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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Pennsylvania Pilgrim

NEVER in tenderer quiet lapsed the day

From Pennsylvania’s vales of spring away,

Where, forest-walled, the scattered hamlets lay

Along the wedded rivers. One long bar

Of purple cloud, on which the evening star

Shone like a jewel on a scimitar,

Held the sky’s golden gateway. Through the deep

Hush of the woods a murmur seemed to creep,

The Schuylkill whispering in a voice of sleep.

All else was still. The oxen from their ploughs

Rested at last, and from their long day’s browse

Came the dun files of Krisheim’s home-bound cows.

And the young city, round whose virgin zone

The rivers like two mighty arms were thrown,

Marked by the smoke of evening fires alone,

Lay in the distance, lovely even then

With its fair women and its stately men

Gracing the forest court of William Penn,

Urban yet sylvan; in its rough-hewn frames

Of oak and pine the dryads held their claims,

And lent its streets their pleasant woodland names.

Anna Pastorius down the leafy lane

Looked city-ward, then stooped to prune again

Her vines and simples, with a sigh of pain.

For fast the streaks of ruddy sunset paled

In the oak clearing, and, as daylight failed,

Slow, overhead, the dusky night-birds sailed.

Again she looked: between green walls of shade,

With low-bent head as if with sorrow weighed,

Daniel Pastorius slowly came and said,

“God’s peace be with thee, Anna!” Then he stood

Silent before her, wrestling with the mood

Of one who sees the evil and not good.

“What is it, my Pastorius?” As she spoke,

A slow, faint smile across his features broke,

Sadder than tears. “Dear heart,” he said, “our folk

“Are even as others. Yea, our goodliest Friends

Are frail; our elders have their selfish ends,

And few dare trust the Lord to make amends

“For duty’s loss. So even our feeble word

For the dumb slaves the startled meeting heard

As if a stone its quiet waters stirred;

“And, as the clerk ceased reading, there began

A ripple of dissent which downward ran

In widening circles, as from man to man.

“Somewhat was said of running before sent,

Of tender fear that some their guide outwent,

Troublers of Israel. I was scarce intent

“On hearing, for behind the reverend row

Of gallery Friends, in dumb and piteous show,

I saw, methought, dark faces full of woe.

“And, in the spirit, I was taken where

They toiled and suffered; I was made aware

Of shame and wrath and anguish and despair!

“And while the meeting smothered our poor plea

With cautious phrase, a Voice there seemed to be,

‘As ye have done to these ye do to me!’

“So it all passed; and the old tithe went on

Of anise, mint, and cumin, till the sun

Set, leaving still the weightier work undone.

“Help, for the good man faileth! Who is strong,

If these be weak? Who shall rebuke the wrong,

If these consent? How long, O Lord! how long!”

He ceased; and, bound in spirit with the bound,

With folded arms, and eyes that sought the ground,

Walked musingly his little garden round.

About him, beaded with the falling dew,

Rare plants of power and herbs of healing grew,

Such as Van Helmont and Agrippa knew.

For, by the lore of Gorlitz’ gentle sage,

With the mild mystics of his dreamy age

He read the herbal signs of nature’s page,

As once he heard in sweet Von Merlau’s bowers

Fair as herself, in boyhood’s happy hours,

The pious Spener read his creed in flowers.

“The dear Lord give us patience!” said his wife,

Touching with finger-tip an aloe, rife

With leaves sharp-pointed like an Aztec knife

Or Carib spear, a gift to William Penn

From the rare gardens of John Evelyn,

Brought from the Spanish Main by merchantmen.

“See this strange plant its steady purpose hold,

And, year by year, its patient leaves unfold,

Till the young eyes that watched it first are old.

“But some time, thou hast told me, there shall come

A sudden beauty, brightness, and perfume,

The century-moulded bud shall burst in bloom.

“So may the seed which hath been sown to-day

Grow with the years, and, after long delay,

Break into bloom, and God’s eternal Yea

“Answer at last the patient prayers of them

Who now, by faith alone, behold its stem

Crowned with the flowers of Freedom’s diadem.

“Meanwhile, to feel and suffer, work and wait,

Remains for us. The wrong indeed is great,

But love and patience conquer soon or late.”

“Well hast thou said, my Anna!” Tenderer

Than youth’s caress upon the head of her

Pastorius laid his hand. “Shall we demur

“Because the vision tarrieth? In an hour

We dream not of, the slow-grown bud may flower,

And what was sown in weakness rise in power!”

