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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Vaudois Teacher

  • This poem was suggested by the account given of the manner in which the Waldenses disseminated their principles among the Catholic gentry. They gained access to the house through their occupation as peddlers of silks, jewels, and trinkets. “Having disposed of some of their goods,” it is said by a writer who quotes the inquisitor Rainerus Sacco, “they cautiously intimated that they had commodities far more valuable than these, inestimable jewels, which they would show if they could be protected from the clergy. They would then give their purchasers a Bible or Testament; and thereby many were deluded into heresy.”
  • The poem, under the title Le Colporteur Vaudois, was translated into French by Professor G. de Felice, of Montauban, and further naturalized by Professor Alexandre Rodolphe Vinet, who quoted it in his lectures on French literature, afterwards published. It became familiar in this form to the Waldenses, who adopted it as a household poem. An American clergyman, J. C. Fletcher, frequently heard it when he was a student, about the year 1850, in the theological seminary at Geneva, Switzerland, but the authorship of the poem was unknown to those who used it. Twenty-five years later, Mr. Fletcher, learning the name of the author, wrote to the moderator of the Waldensian synod at La Tour, giving the information. At the banquet which closed the meeting of the synod, the moderator announced the fact, and was instructed in the name of the Waldensian church to write to me a letter of thanks. My letter, written in reply, was translated into Italian and printed throughout Italy.

  • O LADY fair, these silks of mine are beautiful and rare,—

    The richest web of the Indian loom, which beauty’s queen might wear;

    And my pearls are pure as thy own fair neck, with whose radiant light they vie;

    I have brought them with me a weary way,—will my gentle lady buy?”

    The lady smiled on the worn old man through the dark and clustering curls

    Which veiled her brow, as she bent to view his silks and glittering pearls;

    And she placed their price in the old man’s hand and lightly turned away,

    But she paused at the wanderer’s earnest call,—“My gentle lady, stay!

    “O lady fair, I have yet a gem which a purer lustre flings,

    Than the diamond flash of the jewelled crown on the lofty brow of kings;

    A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue shall not decay,

    Whose light shall be as a spell to thee and a blessing on thy way!”

    The lady glanced at the mirroring steel where her form of grace was seen,

    Where her eye shone clear, and her dark locks waved their clasping pearls between;

    “Bring forth thy pearl of exceeding worth, thou traveller gray and old,

    And name the price of thy precious gem, and my page shall count thy gold.”

    The cloud went off from the pilgrim’s brow, as a small and meagre book,

    Unchased with gold or gem of cost, from his folding robe he took!

    “Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price, may it prove as such to thee!

    Nay, keep thy gold—I ask it not, for the word of God is free!”

    The hoary traveller went his way, but the gift he left behind

    Hath had its pure and perfect work on that high-born maiden’s mind,

    And she hath turned from the pride of sin to the lowliness of truth,

    And given her human heart to God in its beautiful hour of youth!

    And she hath left the gray old halls, where an evil faith had power,

    The courtly knights of her father’s train, and the maidens of her bower;

    And she hath gone to the Vaudois vales by lordly feet untrod,

    Where the poor and needy of earth are rich in the perfect love of God!