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by John Greenleaf Whittier |

Burning Drift-Wood

Before my drift-wood fire I sit, 
And see, with every waif I burn, 
Old dreams and fancies coloring it, 
And folly's unlaid ghosts return. 

O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft 
The enchanted sea on which they sailed, 
Are these poor fragments only left 
Of vain desires and hopes that failed? 

Did I not watch from them the light 
Of sunset on my towers in Spain, 
And see, far off, uploom in sight 
The Fortunate Isles I might not gain? 

Did sudden lift of fog reveal 
Arcadia's vales of song and spring, 
And did I pass, with grazing keel, 
The rocks whereon the sirens sing? 

Have I not drifted hard upon 
The unmapped regions lost to man, 
The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John, 
The palace domes of Kubla Khan? 

Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers, 
Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills? 
Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers, 
And gold from Eldorado's hills? 

Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed 
On blind Adventure's errand sent, 
Howe'er they laid their courses, failed 
To reach the haven of Content. 

And of my ventures, those alone 
Which Love had freighted, safely sped, 
Seeking a good beyond my own, 
By clear-eyed Duty piloted. 

O mariners, hoping still to meet 
The luck Arabian voyagers met, 
And find in Bagdad's moonlit street, 
Haroun al Raschid walking yet, 

Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams, 
The fair, fond fancies dear to youth. 
I turn from all that only seems, 
And seek the sober grounds of truth. 

What matter that it is not May, 
That birds have flown, and trees are bare, 
That darker grows the shortening day, 
And colder blows the wintry air! 

The wrecks of passion and desire, 
The castles I no more rebuild, 
May fitly feed my drift-wood fire, 
And warm the hands that age has chilled. 

Whatever perished with my ships, 
I only know the best remains; 
A song of praise is on my lips 
For losses which are now my gains. 

Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost; 
No wisdom with the folly dies. 
Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust 
Shall be my evening sacrifice! 

Far more than all I dared to dream, 
Unsought before my door I see; 
On wings of fire and steeds of steam 
The world's great wonders come to me, 

And holier signs, unmarked before, 
Of Love to seek and Power to save,—
The righting of the wronged and poor, 
The man evolving from the slave; 

And life, no longer chance or fate, 
Safe in the gracious Fatherhood. 
I fold o'er-wearied hands and wait, 
In full assurance of the good. 

And well the waiting time must be, 
Though brief or long its granted days, 
If Faith and Hope and Charity 
Sit by my evening hearth-fire's blaze. 

And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared, 
Whose love my heart has comforted, 
And, sharing all my joys, has shared 
My tender memories of the dead,—

Dear souls who left us lonely here, 
Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom 
We, day by day, are drawing near, 
Where every bark has sailing room. 

I know the solemn monotone 
Of waters calling unto me; 
I know from whence the airs have blown 
That whisper of the Eternal Sea. 

As low my fires of drift-wood burn, 
I hear that sea's deep sounds increase, 
And, fair in sunset light, discern 
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.

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!

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.

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.

by John Greenleaf Whittier |

The Sycamores

 In the outskirts of the village 
On the river's winding shores 
Stand the Occidental plane-trees, 
Stand the ancient sycamores. 

One long century hath been numbered, 
And another half-way told 
Since the rustic Irish gleeman 
Broke for them the virgin mould. 

Deftly set to Celtic music 
At his violin's sound they grew, 
Through the moonlit eves of summer, 
Making Amphion's fable true. 

Rise again, thou poor Hugh Tallant! 
Pass in erkin green along 
With thy eyes brim full of laughter, 
And thy mouth as full of song. 

Pioneer of Erin's outcasts 
With his fiddle and his pack- 
Little dreamed the village Saxons 
Of the myriads at his back. 

How he wrought with spade and fiddle, 
Delved by day and sang by night, 
With a hand that never wearied 
And a heart forever light,--- 

Still the gay tradition mingles 
With a record grave and drear 
Like the rollic air of Cluny 
With the solemn march of Mear. 

When the box-tree, white with blossoms, 
Made the sweet May woodlands glad, 
And the Aronia by the river 
Lighted up the swarming shad, 

And the bulging nets swept shoreward 
With their silver-sided haul, 
Midst the shouts of dripping fishers, 
He was merriest of them all. 

When, among the jovial huskers 
Love stole in at Labor's side 
With the lusty airs of England 
Soft his Celtic measures vied. 

Songs of love and wailing lyke-wake 
And the merry fair's carouse; 
Of the wild Red Fox of Erin 
And the Woman of Three Cows, 

By the blazing hearths of winter 
Pleasant seemed his simple tales, 
Midst the grimmer Yorkshire legends 
And the mountain myths of Wales. 

