Fancy's Casuistry

A poem by James Russell Lowell

How struggles with the tempest's swells
That warning of tumultuous bells!
The fire is loose! and frantic knells
Throb fast and faster,
As tower to tower confusedly tells
News of disaster.

But on my far-off solitude
No harsh alarums can intrude;
The terror comes to me subdued
And charmed by distance,
To deepen the habitual mood
Of my existence.

Are those, I muse, the Easter chimes?
And listen, weaving careless rhymes
While the loud city's griefs and crimes
Pay gentle allegiance
To the fine quiet that sublimes
These dreamy regions.

And when the storm o'erwhelms the shore,
I watch entranced as, o'er and o'er,
The light revolves amid the roar
So still and saintly,
Now large and near, now more and more
Withdrawing faintly.

This, too, despairing sailors see
Flash out the breakers 'neath their lee
In sudden snow, then lingeringly
Wane tow'rd eclipse,
While through the dark the shuddering sea
Gropes for the ships.

And is it right, this mood of mind
That thus, in revery enshrined,
Can in the world mere topics find
For musing stricture,
Seeing the life of humankind
Only as picture?

The events in line of battle go;
In vain for me their trumpets blow
As unto him that lieth low
In death's dark arches,
And through the sod hears throbbing slow
The muffled marches.

O Duty, am I dead to thee
In this my cloistered ecstasy,
In this lone shallop on the sea
That drifts tow'rd Silence?
And are those visioned shores I see
But sirens' islands?

My Dante frowns with lip-locked mien,
As who would say, ''Tis those, I ween,
Whom lifelong armor-chafe makes lean
That win the laurel;'
But where is Truth? What does it mean,
The world-old quarrel?

Such questionings are idle air:
Leave what to do and what to spare
To the inspiring moment's care,
Nor ask for payment
Of fame or gold, but just to wear
Unspotted raiment.

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