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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

India: Ceylon, the Island

The Cypress-Tree of Ceylon

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)

THEY sat in silent watchfulness

The sacred cypress-tree about,

And, from beneath old wrinkled brows,

Their failing eyes looked out.

Gray Age and Sickness waiting there

Through weary night and lingering day,

Grim as the idols at their side,

And motionless as they.

Unheeded in the boughs above

The song of Ceylon’s birds was sweet;

Unseen of them the island flowers

Bloomed brightly at their feet.

O’er them the tropic night-storm swept,

The thunder crashed on rock and hill;

The cloud-fire on their eyeballs blazed,

Yet there they waited still!

What was the world without to them?

The Moslem’s sunset-call,—the dance

Of Ceylon’s maids,—the passing gleam

Of battle-flag and lance?

They waited for that falling leaf

Of which the wandering Jogees sing:

Which lends once more to wintry age

The greenness of its spring.

Oh, if these poor and blinded ones

In trustful patience wait to feel

O’er torpid pulse and failing limb

A youthful freshness steal;

Shall we, who sit beneath that Tree

Whose healing leaves of life are shed,

In answer to the breath of prayer,

Upon the waiting head;

Not to restore our failing forms,

And build the spirit’s broken shrine,

But on the fainting soul to shed

A light and life divine;

Shall we grow weary in our watch,

And murmur at the long delay?

Impatient of our Father’s time

And his appointed way?

Or shall the stir of outward things

Allure and claim the Christian’s eye,

When on the heathen watcher’s ear

Their powerless murmurs die?

Alas! a deeper test of faith

Than prison cell or martyr’s stake,

The self-abasing watchfulness

Of silent prayer may make.

We gird us bravely to rebuke

Our erring brother in the wrong,—

And in the ear of Pride and Power

Our warning voice is strong.

Easier to smite with Peter’s sword

Than “watch one hour” in humbling prayer.

Life’s “great things,” like the Syrian lord,

Our hearts can do and dare.

But oh! we shrink from Jordan’s side,

From waters which alone can save;

And murmur for Abana’s banks

And Pharpar’s brighter wave.

O Thou, who in the garden’s shade

Didst wake thy weary ones again,

Who slumbered at that fearful hour

Forgetful of thy pain;

Bend o’er us now, as over them,

And set our sleep-bound spirits free,

Nor leave us slumbering in the watch

Our souls should keep with thee!