To John Gorham Palfrey

A poem by James Russell Lowell

There are who triumph in a losing cause,
Who can put on defeat, as 'twere a wreath
Unwithering in the adverse popular breath,
Safe from the blasting demagogue's applause;
'Tis they who stand for Freedom and God's laws.

And so stands Palfrey now, as Marvell stood,
Loyal to Truth dethroned, nor could be wooed
To trust the playful tiger's velvet paws:
And if the second Charles brought in decay
Of ancient virtue, if it well might wring
Souls that had broadened 'neath a nobler day,
To see a losel, marketable king
Fearfully watering with his realm's best blood
Cromwell's quenched bolts, that erst had cracked and flamed,
Scaring, through all their depths of courtier mud,
Europe's crowned bloodsuckers,--how more ashamed
Ought we to be, who see Corruption's flood
Still rise o'er last year's mark, to mine away
Our brazen idol's feet of treacherous clay!

O utter degradation! Freedom turned
Slavery's vile bawd, to cozen and betray
To the old lecher's clutch a maiden prey,
If so a loathsome pander's fee be earned!
And we are silent,--we who daily tread
A soil sublime, at least, with heroes' graves!--
Beckon no more, shades of the noble dead!
Be dumb, ye heaven-touched lips of winds and waves!
Or hope to rouse some Coptic dullard, hid
Ages ago, wrapt stiffly, fold on fold,
With cerements close, to wither in the cold,
Forever hushed, and sunless pyramid!

Beauty and Truth, and all that these contain,
Drop not like ripened fruit about our feet;
We climb to them through years of sweat and pain;
Without long struggle, none did e'er attain
The downward look from Quiet's blissful seat:
Though present loss may be the hero's part,
Yet none can rob him of the victor heart
Whereby the broad-realmed future is subdued,
And Wrong, which now insults from triumph's car,
Sending her vulture hope to raven far,
Is made unwilling tributary of Good.

O Mother State, how quenched thy Sinai fires!
Is there none left of thy stanch Mayflower breed?
No spark among the ashes of thy sires,
Of Virtue's altar-flame the kindling seed?
Are these thy great men, these that cringe and creep,
And writhe through slimy ways to place and power?--
How long, O Lord, before thy wrath shall reap
Our frail-stemmed summer prosperings in their flower?
Oh for one hour of that undaunted stock
That went with Vane and Sidney to the block!

Oh for a whiff of Naseby, that would sweep,
With its stern Puritan besom, all this chaff
From the Lord's threshing-floor! Yet more than half
The victory is attained, when one or two,
Through the fool's laughter and the traitor's scorn,
Beside thy sepulchre can bide the morn,
Crucified Truth, when thou shalt rise anew.

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