgive us! What are we,
      That our eyes this glory see,
That our ears have heard the sound!

            For the Lord
      On the whirlwind is abroad;
In the earthquake He has spoken;
      He has smitten with His thunder
      The iron walls asunder,
And the gates of brass are broken!

            Loud and long
      Lift the old exulting song;
Sing with Miriam by the sea,
      He has cast the mighty down;
      Horse and rider sink and drown;
"He hath triumphed gloriously!"

            Did we dare,
      In our agony of prayer,
Ask for more than He has done?
      When was ever His right hand
      Over any time or land
Stretched as now beneath the sun?

            How they pale,
      Ancient myth and song and tale,
In this wonder of our days,
      When the cruel rod of war
      Blossoms white with righteous law,
And the wrath of man is praise!

            Blotted out!
      All within and all about
Shall a fresher life begin;
      Freer breathe the universe
      As it rolls its heavy curse
On the dead and buried sin!

            It is done!
      In the circuit of the sun
Shall the sound thereof go forth.
      It shall bid the sad rejoice,
      It shall give the dumb a voice,
It shall belt with joy the earth!

            Ring and swing,
      Bells of joy! On morning's wing
Send the song of praise abroad!
      With a sound of broken chains
      Tell the nations that he reigns,
Who alone is Lord and God!

15. The Eternal Goodness

O Friends! with whom my feet have trod
      The quiet aisles of prayer,
Glad witness to your zeal for God
      And love of man I bear.

I trace your lines of argument;
      Your logic linked and strong
I weigh as one who dreads dissent,
      And fears a doubt as wrong.

But still my human hands are weak
      To hold your iron creeds:
Against the words ye bid me speak
      My heart within me pleads.

Who fathoms the Eternal Thought?
      Who talks of scheme and plan?
The Lord is God! He needeth not
      The poor device of man.

I walk with bare, hushed feet the ground
      Ye tread with boldness shod;
I dare not fix with mete and bound
      The love and power of God.

Ye praise His justice; even such
      His pitying love I deem:
Ye seek a king; I fain would touch
      The robe that hath no seam.

Ye see the curse which overbroods
      A world of pain and loss;
I hear our Lord's beatitudes
      And prayer upon the cross.

More than your schoolmen teach, within
      Myself, alas! I know:
Too dark ye cannot paint the sin,
      Too small the merit show.

I bow my forehead to the dust,
      I veil mine eyes for shame,
And urge, in trembling self-distrust,
      A prayer without a claim.

I see the wrong that round me lies,
      I feel the guilt within;
I hear, with groan and travail-cries,
      The world confess its sin.

Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
      And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
      I know that God is good!

Not mine to look where cherubim
      And seraphs may not see,
But nothing can be good in Him
      Which evil is in me.

The wrong that pains my soul below
      I dare not throne above,
I know not of His hate, -- I know
      His goodness and His love.

I dimly guess from blessings known
      Of greater out of sight,
And, with the chastened Psalmist, own
      His judgments too are right.

I long for household voices gone,
      For vanished smiles I long,
But God hath led my dear ones on,
      And He can do no wrong.

I know not what the future hath
      Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
      His mercy underlies.

And if my heart and flesh are weak
      To bear an untried pain,
The bruisèd reed He will not break,
      But strengthen and sustain.

No offering of my own I have,
      Nor works my faith to prove;
I can but give the gifts He gave,
      And plead His love for love.

And so beside the Silent Sea
      I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
      On ocean or on shore.

I know not where His islands lift
      Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
      Beyond His love and care.

O brothers! if my faith is vain,
      If hopes like these betray,
Pray for me that my feet may gain
      The sure and safer way.

And Thou, O Lord! by whom are seen
      Thy creatures as they be,
Forgive me if too close I lean
      My human heart on Thee!

16. Maud Muller

Maud Muller on a summer's day
Raked the meadow sweet with hay.

Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

But when she glanced to the far-off town
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast,--

A wish that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse's chestnut mane.

He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees, to greet the maid,

And asked a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.

She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

"Thanks!" said the Judge; "a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed."

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her brier-torn gown
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

And listened, while a pleased surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away.

Maud Muller looked and sighed: "Ah me!
That I the Judge's bride might be!

"He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.

"My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a pointed boat.

"I'd dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.

"And I'd feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door."

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

"A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne'er hath it been my lot to meet.

"And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

"Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay.

"No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

"But low of cattle and song of birds,
And health and quiet and loving words."

But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,
And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.

But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth's bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go;

And sweet Maud Muller's hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft, when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;

And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, and with a secret pain,
"Ah, that I were free again!

"Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay."

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.

But care and sorrow, and childbirth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through a wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein;

And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;

The weary wheel to a spinet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned,

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o'er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, "It might have been."

Alas for the maiden, alas for the Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;

And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!

17. The Corn Song

Heap high the farmer's wintry hoard!
      Heap high the golden corn!
No richer gift has Autumn poured
      From out her lavish horn!

Let other lands, exulting, glean
      The apple from the pine,
The orange from its glossy green,
      The cluster from the vine;

We better love the hardy gift
      Our rugged vales bestow,
To cheer us when the storm shall drift
      Our harvest-fields with snow.

Through vales of grass and meads of flowers
      Our ploughs their furrows made,
While on the hills the sun and showers
      Of changeful April played.

We dropped the seed o'er hill and plain
      Beneath the sun of May,
And frightened from our sprouting grain
      The robber crows away.

All through the long, bright days of June
      Its leaves grew green and fair,
And waved in hot midsummer's noon
      Its soft and yellow hair.

And now, with autumn's moonlit eves,
      Its harvest-time has come,
We pluck away the frosted leaves,
      And bear the treasure home.

There, when the snows about us drift,
      And winter winds are cold,
Fair hands the broken grain shall sift,
      And knead its meal of gold.

Let vapid idlers loll in silk
      Around their costly board;
Give us the bowl of samp and milk,
      By homespun beauty poured!

Where'er the wide old kitchen hearth
      Sends up its smoky curls,
Who will not thank the kindly earth
      And bless our farmer girls!

Then shame on all the proud and vain,
      Whose folly laughs to scorn
The blessing of our hardy grain,
      Our wealth of golden corn!

Let earth withhold her goodly root,
      Let mildew blight the rye,
Give to the worm the orchard's fruit,
      The wheat-field to the fly:

But let the good old crop adorn
      The hills our fathers trod;
Still let us, for his golden corn,
      Send up our thanks to God!

18. Barbara Frietchie

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach trees fruited deep,

Fair as the garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

On that pleasant morn of the early fall
When Lee marched o'er the mountain-wall;

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

"Halt!" -- the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
"Fire!" -- out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word;

"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:

All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hillgaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie's grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!

19. Dear Lord and Father of Mankind

This was used as a hymn, which you can hear on YouTube: *

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

20. Ichabod

So fallen! so lost! the light withdrawn
      Which once he wore!
The glory from his gray hairs gone

Revile him not, the Tempter hath
      A snare for all;
And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath,
      Befit his fall!

Oh, dumb be passion's stormy rage,
      When he who might
Have lighted up and led his age,
      Falls back in night.

Scorn! would the angels laugh, to mark
      A bright soul driven,
Fiend-goaded, down the endless dark,
      From hope and heaven!

Let not the land once proud of him
      Insult him now,
Nor brand with deeper shame his dim,
      Dishonored brow.

But let its humbled sons, instead,
      From sea to lake,
A long lament, as for the dead,
      In sadness make.

Of all we loved and honored, naught
      Save power remains;
A fallen angel's pride of thought,
      Still strong in chains.

All else is gone; from those great eyes
      The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies,
      The man is dead!

Then, pay the reverence of old days
      To his dead fame;
Walk backward, with averted gaze,
      And hide the shame!

21. Telling the Bees

A folk custom in many European countries and the U.S. is that it's important to tell the bees about any significant family events. It's especially important to tell the bees whenever a member of the household dies. If they are not told, they might leave the hive, or possibly even worse luck will befall the household.

Here is the place; right over the hill
      Runs the path I took;
You can see the gap in the old wall still,
      And the stepping-stones in the shallow brook.

There is the house, with the gate red-barred,
      And the poplars tall;
And the barn's brown length, and the cattle-yard,
      And the white horns tossing above the wall.

There are the beehives ranged in the sun;
      And down by the brink
Of the brook are her poor flowers, weed-o'errun,
      Pansy and daffodil, rose and pink.

A year has gone, as the tortoise goes,
      Heavy and slow;
And the same rose blows, and the same sun glows,
      And the same brook sings of a year ago.

There's the same sweet clover-smell in the breeze;
      And the June sun warm
Tangles his wings of fire in the trees,
      Setting, as then, over Fernside farm.

I mind me how with a lover's care
      From my Sunday coat
I brushed off the burrs, and smoothed my hair,
      And cooled at the brookside my brow and throat.

Since we parted, a month had passed, --
      To love, a year;
Down through the beeches I looked at last
      On the little red gate and the well-sweep near.

