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

Narrative and Legendary Poems


TAULER, the preacher, walked, one autumn day,

Without the walls of Strasburg, by the Rhine,

Pondering the solemn Miracle of Life;

As one who, wandering in a starless night,

Feels momently the jar of unseen waves,

And hears the thunder of an unknown sea,

Breaking along an unimagined shore.

And as he walked he prayed. Even the same

Old prayer with which, for half a score of years,

Morning, and noon, and evening, lip and heart

Had groaned: “Have pity upon me, Lord!

Thou seest, while teaching others, I am blind.

Send me a man who can direct my steps!”

Then, as he mused, he heard along his path

A sound as of an old man’s staff among

The dry, dead linden-leaves; and, looking up,

He saw a stranger, weak, and poor, and old.

“Peace be unto thee, father!” Tauler said,

“God give thee a good day!” The old man raised

Slowly his calm blue eyes. “I thank thee, son;

But all my days are good, and none are ill.”

Wondering thereat, the preacher spake again,

“God give thee happy life.” The old man smiled,

“I never am unhappy.”

Tauler laid

His hand upon the stranger’s coarse gray sleeve:

“Tell me, O father, what thy strange words mean.

Surely man’s days are evil, and his life

Sad as the grave it leads to.” “Nay, my son,

Our times are in God’s hands, and all our days

Are as our needs; for shadow as for sun,

For cold as heat, for want as wealth, alike

Our thanks are due, since that is best which is;

And that which is not, sharing not His life,

Is evil only as devoid of good.

And for the happiness of which I spake,

I find it in submission to his will,

And calm trust in the holy Trinity

Of Knowledge, Goodness, and Almighty Power.”

Silently wondering, for a little space,

Stood the great preacher; then he spake as one

Who, suddenly grappling with a haunting thought

Which long has followed, whispering through the dark

Strange terrors, drags it, shrieking, into light:

“What if God’s will consign thee hence to Hell?”

“Then,” said the stranger, cheerily, “be it so.

What Hell may be I know not; this I know,—

I cannot lose the presence of the Lord.

One arm, Humility, takes hold upon

His dear Humanity; the other, Love,

Clasps his Divinity. So where I go

He goes; and better fire-walled Hell with Him

Than golden-gated Paradise without.”

Tears sprang in Tauler’s eyes. A sudden light,

Like the first ray which fell on chaos, clove

Apart the shadow wherein he had walked

Darkly at noon. And, as the strange old man

Went his slow way, until his silver hair

Set like the white moon where the hills of vine

Slope to the Rhine, he bowed his head and said:

“My prayer is answered. God hath sent the man

Long sought, to teach me, by his simple trust,

Wisdom the weary schoolmen never knew.”

So, entering with a changed and cheerful step

The city gates, he saw, far down the street,

A mighty shadow break the light of noon,

Which tracing backward till its airy lines

Hardened to stony plinths, he raised his eyes

O’er broad façade and lofty pediment,

O’er architrave and frieze and sainted niche,

Up the stone lace-work chiselled by the wise

Erwin of Steinbach, dizzily up to where

In the noon-brightness the great Minster’s tower,

Jewelled with sunbeams on its mural crown,

Rose like a visible prayer. “Behold!” he said,

“The stranger’s faith made plain before mine eyes.

As yonder tower outstretches to the earth

The dark triangle of its shade alone

When the clear day is shining on its top,

So, darkness in the pathway of Man’s life

Is but the shadow of God’s providence,

By the great Sun of Wisdom cast thereon;

And what is dark below is light in Heaven.”