Within The Gate

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

L. M. C.

We sat together, last May-day, and talked
Of the dear friends who walked
Beside us, sharers of the hopes and fears
Of five and forty years,

Since first we met in Freedom's hope forlorn,
And heard her battle-horn
Sound through the valleys of the sleeping North,
Calling her children forth,

And youth pressed forward with hope-lighted eyes,
And age, with forecast wise
Of the long strife before the triumph won,
Girded his armor on.

Sadly, ass name by name we called the roll,
We heard the dead-bells toll
For the unanswering many, and we knew
The living were the few.

And we, who waited our own call before
The inevitable door,
Listened and looked, as all have done, to win
Some token from within.

No sign we saw, we heard no voices call;
The impenetrable wall
Cast down its shadow, like an awful doubt,
On all who sat without.

Of many a hint of life beyond the veil,
And many a ghostly tale
Wherewith the ages spanned the gulf between
The seen and the unseen,

Seeking from omen, trance, and dream to gain
Solace to doubtful pain,
And touch, with groping hands, the garment hem
Of truth sufficing them,

We talked; and, turning from the sore unrest
Of an all-baffling quest,
We thought of holy lives that from us passed
Hopeful unto the last,

As if they saw beyond the river of death,
Like Him of Nazareth,
The many mansions of the Eternal days
Lift up their gates of praise.

And, hushed to silence by a reverent awe,
Methought, O friend, I saw
In thy true life of word, and work, and thought
The proof of all we sought.

Did we not witness in the life of thee
Immortal prophecy?
And feel, when with thee, that thy footsteps trod
An everlasting road?

Not for brief days thy generous sympathies,
Thy scorn of selfish ease;
Not for the poor prize of an earthly goal
Thy strong uplift of soul.

Than thine was never turned a fonder heart
To nature and to art
In fair-formed Hellas in her golden prime,
Thy Philothea's time.

Yet, loving beauty, thou couldst pass it by,
And for the poor deny
Thyself, and see thy fresh, sweet flower of fame
Wither in blight and blame.

Sharing His love who holds in His embrace
The lowliest of our race,
Sure the Divine economy must be
Conservative of thee!

For truth must live with truth, self-sacrifice
Seek out its great allies;
Good must find good by gravitation sure,
And love with love endure.

And so, since thou hast passed within the gate
Whereby awhile I wait,
I give blind grief and blinder sense the lie
Thou hast not lived to die!

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