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Best Famous John Greenleaf Whittier Poems

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Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |


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 the light withdrawn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, nought 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!

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

The Pumpkin

 Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew,
While he waited to know that his warning was true,
And longed for the storm-cloud, and listened in vain
For the rush of the whirlwind and red fire-rain.
On the banks of the Xenil the dark Spanish maiden Comes up with the fruit of the tangled vine laden; And the Creole of Cuba laughs out to behold Through orange-leaves shining the broad spheres of gold; Yet with dearer delight from his home in the North, On the fields of his harvest the Yankee looks forth, Where crook-necks are coiling and yellow fruit shines, And the sun of September melts down on his vines.
Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West, From North and from South comes the pilgrim and guest; When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board The old broken links of affection restored; When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more, And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before; What moistens the lip and what brightens the eye, What calls back the past, like the rich Pumpkin pie? Oh, fruit loved of boyhood! the old days recalling, When wood-grapes were purpling and brown nuts were falling! When wild, ugly faces we carved in its skin, Glaring out through the dark with a candle within! When we laughed round the corn-heap, with hearts all in tune, Our chair a broad pumpkin, -- our lantern the moon, Telling tales of the fairy who travelled like steam In a pumpkin-shell coach, with two rats for her team! Then thanks for thy present! none sweeter or better E'er smoked from an oven or circled a platter! Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine, Brighter eyes never watched o'er its baking, than thine! And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express, Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less, That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below, And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow, And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky Golden-tinted and fair as thy own Pumpkin pie!

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

My Triumph

 The autumn-time has come; 
On woods that dream of bloom, 
And over purpling vines, 
The low sun fainter shines.
The aster-flower is failing, The hazel's gold is paling; Yet overhead more near The eternal stars appear! And present gratitude Insures the future's good, And for the things I see I trust the things to be; That in the paths untrod, And the long days of God, My feet shall still be led, My heart be comforted.
O living friends who love me! O dear ones gone above me! Careless of other fame, I leave to you my name.
Hide it from idle praises, Save it from evil phrases: Why, when dear lips that spake it Are dumb, should strangers wake it? Let the thick curtain fall; I better know than all How little I have gained, How vast the unattained.
Not by the page word-painted Let life be banned or sainted: Deeper than written scroll The colors of the soul.
Sweeter than any sung My songs that found no tongue; Nobler than any fact My wish that failed of act.
Others shall sing the song, Others shall right the wrong, -- Finish what I begin, And all I fail of win.
What matter, I or they? Mine or another's day, So the right word be said And life the sweeter made? Hail to the coming singers! Hail to the brave light-bringers! Forward I reach and share All that they sing and dare.
The airs of heaven blow o'er me; A glory shines before me Of what mankind shall be, -- Pure, generous, brave, and free.
A dream of man and woman Diviner but still human, Solving the riddle old, Shaping the Age of Gold! The love of God and neighbor; An equal-handed labor; The richer life, where beauty Walks hand in hand with duty.
Ring, bells in unreared steeples, The joy of unborn peoples! Sound, trumpets far off blown, Your triumph is my own! Parcel and part of all, I keep the festival, Fore-reach the good to be, And share the victory.
I feel the earth move sunward, I join the great march onward, And take, by faith, while living, My freehold of thanksgiving.

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Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

A Word for the Hour

 The firmament breaks up.
In black eclipse Light after light goes out.
One evil star, Luridly glaring through the smoke of war, As in the dream of the Apocalypse, Drags others down.
Let us not weakly weep Nor rashly threaten.
Give us grace to keep Our faith and patience; wherefore should we leap On one hand into fratricidal fight, Or, on the other, yield eternal right, Frame lies of laws, and good and ill confound? What fear we? Safe on freedom's vantage ground Our feet are planted; let us there remain In unrevengeful calm, no means untried Which truth can sanction, no just claim denied, The sad spectators of a suicide! They break the lines of Union: shall we light The fires of hell to weld anew the chain On that red anvil where each blow is pain? Draw we not even now a freer breath, As from our shoulders falls a load of death Loathsome as that the Tuscan's victim bore When keen with life to a dead horror bound? Why take we up the accursed thing again? Pity, forgive, but urge them back no more Who, drunk with passion, flaunt disunion's rag With its vile reptile blazon.
Let us press The golden cluster on our brave old flag In closer union, and, if numbering less, Brighter shall shine the stars which still remain.