Then through the vine-draped door whose legend read,

“Procul este profani!” Anna led

To where their child upon his little bed

Looked up and smiled. “Dear heart,” she said, “if we

Must bearers of a heavy burden be,

Our boy, God willing, yet the day shall see

“When from the gallery to the farthest seat,

Slave and slave-owner shall no longer meet,

But all sit equal at the Master’s feet.”

On the stone hearth the blazing walnut block

Set the low walls a-glimmer, showed the cock

Rebuking Peter on the Van Wyck clock,

Shone on old tomes of law and physic, side

By side with Fox and Behmen, played at hide

And seek with Anna, midst her household pride

Of flaxen webs, and on the table, bare

Of costly cloth or silver cup, but where,

Tasting the fat shads of the Delaware,

The courtly Penn had praised the goodwife’s cheer,

And quoted Horace o’er her home-brewed beer,

Till even grave Pastorius smiled to hear.

In such a home, beside the Schuylkill’s wave,

He dwelt in peace with God and man, and gave

Food to the poor and shelter to the slave.

For all too soon the New World’s scandal shamed

The righteous code by Penn and Sidney framed,

And men withheld the human rights they claimed.

And slowly wealth and station sanction lent,

And hardened avarice, on its gains intent,

Stifled the inward whisper of dissent.

Yet all the while the burden rested sore

On tender hearts. At last Pastorius bore

Their warning message to the Church’s door

In God’s name; and the leaven of the word

Wrought ever after in the souls who heard,

And a dead conscience in its grave-clothes stirred

To troubled life, and urged the vain excuse

Of Hebrew custom, patriarchal use,

Good in itself if evil in abuse.

Gravely Pastorius listened, not the less

Discerning through the decent fig-leaf dress

Of the poor plea its shame of selfishness.

One Scripture rule, at least, was unforgot;

He hid the outcast, and bewrayed him not;

And, when his prey the human hunter sought,

He scrupled not, while Anna’s wise delay

And proffered cheer prolonged the master’s stay,

To speed the black guest safely on his way.

Yet, who shall guess his bitter grief who lends

His life to some great cause, and finds his friends

Shame or betray it for their private ends?

How felt the Master when his chosen strove

In childish folly for their seats above;

And that fond mother, blinded by her love,

Besought him that her sons, beside his throne,

Might sit on either hand? Amidst his own

A stranger oft, companionless and lone,

God’s priest and prophet stands. The martyr’s pain

Is not alone from scourge and cell and chain;

Sharper the pang when, shouting in his train,

His weak disciples by their lives deny

The loud hosannas of their daily cry,

And make their echo of his truth a lie.

His forest home no hermit’s cell he found,

Guests, motley-minded, drew his hearth around,

And held armed truce upon its neutral ground.

There Indian chiefs with battle-bows unstrung,

Strong, hero-limbed, like those whom Homer sung,

Pastorius fancied, when the world was young,

Came with their tawny women, lithe and tall,

Like bronzes in his friend Von Rodeck’s hall,

Comely, if black, and not unpleasing all.

There hungry folk in homespun drab and gray

Drew round his board on Monthly Meeting day,

Genial, half merry in their friendly way.

Or, haply, pilgrims from the Fatherland,

Weak, timid, homesick, slow to understand

The New World’s promise, sought his helping hand.

Or painful Kelpius from his hermit den

By Wissahickon, maddest of good men,

Dreamed o’er the Chiliast dreams of Petersen.

Deep in the woods, where the small river slid

Snake-like in shade, the Helmstadt Mystic hid,

Weird as a wizard, over arts forbid,

Reading the books of Daniel and of John,

And Behmen’s Morning-Redness, through the Stone

Of Wisdom, vouchsafed to his eyes alone,

Whereby he read what man ne’er read before,

And saw the visions man shall see no more,

Till the great angel, striding sea and shore,

Shall bid all flesh await, on land or ships,

The warning trump of the Apocalypse,

Shattering the heavens before the dread eclipse.

Or meek-eyed Mennonist his bearded chin

Leaned o’er the gate; or Ranter, pure within,

Aired his perfection in a world of sin.

Or, talking of old home scenes, Op der Graaf

Teased the low back-log with his shodden staff,

Till the red embers broke into a laugh

And dance of flame, as if they fain would cheer

The rugged face, half tender, half austere,

Touched with the pathos of a homesick tear!

Or Sluyter, saintly familist, whose word

As law the Brethren of the Manor heard,

Announced the speedy terrors of the Lord,

And turned, like Lot at Sodom, from his race,

Above a wrecked world with complacent face

Riding secure upon his plank of grace!

Haply, from Finland’s birchen groves exiled,

Manly in thought, in simple ways a child,

His white hair floating round his visage mild,

The Swedish pastor sought the Quaker’s door,

Pleased from his neighbor’s lips to hear once more

His long-disused and half-forgotten lore.