I can see it all now, -- the slantwise rain
      Of light through the leaves,
The sundown's blaze on her window-pane,
      The bloom of her roses under the eaves.

Just the same as a month before, --
      The house and the trees,
The barn's brown gable, the vine by the door, --
      Nothing changed but the hives of bees.

Before them, under the garden wall,
      Forward and back,
Went drearily singing the chore-girl small,
      Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened: the summer sun
      Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
      Gone on the journey we all must go!

Then I said to myself, "My Mary weeps
      For the dead to-day:
Haply her blind old grandsire sleeps
      The fret and the pain of his age away."

But her dog whined low; on the doorway sill,
      With his cane to his chin,
The old man sat; and the chore-girl still
      Sung to the bees stealing out and in.

And the song she was singing ever since
      In my ear sounds on: --
"Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
      Mistress Mary is dead and gone!"

22. The Farewell of a Virginia Slave Mother to her Daughters Sold into Southern Bondage

      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
Where the slave-whip ceaseless swings,
Where the noisome insect stings,
Where the fever demon strews
Poison with the falling dews,
Where the sickly sunbeams glare
Through the hot and misty air;
      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
      From Virginia's hills and waters;
      Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
There no mother's eye is near them,
There no mother's ear can hear them;
Never, when the torturing lash
Seams their back with many a gash,
Shall a mother's kindness bless them,
Or a mother's arms caress them.
      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
      From Virginia's hills and waters;
      Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
Oh, when weary, sad, and slow,
From the fields at night they go,
Faint with toil, and racked with pain,
To their cheerless homes again,
There no brother's voice shall greet them;
There no father's welcome meet them.
      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
      From Virginia's hills and waters;
      Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
From the tree whose shadow lay
On their childhood's place of play;
From the cool spring where they drank;
Rock, and hill, and rivulet bank;
From the solemn house of prayer,
And the holy counsels there;
      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
      From Virginia's hills and waters;
      Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone;
Toiling through the weary day,
And at night the spoiler's prey.
Oh, that they had earlier died,
Sleeping calmly, side by side,
Where the tyrant's power is o'er,
And the fetter galls no more!
      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
      From Virginia's hills and waters;
      Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone.
By the holy love He beareth;
By the bruised reed He spareth;
Oh, may He, to whom alone
All their cruel wrongs are known,
Still their hope and refuge prove,
With a more than mother's love.
      Gone, gone, -- sold and gone,
      To the rice-swamp dank and lone,
      From Virginia's hills and waters;
      Woe is me, my stolen daughters!

23. The Christian Slave

In a publication of L. F. Tasistro -- Random Shots and Southern Breezes -- is a description of a slave auction at New Orleans, at which the auctioneer recommended the woman on the stand as "A GOOD CHRISTIAN!" It was not uncommon to see advertisements of slaves for sale, in which they were described as pious or as members of the church. In one advertisement a slave was noted as "a Baptist preacher."

      A Christian! going, gone!
Who bids for God's own image? for his grace,
Which that poor victim of the market-place
      Hath in her suffering won?

      My God! can such things be?
Hast Thou not said that whatsoe'er is done
Unto Thy weakest and Thy humblest one
      Is even done to Thee?

      In that sad victim, then,
Child of Thy pitying love, I see Thee stand;
Once more the jest-word of a mocking band,
      Bound, sold, and scourged again!

      A Christian up for sale!
Wet with her blood your whips, o'ertask her frame,
Make her life loathsome with your wrong and shame,
      Her patience shall not fail!

      A heathen hand might deal
Back on your heads the gathered wrong of years:
But her low, broken prayer and nightly tears,
      Ye neither heed nor feel.

      Con well thy lesson o'er,
Thou prudent teacher, tell the toiling slave
No dangerous tale of Him who came to save
      The outcast and the poor.

      But wisely shut the ray
Of God's free Gospel from her simple heart,
And to her darkened mind alone impart
      One stern command, Obey!

      So shalt thou deftly raise
The market price of human flesh; and while
On thee, their pampered guest, the planters smile,
      Thy church shall praise.

      Grave, reverend men shall tell
From Northern pulpits how thy work was blest,
While in that vile South Sodom first and best,
      Thy poor disciples sell.

      Oh, shame! the Moslem thrall,
Who, with his master, to the Prophet kneels,
While turning to the sacred Kebla feels
      His fetters break and fall.

      Cheers for the turbaned Bey
Of robber-peopled Tunis! he hath torn
The dark slave-dungeons open, and hath borne
      Their inmates into day:

      But our poor slave in vain.
Turns to the Christian shrine his aching eyes;
Its rites will only swell his market price,
      And rivet on his chain.

