And what, in fact, is dignity? In those
Who have it pure, it is the soul’s repose,
The base of character—no mere reserve
That springs from pride, or want of mental nerve.
The dignity that wealth, or station, breeds,
Or in the breast on base emotion feeds,
Is easy weighed, and easy to be sized—A bastard virtue, much to be despised.
True dignity is like a summer tree.
Beneath whose shade both beast, and bird, and bee,
When by the heated skies oppressed, may come,
And feel, in its magnificence, at home;
Or rather like a mountain which forgets
Itself in its own greatness, and so lets
Vast armies fuss and fight upon its sides,
While high in clouds its peaceful summit hides,
And from the voiceless crest of glistening snow,
Pours trickling fatness on the fields below;
Repellant force, that daunts obtrusive wrong,
And woos the timid steps of right along;
And hence a garb which magistrates prepare,
When called to judge, and really seem to wear.
In framing character on whate’er plan,
‘Tis always needed to complete the man,
The job quite done, and Dignity without,
Is like an apple pie, the fruit left out.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
“Dignity” originally appeared in Vinita Weekly Chieftain on August 11, 1904.