To The Future

A poem by James Russell Lowell

O Land of Promise! from what Pisgah's height
Can I behold thy stretch of peaceful bowers,
Thy golden harvests flowing out of sight,
Thy nestled homes and sun-illumined towers?
Gazing upon the sunset's high-heaped gold,
Its crags of opal and of chrysolite,
Its deeps on deeps of glory, that unfold
Still brightening abysses,
And blazing precipices,
Whence but a scanty leap it seems to heaven,
Sometimes a glimpse is given
Of thy more gorgeous realm, thy more unstinted blisses.

O Land of Quiet! to thy shore the surf
Of the perturbèd Present rolls and sleeps;
Our storms breathe soft as June upon thy turf
And lure out blossoms; to thy bosom leaps,
As to a mother's, the o'erwearied heart,
Hearing far off and dim the toiling mart,
The hurrying feet, the curses without number,
And, circled with the glow Elysian
Of thine exulting vision,
Out of its very cares wooes charms for peace and slumber.

To thee the earth lifts up her fettered hands
And cries for vengeance; with a pitying smile
Thou blessest her, and she forgets her bands,
And her old woe-worn face a little while
Grows young and noble; unto thee the Oppressor
Looks, and is dumb with awe;
The eternal law,
Which makes the crime its own blindfold redresser,
Shadows his heart with perilous foreboding,
And he can see the grim-eyed Doom
From out the trembling gloom
Its silent-footed steeds towards his palace goading.

What promises hast thou for Poets' eyes,
A-weary of the turmoil and the wrong!
To all their hopes what overjoyed replies!
What undreamed ecstasies for blissful song!
Thy happy plains no war-trump's brawling clangor
Disturbs, and fools the poor to hate the poor;
The humble glares not on the high with anger;
Love leaves no grudge at less, no greed for more;
In vain strives Self the godlike sense to smother;
From the soul's deeps
It throbs and leaps;
The noble 'neath foul rags beholds his long-lost brother.

To thee the Martyr looketh, and his fires
Unlock their fangs and leave his spirit free;
To thee the Poet mid his toil aspires,
And grief and hunger climb about his knee,
Welcome as children; thou upholdest
The lone Inventor by his demon haunted;
The Prophet cries to thee when hearts are coldest,
And gazing o'er the midnight's bleak abyss,
Sees the drowsed soul awaken at thy kiss,
And stretch its happy arms and leap up disenchanted.

Thou bringest vengeance, but so loving-kindly
The guilty thinks it pity; taught by thee,
Fierce tyrants drop the scourges wherewith blindly
Their own souls they were scarring; conquerors see
With horror in their hands the accursed spear
That tore the meek One's side on Calvary,
And from their trophies shrink with ghastly fear;
Thou, too, art the Forgiver,
The beauty of man's soul to man revealing;
The arrows from thy quiver
Pierce Error's guilty heart, but only pierce for healing.

Oh, whither, whither, glory-wingèd dreams,
From out Life's, sweat and turmoil would ye bear me?
Shut, gates of Fancy, on your golden gleams,
This agony of hopeless contrast spare me!
Fade, cheating glow, and leave me to my night!
He is a coward, who would borrow
A charm against the present sorrow
From the vague Future's promise of delight:
As life's alarums nearer roll,
The ancestral buckler calls,
Self-clanging from the walls
In the high temple of the soul;
Where are most sorrows, there the poet's sphere is,
To feed the soul with patience,
To heal its desolations
With words of unshorn truth, with love that never wearies.

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