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Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

Ode to Duty

STERN 1 Daughter of the Voice of God,
O Duty! if that name thou love,
Who art a light to guide, a rod
To check the erring, and reprove;
Thou, who art victory and law        5
When empty terrors overawe,
From vain temptations dost set free;
And calm’st the weary strife of frail humanity!
There are who ask not if thine eye
Be on them; who, in love and truth,        10
Where no misgiving is, rely
Upon the genial sense of youth:
Glad hearts! without reproach or blot;
Who do thy work; and know it not:
Long may the kindly impulse last!        15
But thou, if they should totter, teach them to stand fast!
Serene will be our days and bright,
And happy will our nature be,
When love is an unerring light,
And joy its own security.        20
And they a blissful course may hold
Even now, who, not unwisely bold,
Live in the spirit of this creed;
Yet seek thy firm support, according to their need.
I, loving freedom, and untried,        25
No sport of every random gust,
Yet being to myself a guide,
Too blindly have reposed my trust;
And oft, when in my heart was heard
Thy timely mandate, I deferred        30
The task, in smoother walks to stray;
But thee I now would serve more strictly, if I may.
Through no disturbance of my soul,
Or strong compunction in me wrought,
I supplicate for thy control;        35
But in the quietness of thought:
Me this unchartered freedom tires;
I feel the weight of chance-desires:
My hopes no more must change their name,
I long for a repose that ever is the same.        40
Stern Law-giver! yet thou dost wear
The Godhead’s most benignant grace;
Nor know we anything so fair
As is the smile upon thy face:
Flowers laugh before thee on their beds        45
And fragrance in thy footing treads;
Thou dost preserve the stars from wrong;
And the most ancient heavens, through thee, are fresh and strong.
To humbler functions, awful Power!
I call thee; I myself commend        50
Unto thy guidance from this hour;
Oh, let my weakness have an end!
Give unto me, made lowly wise,
The spirit of self-sacrifice;
The confidence of reason give,        55
And in the light of truth thy bondman let me live!
Note 1. It has seemed better to select from Wordsworth the earlier and more general religious poems, which are certainly poetical, rather than the later and more dogmatic, such as, “The Primrose of the Rock,” “Inscriptions in a Hermit’s Cell,” or some of the Ecclesiastical sonnets. From the great “Ode” it seemed allowable to extract the two parts which form its pith. The editor may be pardoned for pointing out to his younger readers that the opening lines of “Childhood and Age” are to be paraphrased: “O, joy that there is still some life in our embers, namely, the remembrance of the departed glory.” In explanation of the passage that follows, Wordsworth himself may be heard: “Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my own being. It was not so much from feelings of animal vivacity that my difficulty came, as from a sense of the indomitableness of the Spirit within me. I used to brood over the stories of Enoch and Elijah, and almost to persuade myself that, whatever might become of others, I should be translated in something of the same way to heaven. With a feeling congenial to this, I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw, as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality. At that time I was afraid of such processes. In later periods of life I have deplored, as we have all reason to do, a subjugation of an opposite character, and have rejoiced over the remembrances, as is expressed in the lines—
    ‘Obstinate questionings,’ etc.”
It will be understood that the two buts in the lines “But for those obstinate questionings” and “But for those first affections” are co-ordinate, both depending on the “Not for these I raise” which, considering the line above, “for that which is most worthy to be blest,” we may be bold to construe “Not only for these I raise.” [back]