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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Amy Wentworth

To William Bradford

AS they who watch by sick-beds find relief

Unwittingly from the great stress of grief

And anxious care, in fantasies outwrought

From the hearth’s embers flickering low, or caught

From whispering wind, or tread of passing feet,

Or vagrant memory calling up some sweet

Snatch of old song or romance, whence or why

They scarcely know or ask,—so, thou and I,

Nursed in the faith that Truth alone is strong

In the endurance which outwearies Wrong,

With meek persistence baffling brutal force,

And trusting God against the universe,—

We, doomed to watch a strife we may not share

With other weapons than the patriot’s prayer,

Yet owning, with full hearts and moistened eyes,

The awful beauty of self-sacrifice,

And wrung by keenest sympathy for all

Who give their loved ones for the living wall

’Twixt law and treason,—in this evil day

May haply find, through automatic play

Of pen and pencil, solace to our pain,

And hearten others with the strength we gain.

I know it has been said our times require

No play of art, nor dalliance with the lyre,

No weak essay with Fancy’s chloroform

To calm the hot, mad pulses of the storm,

But the stern war-blast rather, such as sets

The battle’s teeth of serried bayonets,

And pictures grim as Vernet’s. Yet with these

Some softer tints may blend, and milder keys

Relieve the storm-stunned ear. Let us keep sweet,

If so we may, our hearts, even while we eat

The bitter harvest of our own device

And half a century’s moral cowardice.

As Nürnberg sang while Wittenberg defied,

And Kranach painted by his Luther’s side,

And through the war-march of the Puritan

The silver stream of Marvell’s music ran,

So let the household melodies be sung,

The pleasant pictures on the wall be hung,—

So let us hold against the hosts of night

And slavery all our vantage-ground of light.

Let Treason boast its savagery, and shake

From its flag-folds its symbol rattlesnake,

Nurse its fine arts, lay human skins in tan,

And carve its pipe-bowls from the bones of man,

And make the tale of Fijian banquets dull

By drinking whiskey from a loyal skull,—

But let us guard, till this sad war shall cease,

(God grant it soon!) the graceful arts of peace:

No foes are conquered who the victors teach

Their vandal manners and barbaric speech.

And while, with hearts of thankfulness, we bear

Of the great common burden our full share,

Let none upbraid us that the waves entice

Thy sea-dipped pencil, or some quaint device,

Rhythmic and sweet, beguiles my pen away

From the sharp strifes and sorrows of to-day.

Thus, while the east-wind keen from Labrador

Sings in the leafless elms, and from the shore

Of the great sea comes the monotonous roar

Of the long-breaking surf, and all the sky

Is gray with cloud, home-bound and dull, I try

To time a simple legend to the sounds

Of winds in the woods, and waves on pebbled bounds,—

A song for oars to chime with, such as might

Be sung by tired sea-painters, who at night

Look from their hemlock camps, by quiet cove

Or beach, moon-lighted, on the waves they love.

(So hast thou looked, when level sunset lay

On the calm bosom of some Eastern bay,

And all the spray-moist rocks and waves that rolled

Up the white sand-slopes flashed with ruddy gold.)

Something it has—a flavor of the sea,

And the sea’s freedom—which reminds of thee.

Its faded picture, dimly smiling down

From the blurred fresco of the ancient town,

I have not touched with warmer tints in vain,

If, in this dark, sad year, it steals one thought from pain.


Her fingers shame the ivory keys

They dance so light along;

The bloom upon her parted lips

Is sweeter than the song.

O perfumed suitor, spare thy smiles!

Her thoughts are not of thee;

She better loves the salted wind,

The voices of the sea.

Her heart is like an outbound ship

That at its anchor swings;

The murmur of the stranded shell

Is in the song she sings.

She sings, and, smiling, hears her praise,

But dreams the while of one

Who watches from his sea-blown deck

The icebergs in the sun.

She questions all the winds that blow,

And every fog-wreath dim,

And bids the sea-birds flying north

Bear messages to him.

She speeds them with the thanks of men

He perilled life to save,

And grateful prayers like holy oil

To smooth for him the wave.

Brown Viking of the fishing-smack!

Fair toast of all the town!—

The skipper’s jerkin ill beseems

The lady’s silken gown!

But ne’er shall Amy Wentworth wear

For him the blush of shame

Who dares to set his manly gifts

Against her ancient name.

The stream is brightest at its spring,

And blood is not like wine;

Nor honored less than he who heirs

Is he who founds a line.

Full lightly shall the prize be won,

If love be Fortune’s spur;

And never maiden stoops to him

Who lifts himself to her.

Her home is brave in Jaffrey Street,

With stately stairways worn

By feet of old Colonial knights

And ladies gentle-born.

Still green about its ample porch

The English ivy twines,

Trained back to show in English oak

The herald’s carven signs.

And on her, from the wainscot old,

Ancestral faces frown,—

And this has worn the soldier’s sword,

And that the judge’s gown.

But, strong of will and proud as they,

She walks the gallery floor

As if she trod her sailor’s deck

By stormy Labrador!

The sweetbrier blooms on Kittery-side,

And green are Eliot’s bowers;

Her garden is the pebbled beach,

The mosses are her flowers.

She looks across the harbor-bar

To see the white gulls fly;

His greeting from the Northern sea

Is in their clanging cry.

She hums a song, and dreams that he,

As in its romance old,

Shall homeward ride with silken sails

And masts of beaten gold!

Oh, rank is good, and gold is fair,

And high and low mate ill;

But love has never known a law

Beyond its own sweet will!