January 16, 2011

Whittier: To keep our faith and patience

John Greenleaf Whittier based his early career almost entirely on his anti-slavery views, writing abolitionist poetry and articles for The Liberator and elsewhere (he was also a good friend of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison). When South Carolina was the first to secede from the Union, he began to worry about the country; he worried more when Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida followed suit. In response, on January 16, 1861, he wrote "A Word for the Hour":

The firmament breaks up. In black eclipse
Light after light goes out. One evil star,
Luridly glaring through the smoke of war,
As in the dream of the Apocalypse,
Drags others down. Let us not weakly weep
Nor rashly threaten. Give us grace to keep
Our faith and patience; wherefore should we leap
On one hand into fratricidal fight,
Or, on the other, yield eternal right,
Frame lies of laws, and good and ill confound?
What fear we? Safe on freedom's vantage ground
Our feet are planted; let us there remain
In un-revengeful calm, no means untried
Which truth can sanction, no just claim denied,
The sad spectators of a suicide!
They break the lines of Union: shall we light
The fires of hell to weld anew the chain
On that red anvil where each blow is pain?
Draw we not even now a freer breath,
As from our shoulders falls a load of death
Loathsome as that the Tuscan's victim bore
When keen with life to a dead horror bound?
Why take we up the accursed thing again?
Pity, forgive, but urge them back no more
Who, drunk with passion, flaunt disunion's rag
With its vile reptile blazon. Let us press
The golden cluster on our brave old flag
In closer union, and, if numbering less,
Brighter shall shine the stars which still remain.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.