For both could baffle Babel’s lingual curse,

And speak in Bion’s Doric, and rehearse

Cleanthes’ hymn or Virgil’s sounding verse.

And oft Pastorius and the meek old man

Argued as Quaker and as Lutheran,

Ending in Christian love, as they began.

With lettered Lloyd on pleasant morns he strayed

Where Sommerhausen over vales of shade

Looked miles away, by every flower delayed,

Or song of bird, happy and free with one

Who loved, like him, to let his memory run

Over old fields of learning, and to sun

Himself in Plato’s wise philosophies,

And dream with Philo over mysteries

Whereof the dreamer never finds the keys;

To touch all themes of thought, nor weakly stop

For doubt of truth, but let the buckets drop

Deep down and bring the hidden waters up.

For there was freedom in that wakening time

Of tender souls; to differ was not crime;

The varying bells made up the perfect chime.

On lips unlike was laid the altar’s coal,

The white, clear light, tradition-colored, stole

Through the stained oriel of each human soul.

Gathered from many sects, the Quaker brought

His old beliefs, adjusting to the thought

That moved his soul the creed his fathers taught.

One faith alone, so broad that all mankind

Within themselves its secret witness find,

The soul’s communion with the Eternal Mind,

The Spirit’s law, the Inward Rule and Guide,

Scholar and peasant, lord and serf, allied,

The polished Penn and Cromwell’s Ironside.

As still in Hemskerck’s Quaker Meeting, face

By face in Flemish detail, we may trace

How loose-mouthed boor and fine ancestral grace

Sat in close contrast,—the clipt-headed churl,

Broad market-dame, and simple serving-girl

By skirt of silk and periwig in curl!

For soul touched soul; the spiritual treasure-trove

Made all men equal, none could rise above

Nor sink below that level of God’s love.

So, with his rustic neighbors sitting down,

The homespun frock beside the scholar’s gown,

Pastorius to the manners of the town

Added the freedom of the woods, and sought

The bookless wisdom by experience taught,

And learned to love his new-found home, while not

Forgetful of the old; the seasons went

Their rounds, and somewhat to his spirit lent

Of their own calm and measureless content.

Glad even to tears, he heard the robin sing

His song of welcome to the Western spring,

And bluebird borrowing from the sky his wing.

And when the miracle of autumn came,

And all the woods with many-colored flame

Of splendor, making summer’s greenness tame,

Burned, unconsumed, a voice without a sound

Spake to him from each kindled bush around,

And made the strange, new landscape holy ground!

And when the bitter north-wind, keen and swift,

Swept the white street and piled the dooryard drift,

He exercised, as Friends might say, his gift

Of verse, Dutch, English, Latin, like the hash

Of corn and beans in Indian succotash;

Dull, doubtless, but with here and there a flash

Of wit and fine conceit,—the good man’s play

Of quiet fancies, meet to while away

The slow hours measuring off an idle day.

At evening, while his wife put on her look

Of love’s endurance, from its niche he took

The written pages of his ponderous book.

And read, in half the languages of man,

His “Rusca Apium,” which with bees began,

And through the gamut of creation ran.

Or, now and then, the missive of some friend

In gray Altorf or storied Nürnberg penned

Dropped in upon him like a guest to spend

The night beneath his roof-tree. Mystical

The fair Von Merlau spake as waters fall

And voices sound in dreams, and yet withal

Human and sweet, as if each far, low tone,

Over the roses of her gardens blown

Brought the warm sense of beauty all her own.

Wise Spener questioned what his friend could trace

Of spiritual influx or of saving grace

In the wild natures of the Indian race.

And learned Schurmberg, fain, at times, to look

From Talmud, Koran, Veds, and Pentateuch,

Sought out his pupil in his far-off nook,

To query with him of climatic change,

Of bird, beast, reptile, in his forest range,

Of flowers and fruits and simples new and strange.

And thus the Old and New World reached their hands

Across the water, and the friendly lands

Talked with each other from their severed strands.

Pastorius answered all: while seed and root

Sent from his new home grew to flower and fruit

Along the Rhine and at the Spessart’s foot;

And, in return, the flowers his boyhood knew

Smiled at his door, the same in form and hue,

And on his vines the Rhenish clusters grew.

No idler he; whoever else might shirk,

He set his hand to every honest work,—

Farmer and teacher, court and meeting clerk.

Still on the town seal his device is found,

Grapes, flax, and thread-spool on a trefoil ground,

With “Vinum, Linum et Textrinum” wound.