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

Telling the Bees

 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!"

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

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 bruised 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!

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

What the Birds Said

 The birds against the April wind 
Flew northward, singing as they flew; 
They sang, "The land we leave behind 
Has swords for corn-blades, blood for dew.
" "O wild-birds, flying from the South, What saw and heard ye, gazing down?" "We saw the mortar's upturned mouth, The sickened camp, the blazing town! "Beneath the bivouac's starry lamps, We saw your march-worn children die; In shrouds of moss, in cypress swamps, We saw your dead uncoffined lie.
"We heard the starving prisoner's sighs And saw, from line and trench, your sons Follow our flight with home-sick eyes Beyond the battery's smoking guns.
" "And heard and saw ye only wrong And pain," I cried, "O wing-worn flocks?" "We heard," they sang, "the freedman's song, The crash of Slavery's broken locks! "We saw from new, uprising States The treason-nursing mischief spurned, As, crowding Freedom's ample gates, The long-estranged and lost returned.
"O'er dusky faces, seamed and old, And hands horn-hard with unpaid toil, With hope in every rustling fold, We saw your star-dropt flag uncoil.
"And struggling up through sounds accursed, A grateful murmur clomb the air; A whisper scarcely heard at first, It filled the listening heavens with prayer.
"And sweet and far, as from a star, Replied a voice which shall not cease, Till, drowning all the noise of war, It sings the blessed song of peace!" So to me, in a doubtful day Of chill and slowly greening spring, Low stooping from the cloudy gray, The wild-birds sang or seemed to sing.
They vanished in the misty air, The song went with them in their flight; But lo! they left the sunset fair, And in the evening there was light.

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

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 tree 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 over 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 hill-gaps sunset light Shone over it with a warm good-night.
Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er, And the Rebel rides on his raids nor more.
Honor to her! and let a tear Fall, for her sake, on Stonewalls' bier.
Over Barbara Frietchie's grave, Flag of Freedom and Union, wave! Peace and order and beauty draw Round they symbol of light and law; And ever the stars above look down On thy stars below in Frederick town!

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

Flowers in Winter

 How strange to greet, this frosty morn, 
In graceful counterfeit of flower, 
These children of the meadows, born 
Of sunshine and of showers! 

How well the conscious wood retains 
The pictures of its flower-sown home, 
The lights and shades, the purple stains, 
And golden hues of bloom! 

It was a happy thought to bring 
To the dark season's frost and rime 
This painted memory of spring, 
This dream of summertime.
Our hearts are lighter for its sake, Our fancy's age renews its youth, And dim-remembered fictions take The guise of present truth.
A wizard of the Merrimac, - So old ancestral legends say, - Could call green leaf and blossom back To frosted stem and spray.
The dry logs of the cottage wall, Beneath his touch, put out their leaves; The clay-bound swallow, at his call, Played round the icy eaves.
The settler saw his oaken flail Take bud, and bloom before his eyes; From frozen pools he saw the pale Sweet summer lilies rise.
To their old homes, by man profaned Came the sad dryads, exiled long, And through their leafy tongues complained Of household use and wrong.
The beechen platter sprouted wild, The pipkin wore its old-time green, The cradle o'er the sleeping child Became a leafy screen.
Haply our gentle friend hath met, While wandering in her sylvan quest, Haunting his native woodlands yet, That Druid of the West; And while the dew on leaf and flower Glistened in the moonlight clear and still, Learned the dusk wizard's spell of power, And caught his trick of skill.
But welcome, be it new or old, The gift which makes the day more bright, And paints, upon the ground of cold And darkness, warmth and light! Without is neither gold nor green; Within, for birds, the birch-logs sing; Yet, summer-like, we sit between The autumn and the spring.
The one, with bridal blush of rose, And sweetest breath of woodland balm, And one whose matron lips unclose In smiles of saintly calm.
Fill soft and deep, O winter snow! The sweet azalea's oaken dells, And hide the banks where roses blow And swing the azure bells! O'erlay the amber violet's leaves, The purple aster's brookside home, Guard all the flowers her pencil gives A live beyond their bloom.
And she, when spring comes round again, By greening slope and singing flood Shall wander, seeking, not in vain Her darlings of the wood.

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

Immortal love forever full

 Immortal love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never ebbing sea!

