Written to introduce the first general collection of his poems
I LOVE the old melodious lays
Which softly melt the ages through,
The songs of Spenser’s golden days,
Arcadian Sidney’s silvery phrase,
Sprinkling our noon of time with freshest morning dew.
Yet, vainly in my quiet hours
To breathe their marvellous notes I try;
I feel them, as the leaves and flowers
In silence feel the dewy showers,
And drink with glad still lips the blessing of the sky.
The rigor of a frozen clime,
The harshness of an untaught ear,
The jarring words of one whose rhyme
Beats often Labor’s hurried time,
Or Duty’s rugged march through storm and strife, are here.
Of mystic beauty, dreamy grace,
No rounded art the lack supplies;
Unskilled the subtle lines to trace,
Or softer shades of Nature’s face,
I view her common forms with unanointed eyes.
Nor mine the seer-like power to show
The secrets of the heart and mind;
To drop the plummet-line below
Our common world of joy and woe,
A more intense despair or brighter hope to find.
Yet here at least an earnest sense
Of human right and weal is shown;
A hate of tyranny intense,
And hearty in its vehemence,
As if my brother’s pain and sorrow were my own.
O Freedom! if to me belong
Nor mighty Milton’s gift divine,
Nor Marvell’s wit and graceful song,
Still with a love as deep and strong
As theirs, I lay, like them, my best gifts on thy shrine!
John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807-1892