      God of all right! how long
Shall priestly robbers at Thine altar stand,
Lifting in prayer to Thee, the bloody hand
      And haughty brow of wrong?

      Oh, from the fields of cane,
From the low rice-swamp, from the trader's cell;
From the black slave-ship's foul and loathsome hell,
      And coffle's weary chain;

      Hoarse, horrible, and strong,
Rises to Heaven that agonizing cry,
Filling the arches of the hollow sky,
      How long, O God, how long?

24. The Fishermen

Hurrah! the seaward breezes
      Sweep down the bay amain;
Heave up, my lads, the anchor!
      Run up the sail again!
Leave to the lubber landsmen
      The rail-car and the steed;
The stars of heaven shall guide us,
      The breath of heaven shall speed.

From the hill-top looks the steeple,
      And the lighthouse from the sand;
And the scattered pines are waving
      Their farewell from the land.
One glance, my lads, behind us,
      For the homes we leave one sigh,
Ere we take the change and chances
      Of the ocean and the sky.

Now, brothers, for the icebergs
      Of frozen Labrador,
Floating spectral in the moonshine,
      Along the low, black shore!
Where like snow the gannet's feathers
      On Brador's rocks are shed,
And the noisy murr are flying,
      Like black scuds, overhead;

Where in mist the rock is hiding,
      And the sharp reef lurks below,
And the white squall smites in summer,
      And the autumn tempests blow;
Where, through gray and rolling vapor,
      From evening unto morn,
A thousand, boats are hailing,
      Horn answering unto horn.

Hurrah! for the Red Island,
      With the white cross on its crown!
Hurrah! for Meccatina,
      And its mountains bare and brown!
Where the Caribou's tall antlers
      O'er the dwarf-wood freely toss,
And the footstep of the Mickmack
      Has no sound upon the moss.

There we'll drop our lines, and gather
      Old Ocean's treasures in,
Where'er the mottled mackerel
      Turns up a steel-dark fin.
The sea's our field of harvest,
      Its scaly tribes our grain;
We'll reap the teeming waters
      As at home they reap the plain!

Our wet hands spread the carpet,
      And light the hearth of home;
From our fish, as in the old time,
      The silver coin shall come.
As the demon fled the chamber
      Where the fish of Tobit lay,
So ours from all our dwellings
      Shall frighten Want away.

Though the mist upon our jackets
      In the bitter air congeals,
And our lines wind stiff and slowly
      From off the frozen reels;
Though the fog be dark around us,
      And the storm blow high and loud,
We will whistle down the wild wind,
      And laugh beneath the cloud!

In the darkness as in daylight,
      On the water as on land,
God's eye is looking on us,
      And beneath us is His hand!
Death will find us soon or later,
      On the deck or in the cot;
And we cannot meet him better
      Than in working out our lot.

Hurrah! hurrah! the west-wind
      Comes freshening down the bay,
The rising sails are filling;
      Give way, my lads, give way!
Leave the coward landsman clinging
      To the dull earth, like a weed;
The stars of heaven shall guide us,
      The breath of heaven shall speed!

25. The Ship-Builders

The sky is ruddy in the east,
      The earth is gray below,
And, spectral in the river-mist,
      The ship's white timbers show.
Then let the sounds of measured stroke
      And grating saw begin;
The broad-axe to the gnarlëd oak,
      The mallet to the pin!

Hark! roars the bellows, blast on blast,
      The sooty smithy jars,
And fire-sparks, rising far and fast,
      Are fading with the stars.
All day for us the smith shall stand
      Beside that flashing forge;
All day for us his heavy hand
      The groaning anvil scourge.

From far-off hills, the panting team
      For us is toiling near;
For us the raftsmen down the stream
      Their island barges steer.
Rings out for us the axe-man's stroke
      In forests old and still;
For us the century-circled oak
      Falls crashing down his hill.

Up! up! in nobler toil than ours
      No craftsmen bear a part:
We make of Nature's giant powers
      The slaves of human Art.
Lay rib to rib and beam to beam,
      And drive the treenails free;
Nor faithless joint nor yawning seam
      Shall tempt the searching sea!

Where'er the keel of our good ship
      The sea's rough field shall plough;
Where'er her tossing spars shall drip
      With salt-spray caught below;
That ship must heed her master's beck,
      Her helm obey his hand,
And seamen tread her reeling deck
      As if they trod the land.

Her oaken ribs the vulture-beak
      Of Northern ice may peel;
The sunken rock and coral peak
      May grate along her keel;
And know we well the painted shell
      We give to wind and wave,
Must float, the sailor's citadel,
      Or sink, the sailor's grave!

