To ------

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

With a copy of Woolman's journal.



Maiden! with the fair brown tresses
Shading o'er thy dreamy eye,
Floating on thy thoughtful forehead
Cloud wreaths of its sky.

Youthful years and maiden beauty,
Joy with them should still abide,
Instinct take the place of Duty,
Love, not Reason, guide.

Ever in the New rejoicing,
Kindly beckoning back the Old,
Turning, with the gift of Midas,
All things into gold.

And the passing shades of sadness
Wearing even a welcome guise,
As, when some bright lake lies open
To the sunny skies,

Every wing of bird above it,
Every light cloud floating on,
Glitters like that flashing mirror
In the self-same sun.

But upon thy youthful forehead
Something like a shadow lies;
And a serious soul is looking
From thy earnest eyes.

With an early introversion,
Through the forms of outward things,
Seeking for the subtle essence,
And the bidden springs.

Deeper than the gilded surface
Hath thy wakeful vision seen,
Farther than the narrow present
Have thy journeyings been.

Thou hast midst Life's empty noises
Heard the solemn steps of Time,
And the low mysterious voices
Of another clime.

All the mystery of Being
Hath upon thy spirit pressed,
Thoughts which, like the Deluge wanderer,
Find no place of rest:

That which mystic Plato pondered,
That which Zeno heard with awe,
And the star-rapt Zoroaster
In his night-watch saw.

From the doubt and darkness springing
Of the dim, uncertain Past,
Moving to the dark still shadows
O'er the Future cast,

Early hath Life's mighty question
Thrilled within thy heart of youth,
With a deep and strong beseeching
What and where is Truth?

Hollow creed and ceremonial,
Whence the ancient life hath fled,
Idle faith unknown to action,
Dull and cold and dead.

Oracles, whose wire-worked meanings
Only wake a quiet scorn,
Not from these thy seeking spirit
Hath its answer drawn.

But, like some tired child at even,
On thy mother Nature's breast,
Thou, methinks, art vainly seeking
Truth, and peace, and rest.

O'er that mother's rugged features
Thou art throwing Fancy's veil,
Light and soft as woven moonbeams,
Beautiful and frail

O'er the rough chart of Existence,
Rocks of sin and wastes of woe,
Soft airs breathe, and green leaves tremble,
And cool fountains flow.

And to thee an answer cometh
From the earth and from the sky,
And to thee the hills and waters
And the stars reply.

But a soul-sufficing answer
Hath no outward origin;
More than Nature's many voices
May be heard within.

Even as the great Augustine
Questioned earth and sea and sky,
And the dusty tomes of learning
And old poesy.

But his earnest spirit needed
More than outward Nature taught;
More than blest the poet's vision
Or the sage's thought.

Only in the gathered silence
Of a calm and waiting frame,
Light and wisdom as from Heaven
To the seeker came.

Not to ease and aimless quiet
Doth that inward answer tend,
But to works of love and duty
As our being's end;

Not to idle dreams and trances,
Length of face, and solemn tone,
But to Faith, in daily striving
And performance shown.

Earnest toil and strong endeavor
Of a spirit which within
Wrestles with familiar evil
And besetting sin;

And without, with tireless vigor,
Steady heart, and weapon strong,
In the power of truth assailing
Every form of wrong.

Guided thus, how passing lovely
Is the track of Woolman's feet!
And his brief and simple record
How serenely sweet!

O'er life's humblest duties throwing
Light the earthling never knew,
Freshening all its dark waste places
As with Hermon's dew.

All which glows in Pascal's pages,
All which sainted Guion sought,
Or the blue-eyed German Rahel
Half-unconscious taught

Beauty, such as Goethe pictured,
Such as Shelley dreamed of, shed
Living warmth and starry brightness
Round that poor man's head.

Not a vain and cold ideal,
Not a poet's dream alone,
But a presence warm and real,
Seen and felt and known.

When the red right-hand of slaughter
Moulders with the steel it swung,
When the name of seer and poet
Dies on Memory's tongue,

All bright thoughts and pure shall gather
Round that meek and suffering one,
Glorious, like the seer-seen angel
Standing in the sun!

Take the good man's book and ponder
What its pages say to thee;
Blessed as the hand of healing
May its lesson be.

If it only serves to strengthen
Yearnings for a higher good,
For the fount of living waters
And diviner food;

If the pride of human reason
Feels its meek and still rebuke,
Quailing like the eye of Peter
From the Just One's look!

If with readier ear thou heedest
What the Inward Teacher saith,
Listening with a willing spirit
And a childlike faith,

Thou mayst live to bless the giver,
Who, himself but frail and weak,
Would at least the highest welfare
Of another seek;

And his gift, though poor and lowly
It may seem to other eyes,
Yet may prove an angel holy
In a pilgrim's guise

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'To ------' by John Greenleaf Whittier

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy