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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Boston, Mass.

In the Old South Church

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)


SHE came and stood in the Old South Church,

A wonder and a sign,

With a look the old-time sibyls wore,

Half-crazed and half-divine.

Save the mournful sackcloth about her wound,

Unclothed as the primal mother,

With limbs that trembled, and eyes that blazed

With a fire she dare not smother.

Loose on her shoulder fell her hair,

With sprinkled ashes gray;

She stood in the broad aisle, strange and weird

As a soul at the judgment day.

And the minister paused in his sermon’s midst,

And the people held their breath,

For these were the words the maiden said

Through lips as pale as death:—

“Thus saith the Lord: ‘With equal feet

All men my courts shall tread,

And priest and ruler no more shall eat

My people up like bread!’

“Repent, repent!—ere the Lord shall speak

In thunder, and breaking seals!

Let all souls worship him in the way

His light within reveals!”

She shook the dust from her naked feet,

And her sackcloth closely drew,

And into the porch of the awe-hushed church

She passed like a ghost from view.

They whipped her away at the tail o’ the cart;

(Small blame to the angry town!)

But the words she uttered that day nor fire

Could burn nor water drown.

For now the aisles of the ancient church

By equal feet are trod;

And the bell that swings in its belfry rings

Freedom to worship God!

And now, whenever a wrong is done,

It thrills the conscious walls;

The stone from the basement cries aloud,

And the beam from the timber calls!

There are steeple-houses on every hand,

And pulpits that bless and ban;

And the Lord will not grudge the single church

That is set apart for man.

For in two commandments are all the law

And the prophets under the sun;

And the first is last, and the last is first,

And the twain are verily one.

So long as Boston shall Boston be,

And her bay-tides rise and fall,

Shall freedom stand in the Old South Church,

And plead for the rights of all!