At Washington





Suggested by a visit to the city of Washington, in the 12th month of

1845.



WITH a cold and wintry noon-light

On its roofs and steeples shed,

Shadows weaving with the sunlight

From the gray sky overhead,

Broadly, vaguely, all around me, lies the half-built

town outspread.



Through this broad street, restless ever,

Ebbs and flows a human tide,

Wave on wave a living river;

Wealth and fashion side by side;

Toiler, idler, slave and master, in the same quick

current glide.



Underneath yon dome, whose coping

Springs above them, vast and tall,

Grave men in the dust are groping

For the largess, base and small,

Which the hand of Power is scattering, crumbs

which from its table fall.



Base of heart! They vilely barter

Honor's wealth for party's place;

Step by step on Freedom's charter

Leaving footprints of disgrace;

For to-day's poor pittance turning from the great

hope of their race.



Yet, where festal lamps are throwing

Glory round the dancer's hair,

Gold-tressed, like an angel's, flowing

Backward on the sunset air;

And the low quick pulse of music beats its measure

sweet and rare.



There to-night shall woman's glances,

Star-like, welcome give to them;

Fawning fools with shy advances

Seek to touch their garments' hem,

With the tongue of flattery glozing deeds which

God and Truth condemn.



From this glittering lie my vision

Takes a broader, sadder range,

Full before me have arisen

Other pictures dark and strange;

From the parlor to the prison must the scene and

witness change.



Hark! the heavy gate is swinging

On its hinges, harsh and slow;

One pale prison lamp is flinging

On a fearful group below

Such a light as leaves to terror whatsoe'er it does

not show.



Pitying God! Is that a woman

On whose wrist the shackles clash?

Is that shriek she utters human,

Underneath the stinging lash?

Are they men whose eyes of madness from that sad

procession flash?



Still the dance goes gayly onward

What is it to Wealth and Pride

That without the stars are looking

On a scene which earth should hide?

That the slave-ship lies in waiting, rocking

on Potomac's tide!



Vainly to that mean Ambition

Which, upon a rival's fall,

Winds above its old condition,

With a reptile's slimy crawl,

Shall the pleading voice of sorrow, shall the slave

in anguish call.



Vainly to the child of Fashion,

Giving to ideal woe

Graceful luxury of compassion,

Shall the stricken mourner go;

Hateful seems the earnest sorrow, beautiful the

hollow show!



Nay, my words are all too sweeping:

In this crowded human mart,

Feeling is not dead, but sleeping;

Man's strong will and woman's heart,

In the coming strife for Freedom, yet shall bear

their generous part.



And from yonder sunny valleys,

Southward in the distance lost,

Freedom yet shall summon allies

Worthier than the North can boast,

With the Evil by their hearth-stones grappling at

severer cost.



Now, the soul alone is willing

Faint the heart and weak the knee;

And as yet no lip is thrilling

With the mighty words, "Be Free!"

Tarrieth long the land's Good Angel, but his

advent is to be!



Meanwhile, turning from the revel

To the prison-cell my sight,

For intenser hate of evil,

For a keener sense of right,

Shaking off thy dust, I thank thee, City of the

Slaves, to-night!



"To thy duty now and ever!

Dream no more of rest or stay

Give to Freedom's great endeavor

All thou art and hast to-day:"

Thus, above the city's murmur, saith a Voice, or

seems to say.



Ye with heart and vision gifted

To discern and love the right,



Whose worn faces have been lifted

To the slowly-growing light,

Where from Freedom's sunrise drifted slowly

back the murk of night



Ye who through long years of trial

Still have held your purpose fast,

While a lengthening shade the dial

from the westering sunshine cast,

And of hope each hour's denial seemed an echo of

the last!



O my brothers! O my sisters

Would to God that ye were near,

Gazing with me down the vistas

Of a sorrow strange and drear;

Would to God that ye were listeners to the Voice

I seem to hear!



With the storm above us driving,

With the false earth mined below,

Who shall marvel if thus striving

We have counted friend as foe;

Unto one another giving in the darkness blow for

blow.



Well it may be that our natures

Have grown sterner and more hard,

And the freshness of their features

Somewhat harsh and battle-scarred,

And their harmonies of feeling overtasked and

rudely jarred.



Be it so. It should not swerve us

From a purpose true and brave;

Dearer Freedom's rugged service

Than the pastime of the slave;

Better is the storm above it than the quiet of

the grave.



Let us then, uniting, bury

All our idle feuds in dust,

And to future conflicts carry

Mutual faith and common trust;

Always he who most forgiveth in his brother is

most just.



From the eternal shadow rounding

All our sun and starlight here,

Voices of our lost ones sounding

Bid us be of heart and cheer,

Through the silence, down the spaces, falling on

the inward ear.



Know we not our dead are looking

Downward with a sad surprise,

All our strife of words rebuking

With their mild and loving eyes?

Shall we grieve the holy angels? Shall we cloud

their blessed skies?



Let us draw their mantles o'er us

Which have fallen in our way;

Let us do the work before us,

Cheerly, bravely, while we may,

Ere the long night-silence cometh, and with us it is

not day!





At The Closed Gate Of Justice Barbara Frietchie facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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