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Anti-Slavery Poems
On a Prayer-Book

by John Greenleaf Whittier

with its Frontispiece, Ary Scheffer's "Christus Consolator,"
Americanized by the Omission of the Black Man

It is hardly to be credited, yet is true, that in the anxiety of the
Northern merchant to conciliate his Southern customer, a publisher was
found ready thus to mutilate Scheffer's picture. He intended his edition
for use in the Southern States undoubtedly, but copies fell into the
hands of those who believed literally in a gospel which was to preach
liberty to the captive.

O Ary Scheffer! when beneath thine eye,
Touched with the light that cometh from above,
Grew the sweet picture of the dear Lord's love,
No dream hadst thou that Christian hands would tear
Therefrom the token of His equal care,
And make thy symbol of His truth a lie
The poor, dumb slave whose shackles fall away
In His compassionate gaze, grubbed smoothly out,
To mar no more the exercise devout
Of sleek oppression kneeling down to pray
Where the great oriel stains the Sabbath day!
Let whoso can before such praying-books
Kneel on his velvet cushion; I, for one,
Would sooner bow, a Parsee, to the sun,
Or tend a prayer-wheel in Thibetar brooks,
Or beat a drum on Yedo's temple-floor.
No falser idol man has bowed before,
In Indian groves or islands of the sea,
Than that which through the quaint-carved Gothic door
Looks forth,--a Church without humanity!
Patron of pride, and prejudice, and wrong,--
The rich man's charm and fetich of the strong,
The Eternal Fulness meted, clipped, and shorn,
The seamless robe of equal mercy torn,
The dear Christ hidden from His kindred flesh,
And, in His poor ones, crucified afresh!
Better the simple Lama scattering wide,
Where sweeps the storm Alechan's steppes along,
His paper horses for the lost to ride,
And wearying Buddha with his prayers to make
The figures living for the traveller's sake,
Than he who hopes with cheap praise to beguile
The ear of God, dishonoring man the while;
Who dreams the pearl gate's hinges, rusty grown,
Are moved by flattery's oil of tongue alone;
That in the scale Eternal Justice bears
The generous deed weighs less than selfish prayers,
And words intoned with graceful unction move
The Eternal Goodness more than lives of truth and love.
Alas, the Church! The reverend head of Jay,
Enhaloed with its saintly silvered hair,
Adorns no more the places of her prayer;
And brave young Tyng, too early called away,
Troubles the Haman of her courts no more
Like the just Hebrew at the Assyrian's door;
And her sweet ritual, beautiful but dead
As the dry husk from which the grain is shed,
And holy hymns from which the life devout
Of saints and martyrs has wellnigh gone out,
Like candles dying in exhausted air,
For Sabbath use in measured grists are ground;
And, ever while the spiritual mill goes round,
Between the upper and the nether stones,
Unseen, unheard, the wretched bondman groans,
And urges his vain plea, prayer-smothered, anthem-drowned!

O heart of mine, keep patience! Looking forth,
As from the Mount of Vision, I behold,
Pure, just, and free, the Church of Christ on earth;
The martyr's dream, the golden age foretold!
And found, at last, the mystic Graal I see,
Brimmed with His blessing, pass from lip to lip
In sacred pledge of human fellowship;
And over all the songs of angels hear;
Songs of the love that casteth out all fear;
Songs of the Gospel of Humanity!
Lo! in the midst, with the same look He wore,
Healing and blessing on Genesaret's shore,
Folding together, with the all-tender might
Of His great love, the dark bands and the white,
Stands the Consoler, soothing every pain,
Making all burdens light, and breaking every chain.

1859.
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