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The Voices




by: John Greenleaf Whittier

WHY urge the long, unequal fight,
Since Truth has fallen in the street,
Or lift anew the trampled light,
Quenched by the heedless million's feet?

"Give o'er the thankless task; forsake
The fools who know not ill from good
Eat, drink, enjoy thy own, and take
Thine ease among the multitude.

"Live out thyself; with others share
Thy proper life no more; assume
The unconcern of sun and air,
For life or death, or blight or bloom.

"The mountain pine looks calmly on
The fires that scourge the plains below,
Nor heeds the eagle in the sun
The small birds piping in the snow!

"The world is God's, not thine; let Him
Work out a change, if change must be
The hand that planted best can trim
And nurse the old unfruitful tree."

So spake the Tempter, when the light
Of sun and stars had left the sky;
I listened, through the cloud and night,
And beard, methought, a voice reply:

"Thy task may well seem over-hard,
Who scatterest in a thankless soil
Thy life as seed, with no reward
Save that which Duty gives to Toil.

"Not wholly is thy heart resigned
To Heaven's benign and just decree,
Which, linking thee with all thy kind,
Transmits their joys and griefs to thee.

"Break off that sacred chain, and turn
Back on thyself thy love and care;
Be thou thine own mean idol, burn
Faith, Hope, and Trust, thy children, there.

"Released from that fraternal law
Which shares the common bale and bliss,
No sadder lot could Folly draw,
Or Sin provoke from Fate, than this.

"The meal unshared is food unblest
Thou hoard'st in vain what love should spend;
Self-ease is pain; thy only rest
Is labor for a worthy end;

"A toil that gains with what it yields,
And scatters to its own increase,
And hears, while sowing outward fields,
The harvest-song of inward peace.

"Free-lipped the liberal streamlets run,
Free shines for all the healthful ray;
The still pool stagnates in the sun,
The lurid earth-fire haunts decay.

"What is it that the crowd requite
Thy love with hate, thy truth with lies?
And but to faith, and not to sight,
The walls of Freedom's temple rise?

"Yet do thy work; it shall succeed
In thine or in another's day;
And, if denied the victor's meed,
Thou shalt not lack the toiler's pay.

"Faith shares the future's promise; Love's
Self-offering is a triumph won;
And each good thought or action moves
The dark world nearer to the sun.

"Then faint not, falter not, nor plead
Thy weakness; truth itself is strong;
The lion's strength, the eagle's speed,
Are not alone vouchsafed to wrong.

"Thy nature, which, through fire and flood,
To place or gain finds out its way,
Hath power to seek the highest good,
And duty's holiest call obey!

"Strivest thou in darkness?--Foes without
In league with traitor thoughts within;
Thy night-watch kept with trembling Doubt
And pale Remorse the ghost of Sin?

"Hast thou not, on some week of storm,
Seen the sweet Sabbath breaking fair,
And cloud and shadow, sunlit, form
The curtains of its tent of prayer?

"So, haply, when thy task shall end,
The wrong shall lose itself in right,
And all thy week-day darkness blend
With the long Sabbath of the light!"
1854.





Next: The New Exodus

Previous: The Dream Of Pio Nono



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