One house sufficed for gospel and for law,

Where Paul and Grotius, Scripture text and saw,

Assured the good, and held the rest in awe.

Whatever legal maze he wandered through,

He kept the Sermon on the Mount in view,

And justice always into mercy grew.

No whipping-post he needed, stocks, nor jail,

Nor ducking-stool; the orchard-thief grew pale

At his rebuke, the vixen ceased to rail,

The usurer’s grasp released the forfeit land;

The slanderer faltered at the witness-stand,

And all men took his counsel for command.

Was it caressing air, the brooding love

Of tenderer skies than German land knew of,

Green calm below, blue quietness above,

Still flow of water, deep repose of wood

That, with a sense of loving Fatherhood

And childlike trust in the Eternal Good,

Softened all hearts, and dulled the edge of hate,

Hushed strife, and taught impatient zeal to wait

The slow assurance of the better state?

Who knows what goadings in their sterner way

O’er jagged ice, relieved by granite gray,

Blew round the men of Massachusetts Bay?

What hate of heresy the east-wind woke?

What hints of pitiless power and terror spoke

In waves that on their iron coast-line broke?

Be it as it may: within the Land of Penn

The sectary yielded to the citizen,

And peaceful dwelt the many-creeded men.

Peace brooded over all. No trumpet stung

The air to madness, and no steeple flung

Alarums down from bells at midnight rung.

The land slept well. The Indian from his face

Washed all his war-paint off, and in the place

Of battle-marches sped the peaceful chase,

Or wrought for wages at the white man’s side,—

Giving to kindness what his native pride

And lazy freedom to all else denied.

And well the curious scholar loved the old

Traditions that his swarthy neighbors told

By wigwam-fires when nights were growing cold,

Discerned the fact round which their fancy drew

Its dreams, and held their childish faith more true

To God and man than half the creeds he knew.

The desert blossomed round him; wheat-fields rolled

Beneath the warm wind waves of green and gold;

The planted ear returned its hundred-fold.

Great clusters ripened in a warmer sun

Than that which by the Rhine stream shines upon

The purpling hillsides with low vines o’errun.

About each rustic porch the humming-bird

Tried with light bill, that scarce a petal stirred,

The Old World flowers to virgin soil transferred;

And the first-fruits of pear and apple, bending

The young boughs down, their gold and russet blending,

Made glad his heart, familiar odors lending

To the fresh fragrance of the birch and pine,

Life-everlasting, bay, and eglantine,

And all the subtle scents the woods combine.

Fair First-Day mornings, steeped in summer calm,

Warm, tender, restful, sweet with woodland balm,

Came to him, like some mother-hallowed psalm

To the tired grinder at the noisy wheel

Of labor, winding off from memory’s reel

A golden thread of music. With no peal

Of bells to call them to the house of praise,

The scattered settlers through green forest-ways

Walked meeting-ward. In reverent amaze

The Indian trapper saw them, from the dim

Shade of the alders on the rivulet’s rim,

Seek the Great Spirit’s house to talk with Him.

There, through the gathered stillness multiplied

And made intense by sympathy, outside

The sparrows sang, and the gold-robin cried,

A-swing upon his elm. A faint perfume

Breathed through the open windows of the room

From locust-trees, heavy with clustered bloom.

Thither, perchance, sore-tried confessors came,

Whose fervor jail nor pillory could tame,

Proud of the cropped ears meant to be their shame,

Men who had eaten slavery’s bitter bread

In Indian isles; pale women who had bled

Under the hangman’s lash, and bravely said

God’s message through their prison’s iron bars;

And gray old soldier-converts, seamed with scars

From every stricken field of England’s wars.

Lowly before the Unseen Presence knelt

Each waiting heart, till haply some one felt

On his moved lips the seal of silence melt.

Or, without spoken words, low breathings stole

Of a diviner life from soul to soul,

Baptizing in one tender thought the whole.

When shaken hands announced the meeting o’er,

The friendly group still lingered at the door,

Greeting, inquiring, sharing all the store

Of weekly tidings. Meanwhile youth and maid

Down the green vistas of the woodland strayed,

Whispered and smiled and oft their feet delayed.

Did the boy’s whistle answer back the thrushes?

Did light girl laughter ripple through the bushes,

As brooks make merry over roots and rushes?

Unvexed the sweet air seemed. Without a wound

The ear of silence heard, and every sound

Its place in nature’s fine accordance found.

And solemn meeting, summer sky and wood,

Old kindly faces, youth and maidenhood

Seemed, like God’s new creation, very good!

