The Complete Works of John Greenleaf Whittier
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
Beat 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.
AMESBURY, 11th mo., 1847.
The edition of my poems published in 1857 contained the following note
by way of preface:--
"In these volumes, for the first time, a complete collection of my
poetical writings has been made. While it is satisfactory to know that
these scattered children of my brain have found a home, I cannot but
regret that I have been unable, by reason of illness, to give that
attention to their revision and arrangement, which respect for the
opinions of others and my own afterthought and experience demand.
"That there are pieces in this collection which I would 'willingly let
die,' I am free to confess. But it is now too late to disown them, and I
must submit to the inevitable penalty of poetical as well as other sins.
There are others, intimately connected with the author's life and times,
which owe their tenacity of vitality to the circumstances under which
they were written, and the events by which they were suggested.
"The long poem of Mogg Megone was in a great measure composed in early
life; and it is scarcely necessary to say that its subject is not such
as the writer would have chosen at any subsequent period."
After a lapse of thirty years since the above was written, I have been
requested by my publishers to make some preparation for a new and
revised edition of my poems. I cannot flatter myself that I have added
much to the interest of the work beyond the correction of my own errors
and those of the press, with the addition of a few heretofore
unpublished pieces, and occasional notes of explanation which seemed
necessary. I have made an attempt to classify the poems under a few
general heads, and have transferred the long poem of Mogg Megone to the
Appendix, with other specimens of my earlier writings. I have endeavored
to affix the dates of composition or publication as far as possible.
In looking over these poems I have not been unmindful of occasional
prosaic lines and verbal infelicities, but at this late day I have
neither strength nor patience to undertake their correction.
Perhaps a word of explanation may be needed in regard to a class of
poems written between the years 1832 and 1865. Of their defects from an
artistic point of view it is not necessary to speak. They were the
earnest and often vehement expression of the writer's thought and
feeling at critical periods in the great conflict between Freedom and
Slavery. They were written with no expectation that they would survive
the occasions which called them forth: they were protests, alarm
signals, trumpet-calls to action, words wrung from the writer's heart,
forged at white heat, and of course lacking the finish and careful
word-selection which reflection and patient brooding over them might
have given. Such as they are, they belong to the history of the
Anti-Slavery movement, and may serve as way-marks of its progress. If
their language at times seems severe and harsh, the monstrous wrong of
Slavery which provoked it must be its excuse, if any is needed. In
attacking it, we did not measure our words. "It is," said Garrison,
"a waste of politeness to be courteous to the devil." But in truth the
contest was, in a great measure, an impersonal one,--hatred of slavery
and not of slave-masters.
"No common wrong provoked our zeal,
The silken gauntlet which is thrown
In such a quarrel rings like steel."
Even Thomas Jefferson, in his terrible denunciation of Slavery in the
Notes on Virginia, says "It is impossible to be temperate and pursue the
subject of Slavery." After the great contest was over, no class of the
American people were more ready, with kind words and deprecation of
harsh retaliation, to welcome back the revolted States than the
Abolitionists; and none have since more heartily rejoiced at the fast
increasing prosperity of the South.
Grateful for the measure of favor which has been accorded to my
writings, I leave this edition with the public. It contains all that I
care to re-publish, and some things which, had the matter of choice been
left solely to myself, I should have omitted.
J. G. W.