How the souls in Purgatory 
Scrambled up from fate forlorn 
On St. Keven's sackcloth ladder 
Slyly hitched to Satan's horn. 

Of the fiddler who at Tara 
Played all night to ghosts of kings; 
Of the brown dwarfs, and the fairies 
Dancing in their moorland rings! 

Jolliest of our birds of singing 
Best he loved the Bob-o-link. 
"Hush!" he'd say, "the tipsy fairies! 
Hear the little folks in drink!" 

Merry-faced, with spade and fiddle, 
Singing through the ancient town, 
Only this, of poor Hugh Tallant 
Hath Tradtion handed down. 

Not a stone his grave discloses; 
But if yet his spirit walks 
Tis beneath the trees he planted 
And when Bob-o-Lincoln talks. 

Green memorials of the gleeman! 
Linking still the river-shores, 
With their shadows cast by sunset 
Stand Hugh Tallant's sycamores! 

When the Father of his Country 
Through the north-land riding came 
And the roofs were starred with banners, 
And the steeples rang acclaim,--- 

When each war-scarred Continental 
Leaving smithy, mill,.and farm, 
Waved his rusted sword in welcome, 
And shot off his old king's-arm,--- 

Slowly passed that august Presence 
Down the thronged and shouting street; 
Village girls as white as angels 
Scattering flowers around his feet. 

Midway, where the plane-tree's shadow 
Deepest fell, his rein he drew: 
On his stately head, uncovered, 
Cool and soft the west-wind blew. 

And he stood up in his stirrups, 
Looking up and looking down 
On the hills of Gold and Silver 
Rimming round the little town,--- 

On the river, full of sunshine, 
To the lap of greenest vales 
Winding down from wooded headlands, 
Willow-skirted, white with sails. 

And he said, the landscape sweeping 
Slowly with his ungloved hand 
"I have seen no prospect fairer 
In this goodly Eastern land." 

Then the bugles of his escort 
Stirred to life the cavalcade: 
And that head, so bare and stately 
Vanished down the depths of shade. 

Ever since, in town and farm-house, 
Life has had its ebb and flow; 
Thrice hath passed the human harvest 
To its garner green and low. 

But the trees the gleeman planted, 
Through the changes, changeless stand; 
As the marble calm of Tadmor 
Mocks the deserts shifting sand. 

Still the level moon at rising 
Silvers o'er each stately shaft; 
Still beneath them, half in shadow, 
Singing, glides the pleasure craft; 

Still beneath them, arm-enfolded, 
Love and Youth together stray; 
While, as heart to heart beats faster, 
More and more their feet delay. 

Where the ancient cobbler, Keezar, 
On the open hillside justice wrought, 
Singing, as he drew his stitches, 
Songs his German masters taught. 

Singing, with his gray hair floating 
Round a rosy ample face,--- 
Now a thousand Saxon craftsmen 
Stitch and hammer in his place. 

All the pastoral lanes so grassy 
Now are Traffic's dusty streets; 
From the village, grown a city, 
Fast the rural grace retreats. 

But, still green and tall and stately, 
On the river's winding shores, 
Stand the occidental plane-trees, 
Stand Hugh Tallant's sycamores.

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!

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!

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!

by John Greenleaf Whittier |

The Norsemen ( From Narrative and Legendary Poems )

 GIFT from the cold and silent Past! 
A relic to the present cast, 
Left on the ever-changing strand 
Of shifting and unstable sand, 
Which wastes beneath the steady chime 
And beating of the waves of Time! 
Who from its bed of primal rock 
First wrenched thy dark, unshapely block? 
Whose hand, of curious skill untaught, 
Thy rude and savage outline wrought? 
The waters of my native stream 
Are glancing in the sun's warm beam; 
From sail-urged keel and flashing oar 
The circles widen to its shore; 
And cultured field and peopled town 
Slope to its willowed margin down. 
Yet, while this morning breeze is bringing 
The home-life sound of school-bells ringing, 
And rolling wheel, and rapid jar 
Of the fire-winged and steedless car, 
And voices from the wayside near 
Come quick and blended on my ear,-- 
A spell is in this old gray stone, 
My thoughts are with the Past alone! 

A change! -- The steepled town no more 
Stretches along the sail-thronged shore; 
Like palace-domes in sunset's cloud, 
Fade sun-gilt spire and mansion proud: 
Spectrally rising where they stood, 
I see the old, primeval wood; 
Dark, shadow-like, on either hand 
I see its solemn waste expand; 
It climbs the green and cultured hill, 
It arches o'er the valley's rill, 
And leans from cliff and crag to throw 
Its wild arms o'er the stream below. 
Unchanged, alone, the same bright river 
Flows on, as it will flow forever! 
I listen, and I hear the low 
Soft ripple where its water go; 
I hear behind the panther's cry, 
The wild-bird's scream goes thrilling by, 
And shyly on the river's brink 
The deer is stooping down to drink. 

