Tomorrow (Sept. 7) marks the anniversary of the death of Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier (d. 1892).
We celebrate the occasion with five of our favorite poems by him…
John Greenleaf Whittier
‘Let there be light!’ God spake of old,
And over chaos dark and cold,
And through the dead and formless frame
Of nature, life and order came.
Faint was the light at first that shone
On giant fern and mastodon,
On half-formed plant and beast of prey,
And man as rude and wild as they.
Age after age, like waves, o’erran
The earth, uplifting brute and man;
And mind, at length, in symbols dark
Its meanings traced on stone and bark.
On leaf of palm, on sedge-wrought roll,
On plastic clay and leathern scroll,
Man wrote his thoughts; the ages passed,
And to! the Press was found at last!
Then dead souls woke; the thoughts of men
Whose bones were dust revived again;
The cloister’s silence found a tongue,
Old prophets spake, old poets sung.
And here, to-day, the dead look down,
The kings of mind again we crown;
We hear the voices lost so long,
The sage’s word, the sibyl’s song.
Here Greek and Roman find themselves
Alive along these crowded shelves;
And Shakespeare treads again his stage,
And Chaucer paints anew his age.
As if some Pantheon’s marbles broke
Their stony trance, and lived and spoke,
Life thrills along the alcoved hall,
The lords of thought await our call!