Our outward lips confess the name
All other names above;
Love only knoweth whence it came,
And comprehendeth love.
Blow, winds of God, awake and blow The mists of earth away: Shine out, O Light divine, and show How wide and far we stray.
We may not climb the heavenly steeps To bring the Lord Christ down; In vain we search the lowest deeps, For Him no depths can drown.
But warm, sweet, tender, even yet, A present help is He; And faith still has its Olivet, And love its Galilee.
The healing of His seamless dress Is by our beds of pain; We touch Him in life’s throng and press, And we are whole again.
Through Him the first fond prayers are said Our lips of childhood frame, The last low whispers of our dead Are burdened with His Name.
O Lord and Master of us all, Whate’er our name or sign, We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call, We test our lives by Thine.
The letter fails, the systems fall, And every symbol wanes; The Spirit over brooding all, Eternal Love remains.

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |


 O CHRIST of God! whose life and death 
 Our own have reconciled, 
Most quietly, most tenderly 
 Take home thy star-named child! 

Thy grace is in her patient eyes, 
 Thy words are on her tongue; 
The very silence round her seems 
 As if the angels sung.
Her smile is as a listening child's Who hears its mother's call; The lilies of Thy perfect peace About her pillow fall.
She leans from out our clinging arms To rest herself in Thine; Alone to Thee, dear Lord, can we Our well-beloved resign.
O, less for her than for ourselves We bow our heads and pray; Her setting star, like Bethlehem's, To Thee shall point the way!

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

The Pipes At Lucknow

 Pipes of the misty moorlands,
Voice of the glens and hills;
The droning of the torrents,
The treble of the rills!
Not the braes of bloom and heather,
Nor the mountains dark with rain,
Nor maiden bower, nor border tower,
Have heard your sweetest strain!

Dear to the Lowland reaper,
And plaided mountaineer, -
To the cottage and the castle
The Scottish pipes are dear; -
Sweet sounds the ancient pibroch
O'er mountain, loch, and glade;
But the sweetest of all music
The pipes at Lucknow played.
Day by day the Indian tiger Louder yelled, and nearer crept; Round and round the jungle-serpent Near and nearer circles swept.
'Pray for rescue, wives and mothers, - Pray to-day!' the soldier said; 'To-morrow, death's between us And the wrong and shame we dread.
' Oh, they listened, looked, and waited, Till their hope became despair; And the sobs of low bewailing Filled the pauses of their prayer.
Then up spake a Scottish maiden.
With her ear unto the ground: 'Dinna ye hear it? - dinna ye hear it? The pipes o' Havelock sound!' Hushed the wounded man his groaning; Hushed the wife her little ones; Alone they heard the drum-roll And the roar of Sepoy guns.
But to sounds of home and childhood The Highland ear was true; - As her mother's cradle-crooning The mountain pipes she knew.
Like the march of soundless music Through the vision of the seer, More of feeling than of hearing, Of the heart than of the ear, She knew the droning pibroch, She knew the Campbell's call: 'Hark! hear ye no MacGregor's, The grandest o' them all!' Oh, they listened, dumb and breathless, And they caught the sound at last; Faint and far beyond the Goomtee Rose and fell the piper's blast! Then a burst of wild thanksgiving Mingled woman's voice and man's; 'God be praised! - the march of Havelock! The piping of the clans!' Louder, nearer, fierce as vengeance, Sharp and shrill as swords at strife, Came the wild MacGregor's clan-call, Stinging all the air to life.
But when the far-off dust-cloud To plaided legions grew, Full tenderly and blithesomely The pipes of rescue blew! Round the silver domes of Lucknow.
Moslem mosque and Pagan shrine, Breathed the air to Britons dearest, The air of Auld Lang Syne.
O'er the cruel roll of war-drums Rose that sweet and homelike strain; And the tartan clove the turban, As the Goomtee cleaves the plain.
Dear to the corn-land reaper And plaided mountaineer, - To the cottage and the castle The piper's song is dear.
Sweet sounds the Gaelic pibroch O'er mountain, glen, and glade; But the sweetest of all music The pipes at Lucknow played!

