Sunday, March 28, 2004

Poem for Sunday

By John Greenleaf Whittier

So fallen! so lost! the light withdrawn
  Which once he wore!
The glory from his gray hairs gone

Revile him not -- the Tempter hath
  A snare for all;
And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath,
  Befit his fall!

Oh! dumb be passion's stormy rage,
  When he who might
Have lighted up and led his age,
  Falls back in night.

Scorn! Would the angels laugh, to mark
  A bright soul driven,
Fiend-goaded, down the endless dark,
  From hope and heaven!

Let not the land, once proud of him,
  Insult him now,
Nor brand with deeper shame his dim,
  Dishonored brow.

But let its humbled sons, instead,
  From sea to lake,
A long lament, as for the dead,
  In sadness make.

Of all we loved and honored, nought
  Save power remains --
A fallen angel's pride of thought,
  Still strong in chains.

All else is gone; from those great eyes
  The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies,
  The man is dead!

Then, pay the reverence of old days
  To his dead fame;
Walk backward, with averted gaze,
  And hide the shame!


From Poet's Choice by Edward Hirsch in this morning's Washington Post Book World: "The 19th-century New England poet of place was also a fiery abolitionist and socially engaged protest poet...his best antislavery poems include the sardonic ballad "The Hunters of Men," "Songs of Slaves in the Desert" and "Ichabod!," a mournful lament and furious attack on Daniel Webster for supporting the Compromise of 1850, which included a new Fugitive Slave Law. Ichabod means "inglorious" in Hebrew, and Whittier applies it to Webster for betraying the anti-slavery cause.

Also, because it is 's birthday and she requested it: Shel Silverstein!

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