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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

Sonnets of Character

By Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888)

[From Sonnets and Canzonets. 1882.]


CHANNING! my Mentor whilst my thought was young,

And I the votary of fair liberty,—

How hung I then upon thy glowing tongue,

And thought of love and truth as one with thee!

Thou wast the inspirer of a nobler life,

When I with error waged unequal strife,

And from its coils thy teaching set me free.

Be ye, his followers, to his leading true,

Nor privilege covet, nor the wider sway;

But hold right onward in his loftier way,

As best becomes, and is his rightful due.

If learning’s yours,—gifts God doth least esteem,—

Beyond all gifts was his transcendent view;

O realize his Pentecostal dream!


MISFORTUNE to have lived not knowing thee!

’T were not, high living, nor to noblest end,

Who, dwelling near, learned not sincerity,

Rich friendship’s ornament that still doth lend

To life its consequence and propriety.

Thy fellowship was my culture, noble friend:

By the hand thou took’st me, and did’st condescend

To bring me straightway into thy fair guild;

And life-long hath it been high compliment

By that to have been known, and thy friend styled,

Given to rare thought and to good learning bent;

Whilst in my straits an angel on me smiled.

Permit me, then, thus honored, still to be

A scholar in thy university.


THOU, Sibyl rapt! whose sympathetic soul

Infused the myst’ries thy tongue failed to tell;

Though from thy lips the marvellous accents fell,

And weird wise meanings o’er the senses stole,

Through those rare cadences, with winsome spell;

Yet, even in such retrainings of thy voice,

There struggled up a wailing undertone,

That spoke thee victim of the Sisters’ choice,—

Charming all others, dwelling still alone.

They left thee thus disconsolate to roam,

And scorned thy dear, devoted life to spare.

Around the storm-tost vessel sinking there

The wild waves chant thy dirge and welcome home;

Survives alone thy sex’s valiant plea,

And the great heart that loved the brave and free.


WHO nearer Nature’s life would truly come

Must nearest come to him of whom I speak;

He all kinds knew,—the vocal and the dumb;

Masterful in genius was he, and unique,

Patient, sagacious, tender, frolicsome.

This Concord Pan would oft his whistle take,

And forth from wood and fen, field, hill, and lake,

Trooping around him, in their several guise,

The shy inhabitants their haunts forsake:

Then he, like Esop, man would satirize,

Hold up the image wild to clearest view

Of undiscerning manhood’s puzzled eyes,

And mocking say, “Lo! mirrors here for you:

Be true as these, if ye would be more wise.”


FREEDOM’S first champion in our fettered land!

Nor politician nor base citizen

Could gibbet thee, nor silence, nor withstand.

Thy trenchant and emancipating pen

The patriot Lincoln snatched with steady hand,

Writing his name and thine on parchment white,

’Midst war’s resistless and ensanguined flood;

Then held that proclamation high in sight

Before his fratricidal countrymen,—

“Freedom henceforth throughout the land for all,”—

And sealed the instrument with his own blood,

Bowing his mighty strength for slavery’s fall;

Whilst thou, stanch friend of largest liberty,

Survived,—its ruin and our peace to see.