Ode To Happiness

A poem by James Russell Lowell

Spirit, that rarely comest now
And only to contrast my gloom,
Like rainbow-feathered birds that bloom
A moment on some autumn bough
That, with the spurn of their farewell
Sheds its last leaves,--thou once didst dwell
With me year-long, and make intense
To boyhood's wisely vacant days
Their fleet but all-sufficing grace
Of trustful inexperience,
While soul could still transfigure sense,
And thrill, as with love's first caress,
At life's mere unexpectedness.
Days when my blood would leap and run
As full of sunshine as a breeze,
Or spray tossed up by Summer seas
That doubts if it be sea or sun!
Days that flew swiftly like the band
That played in Grecian games at strife,
And passed from eager hand to hand
The onward-dancing torch of life!

Wing-footed! thou abid'st with him
Who asks it not; but he who hath
Watched o'er the waves thy waning path,
Shall nevermore behold returning
Thy high-heaped canvas shoreward yearning!
Thou first reveal'st to us thy face
Turned o'er the shoulder's parting grace,
A moment glimpsed, then seen no more,--
Thou whose swift footsteps we can trace
Away from every mortal door.

Nymph of the unreturning feet,
How may I win thee back? But no,
I do thee wrong to call thee so;
'Tis I am changed, not thou art fleet:
The man thy presence feels again,
Not in the blood, but in the brain,
Spirit, that lov'st the upper air
Serene and passionless and rare,
Such as on mountain heights we find
And wide-viewed uplands of the mind;
Or such as scorns to coil and sing
Round any but the eagle's wing
Of souls that with long upward beat
Have won an undisturbed retreat
Where, poised like wing├Ęd victories,
They mirror in relentless eyes.
The life broad-basking 'neath their feet,--
Man ever with his Now at strife,
Pained with first gasps of earthly air,
Then praying Death the last to spare,
Still fearful of the ampler life.

Not unto them dost thou consent
Who, passionless, can lead at ease
A life of unalloyed content,
A life like that of land-locked seas,
Who feel no elemental gush
Of tidal forces, no fierce rush
Of storm deep-grasping scarcely spent
'Twixt continent and continent.
Such quiet souls have never known
Thy truer inspiration, thou
Who lov'st to feel upon thy brow
Spray from the plunging vessel thrown
Grazing the tusked lee shore, the cliff
That o'er the abrupt gorge holds its breath,
Where the frail hair-breadth of an if
Is all that sunders life and death:
These, too, are cared for, and round these
Bends her mild crook thy sister Peace;
These in unvexed dependence lie,
Each 'neath his strip of household sky;
O'er these clouds wander, and the blue
Hangs motionless the whole day through;
Stars rise for them, and moons grow large
And lessen in such tranquil wise
As joys and sorrows do that rise
Within their nature's sheltered marge;
Their hours into each other flit
Like the leaf-shadows of the vine
And fig-tree under which they sit,
And their still lives to heaven incline
With an unconscious habitude,
Unhistoried as smokes that rise
From happy hearths and sight elude
In kindred blue of morning skies.

Wayward! when once we feel thy lack,
'Tis worse than vain to woo thee back!
Yet there is one who seems to be
Thine elder sister, in whose eyes
A faint far northern light will rise
Sometimes, and bring a dream of thee;
She is not that for which youth hoped,
But she hath blessings all her own,
Thoughts pure as lilies newly oped,
And faith to sorrow given alone:
Almost I deem that it is thou
Come back with graver matron brow,
With deepened eyes and bated breath,
Like one that somewhere hath met Death:
But 'No,' she answers, 'I am she
Whom the gods love, Tranquillity;
That other whom you seek forlorn
Half earthly was; but I am born
Of the immortals, and our race
Wears still some sadness on its face:
He wins me late, but keeps me long,
Who, dowered with every gift of passion,
In that fierce flame can forge and fashion
Of sin and self the anchor strong;
Can thence compel the driving force
Of daily life's mechanic course,
Nor less the nobler energies
Of needful toil and culture wise;
Whose soul is worth the tempter's lure,
Who can renounce, and yet endure,
To him I come, not lightly wooed,
But won by silent fortitude.'

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