Ho! strike away the bars and blocks,
      And set the good ship free!
Why lingers on these dusty rocks
      The young bride of the sea?
Look! how she moves adown the grooves,
      In graceful beauty now!
How lowly on the breast she loves
      Sinks down her virgin prow!

God bless-her! wheresoe'er the breeze
      Her snowy wing shall fan,
Aside the frozen Hebrides,
      Or sultry Hindostan!
Where'er, in mart or on the main,
      With peaceful flag unfurled,
She helps to wind the silken chain
      Of commerce round the world!

Speed on the ship! But let her bear
      No merchandise of sin,
No groaning cargo of despair
      Her roomy hold within;
No Lethean drug for Eastern lands,
      For poison-draught for ours;
But honest fruits of toiling hands
      And Nature's sun and showers.

Be hers the Prairie's golden grain,
      The Desert's golden sand,
The clustered fruits of sunny Spain,
      The spice of Morning-land!
Her pathway on the open main
      May blessings follow free,
And glad hearts welcome back again
      Her white sails from the sea!

26. The Huskers

It was late in mild October, and the long autumnal rain
Had left the summer harvest-fields all green with grass again;
The first sharp frosts had fallen, leaving all the woodlands gay
With the hues of summer's rainbow, or the meadow flowers of May.

Through a thin, dry mist, that morning, the sun rose broad and red,
At first a rayless disk of fire, he brightened as he sped;
Yet, even his noontide glory fell chastened and subdued,
On the cornfields and the orchards, and softly pictured wood.

And all that quiet afternoon, slow sloping to the night,
He wove with golden shuttle the haze with yellow light;
Slanting through the painted beeches, he glorified the hill;
And, beneath it, pond and meadow lay brighter, greener still.

And shouting boys in woodland haunts caught glimpses of that sky,
Flecked by the many-tinted leaves, and laughed, they knew not why;
And school-girls, gay with aster-flowers, beside the meadow brooks,
Mingled the glow of autumn with the sunshine of sweet looks.

From spire and barn looked westerly the patient weathercocks;
But even the birches on the hill stood motionless as rocks.
No sound was in the woodlands, save the squirrel's dropping shell,
And the yellow leaves among the boughs, low rustling as they fell.

The summer grains were harvested; the stubblefields lay dry,
Where June winds rolled, in light and shade, the pale green waves of rye;
But still, on gentle hill-slopes, in valleys fringed with wood,
Ungathered, bleaching in the sun, the heavy corn crop stood.

Bent low, by autumn's wind and rain, through husks that, dry and sere,
Unfolded from their ripened charge, shone out the yellow ear;
Beneath, the turnip lay concealed, in many a verdant fold,
And glistened in the slanting light the pumpkin's sphere of gold.

There wrought the busy harvesters; and many a creaking wain
Bore slowly to the long barn-floor is load of husk and grain;
Till broad and red, as when he rose, the sun sank down, at last,
And like a merry guest's farewell, the day in brightness passed.

And lo! as through the western pines, on meadow, stream, and pond,
Flamed the red radiance of a sky, set all afire beyond,
Slowly o'er the eastern sea-bluffs a milder glory shone,
And the sunset and the moonrise were mingled into one!

As thus into the quiet night the twilight lapsed away,
And deeper in the brightening moon the tranquil shadows lay;
From many a brown old farm-house, and hamlet without name,
Their milking and their home-tasks done, the merry huskers came.

Swung o'er the heaped-up harvest, from pitchforks in the mow,
Shone dimly down the lanterns on the pleasant scene below;
The growing pile of husks behind, the golden ears before,
And laughing eyes and busy hands and brown cheeks glimmering o'er.

Half hidden, in a quiet nook, serene of look and heart,
Talking their old times over, the old men sat apart;
While up and down the unhusked pile, or nestling in its shade,
At hide-and-seek, with laugh and shout, the happy children played.

Urged by the good host's daughter, a maiden young and fair,
Lifting to light her sweet blue eyes and pride of soft brown hair,
The master of the village school, sleek of hair and smooth of tongue,
To the quaint tune of some old psalm, a husking-ballad sung.

Snowbound is Whittier's most famous and critically acclaimed poem, but is very long.

Stanzas for the Times was written in 1835 following a pro-slavery meeting at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Speakers there proposed restrictions on free speech in order to quiet the abolitionists.

The Barefoot Boy is another popular but long poem.

Thanks to Bonnie Buckingham for proofreading this page.

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