The Two Elizabeths

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

Read at the unveiling of the bust of Elizabeth Fry at the Friends' School, Providence, R. I.

A. D. 1209.

Amidst Thuringia's wooded hills she dwelt,
A high-born princess, servant of the poor,
Sweetening with gracious words the food she dealt
To starving throngs at Wartburg's blazoned door.

A blinded zealot held her soul in chains,
Cramped the sweet nature that he could not kill,
Scarred her fair body with his penance-pains,
And gauged her conscience by his narrow will.

God gave her gifts of beauty and of grace,
With fast and vigil she denied them all;
Unquestioning, with sad, pathetic face,
She followed meekly at her stern guide's call.

So drooped and died her home-blown rose of bliss
In the chill rigor of a discipline
That turned her fond lips from her children's kiss,
And made her joy of motherhood a sin.

To their sad level by compassion led,
One with the low and vile herself she made,
While thankless misery mocked the hand that fed,
And laughed to scorn her piteous masquerade.

But still, with patience that outwearied hate,
She gave her all while yet she had to give;
And then her empty hands, importunate,
In prayer she lifted that the poor might live.

Sore pressed by grief, and wrongs more hard to bear,
And dwarfed and stifled by a harsh control,
She kept life fragrant with good deeds and prayer,
And fresh and pure the white flower of her soul.

Death found her busy at her task: one word
Alone she uttered as she paused to die,
"Silence!"--then listened even as one who heard
With song and wing the angels drawing nigh!

Now Fra Angelico's roses fill her hands,
And, on Murillo's canvas, Want and Pain
Kneel at her feet. Her marble image stands
Worshipped and crowned in Marburg's holy fane.

Yea, wheresoe'er her Church its cross uprears,
Wide as the world her story still is told;
In manhood's reverence, woman's prayers and tears,
She lives again whose grave is centuries old.

And still, despite the weakness or the blame
Of blind submission to the blind, she hath
A tender place in hearts of every name,
And more than Rome owns Saint Elizabeth!

A. D. 1780.

Slow ages passed: and lo! another came,
An English matron, in whose simple faith
Nor priestly rule nor ritual had claim,
A plain, uncanonized Elizabeth.

No sackcloth robe, nor ashen-sprinkled hair,
Nor wasting fast, nor scourge, nor vigil long,
Marred her calm presence. God had made her fair,
And she could do His goodly work no wrong.

Their yoke is easy and their burden light
Whose sole confessor is the Christ of God;
Her quiet trust and faith transcending sight
Smoothed to her feet the difficult paths she trod.

And there she walked, as duty bade her go,
Safe and unsullied as a cloistered nun,
Shamed with her plainness Fashion's gaudy show,
And overcame the world she did not shun.

In Earlham's bowers, in Plashet's liberal hall,
In the great city's restless crowd and din,
Her ear was open to the Master's call,
And knew the summons of His voice within.

Tender as mother, beautiful as wife,
Amidst the throngs of prisoned crime she stood
In modest raiment faultless as her life,
The type of England's worthiest womanhood.

To melt the hearts that harshness turned to stone
The sweet persuasion of her lips sufficed,
And guilt, which only hate and fear had known,
Saw in her own the pitying love of Christ.

So wheresoe'er the guiding Spirit went
She followed, finding every prison cell
It opened for her sacred as a tent
Pitched by Gennesaret or by Jacob's well.

And Pride and Fashion felt her strong appeal,
And priest and ruler marvelled as they saw
How hand in hand went wisdom with her zeal,
And woman's pity kept the bounds of law.

She rests in God's peace; but her memory stirs
The air of earth as with an angel's wings,
And warms and moves the hearts of men like hers,
The sainted daughter of Hungarian kings.

United now, the Briton and the Hun,
Each, in her own time, faithful unto death,
Live sister souls! in name and spirit one,
Thuringia's saint and our Elizabeth!

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'The Two Elizabeths' by John Greenleaf Whittier

comments powered by Disqus