Home  »  Yale Book of American Verse  »  80 The Watchers

Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse. 1912.

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807–1892

John Greenleaf Whittier

80 The Watchers

BESIDE a stricken field I stood;

On the torn turf, on grass and wood,

Hung heavily the dew of blood.

Still in their fresh mounds lay the slain,

But all the air was quick with pain

And gusty sighs and tearful rain.

Two angels, each with drooping head

And folded wings and noiseless tread,

Watched by that valley of the dead.

The one, with forehead saintly bland

And lips of blessing, not command,

Leaned, weeping, on her olive wand.

The other’s brows were scarred and knit,

His restless eyes were watch-fires lit,

His hands for battle-gauntlets fit.

“How long”—I knew the voice of Peace,—

“Is there no respite?—no release?—

When shall the hopeless quarrel cease?

“O Lord, how long!—One human soul

Is more than any parchment scroll,

Or any flag thy winds unroll.

“What price was Ellsworth’s, young and brave?

How weigh the gift that Lyon gave,

Or count the cost of Winthrop’s grave?

“O brother! if thine eye can see,

Tell how and when the end shall be,

What hope remains for thee and me.”

Then Freedom sternly said: “I shun

No strife nor pang beneath the sun,

When human rights are staked and won.

“I knelt with Ziska’s hunted flock,

I watched in Toussaint’s cell of rock,

I walked with Sidney to the block.

“The moor of Marston felt my tread,

Through Jersey snows the march I led,

My voice Magenta’s charges sped.

“But now, through weary day and night,

I watch a vague and aimless fight

For leave to strike one blow aright.

“On either side my foe they own:

One guards through love his ghastly throne,

And one through fear to reverence grown.

“Why wait we longer, mocked, betrayed,

By open foes, or those afraid

To speed thy coming through my aid?

“Why watch to see who win or fall?—

I shake the dust against them all,

I leave them to their senseless brawl.”

“Nay,” Peace implored: “yet longer wait;

The doom is near, the stake is great:

God knoweth if it be too late.

“Still wait and watch; the way prepare

Where I with folded wings of prayer

May follow, weaponless and bare.”

“Too late!” the stern, sad voice replied,

“Too late!” its mournful echo sighed,

In low lament the answer died.

A rustling as of wings in flight,

An upward gleam of lessening white,

So passed the vision, sound and sight.

But round me, like a silver bell

Rung down the listening sky to tell

Of holy help, a sweet voice fell.

“Still hope and trust,” it sang; “the rod

Must fall, the wine-press must be trod,

But all is possible with God!”