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His life's expense
While we, who make pretence
Our fickle permanence
Is the mere cheat of sense.
We bide our chance,
He leads for aye the advance,
Our wall of circumstance
And steel each wavering glance.
I write of one,
Ah, when the fight is won, Dear Land, whom triflers now make bold to scorn, (Thee! from whose forehead Earth awaits her morn,)
How nobler shall the sun
And die as thine have done !
ON BOARD THE '76. WRITTEN FOR MR. BRYANT'S SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY.
NOVEMBER 3, 1864.
Our ship lay tumbling in an angry sea,
Her rudder gone, her main-mast o'er the side ; Her scuppers, from the waves' clutch staggering free
Trailed threads of priceless crimson through the tide : Sails, shrouds, and spars with pirate cannon torn,
We lay, awaiting morn.
Awaiting morn, such morn as mocks despair ?
And she that bore the promise of the world Within her sides, now hopeless, helmless, bare,
At random o'er the wildering waters hurled ;
Not sullener than we.
When lo, a sail! Now surely help was nigh ; The red cross flames aloft, Christ's pledge ; but no,
Her black guns grinning hate, she rushes by
Sink, then, with curses fraught !”
And my lids tingled with the tears held back ;
The manly death-grip in the battle wrack,
Than such fear-smothered war.
The fiercer for his hurt. What now were best?
Though death came with it? Or evade the test If right or wrong in this God's world of ours
Be leagued with higher powers ? Some, faintly loyal, felt their pulses lag
With the slow beat that doubts and then despairs ; Some, caitiff, would have struck the starry flag
That knits us with our past, and makes us heirs Of deeds high-hearted as were ever done
'Neath the all-seeing sun. But there was one, the Singer of our crew,
Upon whose head Age waved his peaceful sign, But whose red heart's-blood no surrender knew ;
And couchant under brows of massive line, The eyes, like guns beneath a parapet,
Watched, charged with lightnings yet. The voices of the hills did his obey ;
The torrents flashed and tumbled in his song ;
Or set us 'mid the innumerable throng
Old homestead's evening psalm.
But now he sang of faith to things unseen,
Of freedom's birthright given to us in trust ; And words of doughty cheer he spoke between,
That made all earthly fortune seem as dust, Matched with that duty, old as Time and new,
Of being brave and true. We, listening, learned what makes the might of words, –
Manhood to back them, constant as a star His voice rammed home our cannon, edged our swords,
And sent our boarders shouting ; shroud and spar
The winds with loftier mood.
Remanned ourselves from his own manhood's store ; Pride, honour, country, throbbed through all his strain ;
And shall we praise ? God's praise was his before ; And on our futile laurels he looks down,
Himself our bravest crown.
ODE RECITED AT THE HARVARD
JULY 21, 1865.
WEAK-WINGED is song,
We seem to do them wrong,
Yet sometimes feathered words are strong,
Her wisest Scholars, those who understood
No lore of Greece or Rome,
No science peddling with the names of things,
Can list our life with wings
And lengthen out our dates
Not such the trumpet-call
That could thy sons entice
Into War's tumult rude ;
But rather far than stern device
In the dim, unventured wood,
The letter's unprolific sheath,
One heavenly thing whereof earth hath the giving.
Many loved Truth, and lavished life's best oil
Amid the dusk of books to find her,
Many in sad faith sought for her,
Their higher instinct knew
They followed her and found her
Where all may hope to find,
Where faith made whole with deed
With sweet stern face unveiled,
Our slender life runs rippling by, and glides
What is there that abides
Is earth too poor to give us
Some more substantial boon
The little that we see
With our laborious hiving
Life seems a jest of Fate's contriving,
Only secure in every one's conniving,
After our little hour of strut and rave,
Are tossed pell-mell together in the grave.
Ah, there is something here
Something that leaps life's narrow bars
A seed of sunshine that doth leaven
And glorify our clay
A conscience more divine than we,
A light across the sea,