And, greeting all with quiet smile and word,

Pastorius went his way. The unscared bird

Sang at his side; scarcely the squirrel stirred

At his hushed footstep on the mossy sod;

And, wheresoe’er the good man looked or trod,

He felt the peace of nature and of God.

His social life wore no ascetic form,

He loved all beauty, without fear of harm,

And in his veins his Teuton blood ran warm.

Strict to himself, of other men no spy,

He made his own no circuit-judge to try

The freer conscience of his neighbors by.

With love rebuking, by his life alone,

Gracious and sweet, the better way was shown,

The joy of one, who, seeking not his own,

And faithful to all scruples, finds at last

The thorns and shards of duty overpast,

And daily life, beyond his hope’s forecast,

Pleasant and beautiful with sight and sound,

And flowers upspringing in its narrow round,

And all his days with quiet gladness crowned.

He sang not; but, if sometimes tempted strong,

He hummed what seemed like Altorf’s Burschen-song;

His good wife smiled, and did not count it wrong.

For well he loved his boyhood’s brother band;

His Memory, while he trod the New World’s strand,

A double-ganger walked the Fatherland!

If, when on frosty Christmas eves the light

Shone on his quiet hearth, he missed the sight

Of Yule-log, Tree, and Christ-child all in white;

And closed his eyes, and listened to the sweet

Old wait-songs sounding down his native street,

And watched again the dancers’ mingling feet;

Yet not the less, when once the vision passed,

He held the plain and sober maxims fast

Of the dear Friends with whom his lot was cast.

Still all attuned to nature’s melodies,

He loved the bird’s song in his dooryard trees,

And the low hum of home-returning bees;

The blossomed flax, the tulip-trees in bloom

Down the long street, the beauty and perfume

Of apple-boughs, the mingling light and gloom

Of Sommerhausen’s woodlands, woven through

With sun-threads; and the music the wind drew,

Mournful and sweet, from leaves it overblew.

And evermore, beneath this outward sense,

And through the common sequence of events,

He felt the guiding hand of Providence

Reach out of space. A Voice spake in his ear,

And lo! all other voices far and near

Died at that whisper, full of meanings clear.

The Light of Life shone round him; one by one

The wandering lights, that all-misleading run,

Went out like candles paling in the sun.

That Light he followed, step by step, where’er

It led, as in the vision of the seer

The wheels moved as the spirit in the clear

And terrible crystal moved, with all their eyes

Watching the living splendor sink or rise,

Its will their will, knowing no otherwise.

Within himself he found the law of right,

He walked by faith and not the letter’s sight,

And read his Bible by the Inward Light.

And if sometimes the slaves of form and rule,

Frozen in their creeds like fish in winter’s pool,

Tried the large tolerance of his liberal school,

His door was free to men of every name,

He welcomed all the seeking souls who came,

And no man’s faith he made a cause of blame.

But best he loved in leisure hours to see

His own dear Friends sit by him knee to knee,

In social converse, genial, frank, and free.

There sometimes silence (it were hard to tell

Who owned it first) upon the circle fell,

Hushed Anna’s busy wheel, and laid its spell

On the black boy who grimaced by the hearth,

To solemnize his shining face of mirth;

Only the old clock ticked amidst the dearth

Of sound; nor eye was raised nor hand was stirred

In that soul-sabbath, till at last some word

Of tender counsel or low prayer was heard.

Then guests, who lingered but farewell to say

And take love’s message, went their homeward way;

So passed in peace the guileless Quaker’s day.

His was the Christian’s unsung Age of Gold,

A truer idyl than the bards have told

Of Arno’s banks or Arcady of old.

Where still the Friends their place of burial keep,

And century-rooted mosses o’er it creep,

The Nürnberg scholar and his helpmeet sleep.

And Anna’s aloe? If it flowered at last

In Bartram’s garden, did John Woolman cast

A glance upon it as he meekly passed?

And did a secret sympathy possess

That tender soul, and for the slave’s redress

Lend hope, strength, patience? It were vain to guess.

Nay, were the plant itself but mythical,

Set in the fresco of tradition’s wall

Like Jotham’s bramble, mattereth not at all.

Enough to know that, through the winter’s frost

And summer’s heat, no seed of truth is lost,

And every duty pays at last its cost.

For, ere Pastorius left the sun and air,

God sent the answer to his life-long prayer;

The child was born beside the Delaware,

Who, in the power a holy purpose lends,

Guided his people unto nobler ends,

And left them worthier of the name of Friends.

And lo! the fulness of the time has come,

And over all the exile’s Western home,

From sea to sea the flowers of freedom bloom!

And joy-bells ring, and silver trumpets blow;

But not for thee, Pastorius! Even so

The world forgets, but the wise angels know.