But hard! -- from wood and rock flung back, 
What sound come up the Merrimac? 
What sea-worn barks are those which throw 
The light spray from each rushing prow? 
Have they not in the North Sea's blast 
Bowed to the waves the straining mast? 
Their frozen sails the low, pale sun 
Of Thulë's night has shone upon; 
Flapped by the sea-wind's gusty sweep 
Round icy drift, and headland steep. 
Wild Jutland's wives and Lochlin's daughters 
Have watched them fading o'er the waters, 
Lessening through driving mist and spray, 
Like white-winged sea-birds on their way! 

Onward they glide, -- and now I view 
Their iron-armed and stalwart crew; 
Joy glistens in each wild blue eye, 
Turned to green earth and summer sky. 
Each broad, seamed breast has cast aside 
Its cumbering vest of shaggy hide; 
Bared to the sun and soft warm air, 
Streams back the Northmen's yellow hair. 
I see the gleam of axe and spear, 
A sound of smitten shields I hear, 
Keeping a harsh and fitting time 
To Saga's chant, and Runic rhyme; 
Such lays as Zetland's Scald has sung, 
His gray and naked isles among; 
Or mutter low at midnight hour 
Round Odin's mossy stone of power. 
The wolf beneath the Arctic moon 
Has answered to that startling rune; 
The Gael has heard its stormy swell, 
The light Frank knows its summons well; 
Iona's sable-stoled Culdee 
Has heard it sounding o'er the sea, 
And swept, with hoary beard and hair, 
His altar's foot in trembling prayer! 

'T is past, -- the 'wildering vision dies 
In darkness on my dreaming eyes! 
The forest vanishes in air, 
Hill-slope and vale lie starkly bare; 
I hear the common tread of men, 
And hum of work-day life again; 
The mystic relic seems alone 
A broken mass of common stone; 
And if it be the chiselled limb 
Of Berserker or idol grim, 
A fragment of Valhalla's Thor, 
The stormy Viking's god of War, 
Or Praga of the Runic lay, 
Or love-awakening Siona, 
I know not, -- for no graven line, 
Nor Druid mark, nor Runic sign, 
Is left me here, by which to trace 
Its name, or origin, or place. 
Yet, for this vision of the Past, 
This glance upon its darkness cast, 
My spirit bows in gratitude 
Before the Giver of all good, 
Who fashioned so the human mind, 
That, from the waste of Time behind, 
A simple stone, or mound of earth, 
Can summon the departed forth; 
Quicken the Past to life again, 
The Present lose in what hath been, 
And in their primal freshness show 
The buried forms of long ago. 
As if a portion of that Thought 
By which the Eternal will is wrought, 
Whose impulse fills anew with breath 
The frozen solitude of Death, 
To mortal mind were sometimes lent, 
To mortal musing sometimes sent, 
To whisper -- even when it seems 
But Memory's fantasy of dreams -- 
Through the mind's waste of woe and sin, 
Of an immortal origin!

by John Greenleaf Whittier |

The Frost Spirit

 He comes, - he comes, - the Frost Spirit comes! 
You may trace his footsteps now 
On the naked woods and the blasted fields 
And the brown hill's withered brow. 
He has smitten the leaves of the gray old trees 
Where their pleasant green came forth, 
And the winds, which follow wherever he goes, 
Have shaken them down to earth. 

He comes, - he comes, - the Frost Spirit comes! 
From the frozen Labrador, 
From the icy bridge of the northern seas, 
Which the white bear wanders o'er, 
Where the fisherman's sail is stiff with ice, 
And the luckless forms below 
In the sunless cold of the lingering night 
Into marble statues grow! 

He comes, - he comes, - the Frost Spirit comes! 
On the rushing Northern blast, 
And the dark Norwegian pines have bowed 
As his fearful breath went past. 
With an unscorched wing he has hurried on, 
Where the fires of Hecla glow 
On the darkly beautiful sky above 
And the ancient ice below. 

He comes, - he comes, - the Frost Spirit comes! 
And the quiet lake shall feel 
The torpid touch of his glazing breath, 
And ring to the skater's heel; 
And the streams which danced on the broken rocks, 
Or sang to the leaning grass, 
Shall bow again to their winter chain, 
And in mournful silence pass. 

He comes, - he comes, - the Frost Spirit comes! 
Let us meet him as we may, 
And turn with the light of the parlor-fire 
His evil power away; 
And gather closer the circle 'round, 
When the firelight dances high, 
And laugh at the shriek of the baffled Fiend 
As his sounding wing goes by!