A poem by James Russell Lowell

Praisest Law, friend? We, too, love it much as they that love it best;
'Tis the deep, august foundation, whereon Peace and Justice rest;
On the rock primeval, hidden in the Past its bases be,
Block by block the endeavoring Ages built it up to what we see.

But dig down: the Old unbury; thou shalt find on every stone
That each Age hath carved the symbol of what god to them was known,
Ugly shapes and brutish sometimes, but the fairest that they knew;
If their sight were dim and earthward, yet their hope and aim were true.

Surely as the unconscious needle feels the far-off loadstar draw,
So strives every gracious nature to at-one itself with law;
And the elder Saints and Sages laid their pious framework right
By a theocratic instinct covered from the people's sight.

As their gods were, so their laws were; Thor the strong could reave and steal,
So through many a peaceful inlet tore the Norseman's eager keel;
But a new law came when Christ came, and not blameless, as before,
Can we, paying him our lip-tithes, give our lives and faiths to Thor.

Law is holy: ay, but what law? Is there nothing more divine
Than the patched-up broils of Congress, venal, full of meat and wine?
Is there, say you, nothing higher? Naught, God save us! that transcends
Laws of cotton texture, wove by vulgar men for vulgar ends?

Did Jehovah ask their counsel, or submit to them a plan,
Ere He filled with loves, hopes, longings, this aspiring heart of man?
For their edict does the soul wait, ere it swing round to the pole
Of the true, the free, the God-willed, all that makes it be a soul?

Law is holy; but not your law, ye who keep the tablets whole
While ye dash the Law to pieces, shatter it in life and soul;
Bearing up the Ark is lightsome, golden Apis hid within,
While we Levites share the offerings, richer by the people's sin.

Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar's? yes, but tell me, if you can,
Is this superscription Cæsar's here upon our brother man?
Is not here some other's image, dark and sullied though it be,
In this fellow-soul that worships, struggles Godward even as we?

It was not to such a future that the Mayflower's prow was turned,
Not to such a faith the martyrs clung, exulting as they burned;
Not by such laws are men fashioned, earnest, simple, valiant, great
In the household virtues whereon rests the unconquerable state.

Ah! there is a higher gospel, overhead the God-roof springs,
And each glad, obedient planet like a golden shuttle sings
Through the web which Time is weaving in his never-resting loom,
Weaving seasons many-colored, bringing prophecy to doom.

Think you Truth a farthing rushlight, to be pinched out when you will
With your deft official fingers, and your politicians' skill?
Is your God a wooden fetish, to be hidden out of sight
That his block eyes may not see you do the thing that is not right?

But the Destinies think not so; to their judgment-chamber lone
Comes no noise of popular clamor, there Fame's trumpet is not blown;
Your majorities they reck not; that you grant, but then you say
That you differ with them somewhat,--which is stronger, you or they?

Patient are they as the insects that build islands in the deep;
They hurl not the bolted thunder, but their silent way they keep;
Where they have been that we know; where empires towered that were not just;
Lo! the skulking wild fox scratches in a little heap of dust.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Anti-Apis' by James Russell Lowell

comments powered by Disqus