Page images


Let Justice hold her scale, and Truth divide
Between the right and wrong; but give the heart
The freedom of its fair inheritance;

Give human nature reverence for the sake
Of One who bore it, making it divine
With the ineffable tenderness of God;
Let common need, the brotherhood of prayer,
The heirship of an unknown destiny,

The unsolved mystery round about us, make
A man more precious than the gold of Ophir.
Sacred, inviolate, unto whom all things
Should minister, as outward types and signs
Of the eternal beauty which fulfils

The one great purpose of creation, Love,
The sole necessity of Earth and Heaven!

Proving in a world of bliss

What we fondly dream in this,-
Love is one with holiness! 10

Rejoice in hope! The day and night


Are one with God, and one with them
Who see by faith the cloudy hem

Of Judgment fringed with Mercy's light!"

At Eventide" sums up the blessings of the past, and chief,

The kind restraining hand of Providence,
The inward witness, the assuring sense

Of an Eternal Good which overlies
The sorrow of the world, Love which outlives
All sin and wrong, Compassion which forgives
To the uttermost, and Justice whose clear eyes
Through lapse and failure look to the intent,
And judge our frailty by the life we meant.

10"In Memory."

11" Astræa at the Capitol."



My Trust" illustrates God's dealing with our errors and sins, by the kind restraint with which a mother trains her child:

A picture memory brings to me:
I look across the years and see
Myself beside my mother's knee.

I wait, in His good time to see
That as my mother dealt with me
So with His children dealeth He.

I suffer with no vain pretence
Of triumph over flesh and sense,
Yet trust the grievous providence,

How dark soe'er it seems, may tend,
By ways I cannot comprehend,
To some unguessed benignant end;

That every loss and lapse may gain
The clear-aired heights by steps of pain,
And never cross is borne in vain.

The test of a poet's theology is his view of sin. If he ignores or condones sin, he shows that he has only a superficial conception of human nature, and is an untrustworthy moral guide. Sin is the one blot upon this fair world, the one sorrow and shame over which angels weep. But excusing sin or glorying in it is so much a matter of pride, that the poet's readiest path to popularity is that of catering to unconscientious self-esteem. When Swinburne follows natural impulses in his "Laus Veneris," it is corrupted nature that he follows. Only the Spirit of God can rectify these impulses and correct man's view. Of all our



American poets Whittier is the most sane and true, because at the basis of his poetry there is genuine conviction of sin. Like John Woolman, he had “felt the depth and extent of the misery of his fellow creatures, separated from the divine harmony-and he was mixed with them and henceforth might not consider himself a distinct and separate being." Like Woolman, he could feel for the sins of others because he had first felt the evil of sin in his own heart. was in no mocking humility," he says, "that I wrote in 'Andrew Rykman'":

I, who hear with secret shame

Praise that paineth more than blame,

Rich alone in favors lent,

Virtuous by accident,

Doubtful where I fain would rest,

Frailest where I seem the best,
Only strong for lack of test.


My mind has been a good deal exercised of late on the subject of religious obligation. The prayer of Cowper is sometimes in my mind: "Oh, for a closer walk with God!" I feel that there are many things of the world between me and the realization of a quiet communion with the pure and Holy Spirit. Alas for human nature in its best estate! There is no upward tendency in it. It looks downward. It is, indeed, of the earth. . . I know my own weakness and frailty, and I am humbled rather than exalted by homage which I do not deserve. As the swift years pass, the eternal Realities seem taking the place of the shadows and illusions of time.

In his later years he writes:

The unescapable sense of sin in thought and deed makes the boldest of us cowards. I believe in God as Justice, Goodness, Tenderness-in one word, Love-and yet my trust in him is not strong enough to overcome the natural shrinking from




the law of death. Even our Master prayed that, if it were possible, the cup might pass from him. . . I have to lament over protracted seasons of doubt and darkness, to shrink back from the discovery of some latent unfaithfulness and insincerity, to find evil at the bottom of seeming good, to abhor myself for selfishness and pride and vanity, which at times manifest themselves-in short, to find the law of sin and death still binding me. My temperament, ardent, impetuous, imaginative, powerfully acted upon from without, keenly susceptible to all influences from the intellectual world as well as to those of nature in her varied manifestations, is, I fear, ill adapted to that quiet, introverted state of patient and passive waiting for direction and support under these trials and difficulties.

He felt impelled to express his trust in the mercy of the All-Merciful, “yet with a solemn recognition of the awful consequences of alienation from Him, and a full realization of the truth that sin and suffering are inseparable."

These quotations from his letters enable us to understand the more condensed expressions of his poems. "What the Voice Said" is significant:

"Know'st thou not all germs of evil

In thy heart await their time?
Not thyself, but God's restraining,
Stays their growth of crime.

"Earnest words must needs be spoken

When the warm heart bleeds or burns
With its scorn of wrong, or pity
For the wronged, by turns.

"But, by all thy nature's weakness,
Hidden faults and follies known,

Be thou, in rebuking evil,
Conscious of thine own!"



"My Namesake" might well be a portrait of Whittier


"While others trod the altar stairs

He faltered like the publican;

And, while they praised as saints, his prayers

Were those of sinful man.

"For, awed by Sinai's Mount of Law,

The trembling faith alone sufficed,

That, through its cloud and flame, he saw

The sweet, sad face of Christ!"

And it is in Christ alone that he puts his trust either for himself or for the world of sinners:

"Blind must be their close-shut eyes
Where like night the sunshine lies,
Fiery-linked the self-forged chain
Binding ever sin to pain,

Strong their prison-house of will,
But without He waiteth still.

"Not with hatred's undertow
Doth the Love Eternal flow;
Every chain that spirits wear
Crumbles in the breath of prayer;
And the penitent's desire
Opens every gate of fire.

"Still Thy love, O Christ arisen,

Yearns to reach these souls in prison!

Through all depths of sin and loss

Drops the plummet of Thy cross!

Never yet abyss was found

Deeper than that cross could sound!


And here is a fragment, found among his papers, in his handwriting, evidently belonging to some poem he never finished:

13" The Grave by the Lake."

« PreviousContinue »