The Hero

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

"O for a knight like Bayard,
Without reproach or fear;
My light glove on his casque of steel,
My love-knot on his spear!

"O for the white plume floating
Sad Zutphen's field above,
The lion heart in battle,
The woman's heart in love!

"O that man once more were manly,
Woman's pride, and not her scorn
That once more the pale young mother
Dared to boast `a man is born'!

"But, now life's slumberous current
No sun-bowed cascade wakes;
No tall, heroic manhood
The level dulness breaks.

"O for a knight like Bayard,
Without reproach or fear!
My light glove on his casque of steel
My love-knot on his spear!"

Then I said, my own heart throbbing
To the time her proud pulse beat,
"Life hath its regal natures yet,
True, tender, brave, and sweet!

"Smile not, fair unbeliever!
One man, at least, I know,
Who might wear the crest of Bayard
Or Sydney's plume of snow.

"Once, when over purple mountains
Died away the Grecian sun,
And the far Cyllenian ranges
Paled and darkened, one by one,

"Fell the Turk, a bolt of thunder,
Cleaving all the quiet sky,
And against his sharp steel lightnings
Stood the Suliote but to die.

"Woe for the weak and halting!
The crescent blazed behind
A curving line of sabres
Like fire before the wind!

"Last to fly, and first to rally,
Rode he of whom I speak,
When, groaning in his bridle path,
Sank down like a wounded Greek.

"With the rich Albanian costume
Wet with many a ghastly stain,
Gazing on earth and sky as one
Who might not gaze again!

"He looked forward to the mountains,
Back on foes that never spare,
Then flung him from his saddle,
And place the stranger there.

"'Allah! hu!' Through flashing sabres,
Through a stormy hail of lead,
The good Thessalian charger
Up the slopes of olives sped.

"Hot spurred the turbaned riders;
He almost felt their breath,
Where a mountain stream rolled darkly down
Between the hills and death.

"One brave and manful struggle,
He gained the solid land,
And the cover of the mountains,
And the carbines of his band!"

"It was very great and noble,"
Said the moist-eyed listener then,
"But one brave deed makes no hero;
Tell me what he since hath been!"

"Still a brave and generous manhood,
Still and honor without stain,
In the prison of the Kaiser,
By the barricades of Seine.

"But dream not helm and harness
The sign of valor true;
Peace bath higher tests of manhood
Than battle ever knew.

"Wouldst know him now? Behold him,
The Cadmus of the blind,
Giving the dumb lip language,
The idiot clay a mind.

"Walking his round of duty
Serenely day by day,
With the strong man's hand of labor
And childhood's heart of play.

"True as the knights of story,
Sir Lancelot and his peers,
Brave in his calm endurance
As they in tilt of spears.

"As waves in stillest waters,
As stars in noonday skies,
All that wakes to noble action
In his noon of calmness lies.

"Wherever outraged Nature
Asks word or action brave,
Wherever struggles labor,
Wherever groans a slave,

"Wherever rise the peoples,
Wherever sinks a throne,
The throbbing heart of Freedom finds
An answer in his own.

"Knight of a better era,
Without reproach or fear!
Said I not well that Bayards
And Sidneys still are here

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