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

An Autograph

 I write my name as one, 
On sands by waves o'errun 
Or winter's frosted pane, 
Traces a record vain.
Oblivion's blankness claims Wiser and better names, And well my own may pass As from the strand or glass.
Wash on, O waves of time! Melt, noons, the frosty rime! Welcome the shadow vast, The silence that shall last! When I and all who know And love me vanish so, What harm to them or me Will the lost memory be? If any words of mine, Through right of life divine, Remain, what matters it Whose hand the message writ? Why should the "crowner's quest" Sit on my worst or best? Why should the showman claim The poor ghost of my name? Yet, as when dies a sound Its spectre lingers round, Haply my spent life will Leave some faint echo still.
A whisper giving breath Of praise or blame to death, Soothing or saddening such As loved the living much.
Therefore with yearnings vain And fond I still would fain A kindly judgment seek, A tender thought bespeak.
And, while my words are read, Let this at least be said: "Whate'er his life's defeatures, He loved his fellow-creatures.
"If, of the Law's stone table, To hold he scarce was able The first great precept fast, He kept for man the last.
"Through mortal lapse and dulness What lacks the Eternal Fulness, If still our weakness can Love Him in loving man? "Age brought him no despairing Of the world's future faring; In human nature still He found more good than ill.
"To all who dumbly suffered, His tongue and pen he offered; His life was not his own, Nor lived for self alone.
"Hater of din and riot He lived in days unquiet; And, lover of all beauty, Trod the hard ways of duty.
"He meant no wrong to any He sought the good of many, Yet knew both sin and folly, -- May God forgive him wholly!"

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

My Psalm

I mourn no more my vanished years
    Beneath a tender rain,
    An April rain of smiles and tears,
    My heart is young again.
The west-winds blow, and, singing low, I hear the glad streams run; The windows of my soul I throw Wide open to the sun.
No longer forward nor behind I look in hope or fear; But, grateful, take the good I find, The best of now and here.
I plough no more a desert land, To harvest weed and tare; The manna dropping from God's hand Rebukes my painful care.
I break my pilgrim staff, I lay Aside the toiling oar; The angel sought so far away I welcome at my door.
The airs of spring may never play Among the ripening corn, Nor freshness of the flowers of May Blow through the autumn morn.
Yet shall the blue-eyed gentian look Through fringed lids to heaven, And the pale aster in the brook Shall see its image given; The woods shall wear their robes of praise, The south-wind softly sigh, And sweet, calm days in golden haze Melt down the amber sky.
Not less shall manly deed and word Rebuke an age of wrong; The graven flowers that wreathe the sword Make not the blade less strong.
But smiting hands shall learn to heal, To build as to destroy; Nor less my heart for others feel That I the more enjoy.
All as God wills, who wisely heeds To give or to withhold, And knoweth more of all my needs Than all my prayers have told.
Enough that blessings undeserved Have marked my erring track; That wheresoe'er my feet have swerved, His chastening turned me back; That more and more a Providence Of love is understood, Making the springs of time and sense Sweet with eternal good; That death seems but a covered way Which opens into light, Wherein no blinded child can stray Beyond the Father's sight; That care and trial seem at last, Through Memory's sunset air, Like mountain-ranges overpast, In purple distance fair; That all the jarring notes of life Seem blending in a psalm, And all the angles of its strife Slow rounding into calm.
And so the shadows fall apart, And so the west-winds play; And all the windows of my heart I open to the day.

Written by John Greenleaf Whittier |

The Worship of Nature

 The harp at Nature's advent strung
Has never ceased to play; 
The song the stars of morning sung
Has never died away.
And prayer is made, and praise is given, By all things near and far; The ocean looketh up to heaven, And mirrors every star.
Its waves are kneeling on the strand, As kneels the human knee, Their white locks bowing to the sand, The priesthood of the sea! They pour their glittering treasures forth, Their gifts of pearl they bring, And all the listening hills of earth Take up the song they sing.
The green earth sends its incense up From many a mountain shrine; From folded leaf and dewy cup She pours her sacred wine.
The mists above the morning rills Rise white as wings of prayer; The altar-curtains of the hills Are sunset's purple air.
The winds with hymns of praise are loud, Or low with sobs of pain, -- The thunder-organ of the cloud, The dropping tears of rain.
With drooping head and branches crossed The twilight forest grieves, Or speaks with tongues of Pentecost From all its sunlit leaves.
The blue sky is the temple's arch, Its transept earth and air, The music of its starry march The chorus of a prayer.
So Nature keeps the reverent frame With which her years began, And all her signs and voices shame The prayerless heart of man.