John Greenleaf Whittier
Stand still, my soul, in the silent dark
I would question thee,
Alone in the shadow drear and stark
With God and me!
What, my soul, was thy errand here?
Was it mirth or ease,
Or heaping up dust from year to year?
“Nay, none of these!”
Speak, soul, aright in His holy sight
Whose eye looks still
And steadily on thee through the night:
“To do His will!”
What hast thou done, O soul of mine,
That thou tremblest so?
Hast thou wrought His task, and kept the line
He bade thee go?
What, silent all! art sad of cheer?
Art fearful now?
When God seemed far and men were near
How brave wert thou!
Aha! them tremblest!—well I see
Thou ’rt craven grown.
Is it so hard with God and me
To stand alone?
Summon thy sunshine bravery back,
O wretched sprite!
Let me hear thy voice through this deep and black
What hast thou wrought for Right and Truth,
For God and Man,
From the golden hours of bright-eyed youth
To life’s mid span?
Ah, soul of mine, thy tones I hear,
But weak and low,
Like far sad murmurs on my ear
They come and go.
“I have wrestled stoutly with the Wrong,
And borne the Right
From beneath the footfall of the throng
To life and light.
“Wherever Freedom shivered1 a chain,
‘God speed,’ quoth I;
To Error amidst her shouting train
I gave the lie.”
Ah, soul of mine! ah, soul of mine!
Thy deeds are well:
Were they wrought for Truth’s sake or for thine?
My soul, pray tell.
“Of all the work my hand hath wrought
Beneath the sky,
Save a place in kindly human thought,
No gain have I.”
Go to, go to! for thy very self
Thy deeds were done:
Thou for fame, the miser for pelf,
Your end is one!
And where art thou going, soul of mine?
Canst see the end?
And whither this troubled life of thine
Evermore doth tend?
What daunts thee now? what shakes thee so?
My sad soul, say.
“I see a cloud like a curtain low
Hang o’er my way.
“Whither I go I cannot tell:
That cloud hangs black,
High as the heaven and deep as hell
Across my track.
“I see its shadow coldly enwrap
The souls before.
Sadly they enter it step by step,
To return no more.
“They shrink, they shudder, dear God! they kneel
To Thee in prayer.
They shut their eyes on the cloud, but feel
That it still is there.
“In vain they turn from the dread Before
To the Known and Gone;
For while gazing behind them evermore
Their feet glide on.
“Yet, at times, I see upon sweet pale faces
A light begin
To tremble, as if from holy places
And shrines within.
“And at times methinks their cold lips move
With hymn and prayer,
As if somewhat of awe, but more of love
And hope were there.
“I call on the souls who have left the light
To reveal their lot;
I bend mine ear to that wall of night,
And they answer not.
“But I hear around me sighs of pain
And the cry of fear,
And a sound like the slow sad dropping of rain,
Each drop a tear!
“Ah, the cloud is dark, and day by day
I am moving thither:
I must pass beneath it on my way—
God pity me!—whither?”
Ah, soul of mine! so brave and wise,
In the life-storm loud,
Fronting so calmly all human eyes
In the sunlit crowd!
Now standing apart with God and me
Thou art weakness all,
Gazing vainly after the things to be
Through Death’s dread wall.
But never for this, never for this
Was thy being lent;
For the craven’s fear is but selfishness,
Like his merriment.
Folly and Fear are sisters twain:
One closing her eyes,
The other peopling the dark inane
With spectral lies.
Know well, my soul, God’s hand controls
Whate’er thou fearest;
Round Him in calmest music rolls
Whate’er thou hearest.
What to thee is shadow, to Him is day,
And the end He knoweth,
And not on a blind and aimless way
The spirit goeth.
Man sees no future,—a phantom show
Is alone before him;
Past Time is dead, and the grasses grow,
And flowers bloom o’er him.
Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of Faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The rock beneath.
The Present, the Present is all thou hast
For thy sure possessing;
Like the patriarch’s angel hold it fast
Till it gives its blessing.
Why fear the night? why shrink from Death,
That phantom wan?
There is nothing in heaven or earth beneath
Save God and man.
Peopling the shadows we turn from Him
And from one another;
All is spectral and vague and dim
Save God and our brother!
Like warp and woof all destinies
Are woven fast,
Linked in sympathy like the keys
Of an organ vast.
Pluck one thread, and the web ye mar;
Break but one
Of a thousand keys, and the paining jar
Through all will run.
O restless spirit! wherefore strain
Beyond thy sphere?
Heaven and hell, with their joy and pain,
Are now and here.
Back to thyself is measured well
All thou hast given;
Thy neighbor’s wrong is thy present hell,
His bliss, thy heaven.
And in life, in death, in dark and light,
All are in God’s care:
Sound the black abyss, pierce the deep of night,
And He is there!
All which is real now remaineth,
And fadeth never:
The hand which upholds it now sustaineth
The soul forever.
Leaning on Him, make with reverent meekness
His own thy will,
And with strength from Him shall thy utter weakness
Life’s task fulfil;
And that cloud itself, which now before thee
Lies dark in view,
Shall with beams of light from the inner glory
Be stricken through.
And like meadow mist through autumn’s dawn
Its thickest folds when about thee drawn
Let sunlight in.
Then of what is to be, and of what is done,
Why queriest thou?
The past and the time to be are one,
And both are now!
- Shiver: used in its older sense, the word here means to break, shatter, splinter, or split. ↩