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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Autograph

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

[From Poetical Works. 1886.]

I WRITE my name as one,

On sands by waves o’errun

Or winter’s frosted pane,

Traces a record vain.

Oblivion’s blankness claims

Wiser and better names,

And well my own may pass

As from the strand or glass.

Wash on, O waves of time!

Melt, noons, the frosty rime!

Welcome the shadow vast,

The silence that shall last!

When I and all who know

And love me vanish so,

What harm to them or me

Will the lost memory be?

If any words of mine,

Through right of life divine,

Remain, what matters it

Whose hand the message writ?

Why should the “crowner’s quest”

Sit on my worst or best?

Why should the showman claim

The poor ghost of my name?

Yet, as when dies a sound

Its spectre lingers round,

Haply my spent life will

Leave some faint echo still.

A whisper giving breath

Of praise or blame to death,

Soothing or saddening such

As loved the living much.

Therefore with yearnings vain

And fond I still would fain

A kindly judgment seek,

A tender thought bespeak.

And, while my words are read,

Let this at least be said:

“Whate’er his life’s defeatures,

He loved his fellow-creatures.

“If, of the Law’s stone table,

To hold he scarce was able,

The first great precept fast,

He kept for man the last.

“Through mortal lapse and dullness

What lacks the Eternal Fullness,

If still our weakness can

Love Him in loving man?

“Age brought him no despairing

Of the world’s future faring;

In human nature still

He found more good than ill.

“To all who dumbly suffered,

His tongue and pen he offered;

His life was not his own,

Nor lived for self alone.

“Hater of din and riot

He lived in days unquiet;

And, lover of all beauty,

Trod the hard ways of duty.

“He meant no wrong to any,

He sought the good of many,

Yet knew both sin and folly,—

May God forgive him wholly!”