Love

James Russell Lowell - 1819-1891

True Love is but a humble, low-born thing,
And hath its food served up in earthen ware;
It is a thing to walk with, hand in hand,
Through the every-dayness of this work-day world,
Baring its tender feet to every roughness,
Yet letting not one heart-beat go astray
From Beauty’s law of plainness and content;
A simple, fire-side thing, whose quiet smile
Can warm earth’s poorest hovel to a home;
Which, when our autumn cometh, as it must,
And life in the chill wind shivers bare and leafless,
Shall still be blest with Indian-summer youth
In bleak November, and, with thankful heart,
Smile on its ample stores of garnered fruit,
As full of sunshine to our aged eyes
As when it nursed the blossoms of our spring.
Such is true Love, which steals into the heart
With feet as silent as the lightsome dawn
That kisses smooth the rough brows of the dark,
And hath its will through blissful gentleness,—
Not like a rocket, which, with savage glare,
Whirrs suddenly up, then bursts, and leaves the night
Painfully quivering on the dazed eyes;
A love that gives and takes, that seeth faults,
Not with flaw-seeking eyes like needle-points,
But, loving kindly, ever looks them down
With the o’ercoming faith of meek forgiveness;
A love that shall be new and fresh each hour,
As is the golden mystery of sunset,
Or the sweet coming of the evening-star,
Alike, and yet most unlike, every day,
And seeming ever best and fairest now;
A love that doth not kneel for what it seeks,
But faces Truth and Beauty as their peer,
Showing its worthiness of noble thoughts
By a clear sense of inward nobleness,
A love that in its object findeth not
All grace and beauty, and enough to sate
Its thirst of blessing, but, in all of good
Found there, it sees but Heaven-granted types
Of good and beauty in the soul of man,
And traces, in the simplest heart that beats,
A family-likeness to its chosen one,
That claims of it the rights of brotherhood.
For Love is blind but with the fleshly eye,
That so its inner sight may be more clear;
And outward shows of beauty only so
Are needful at the first, as is a hand
To guide and to uphold an infant’s steps:
Great spirits need them not; their earnest look
Pierces the body’s mask of thin disguise,
And beauty ever is to them revealed,
Behind the unshapeliest, meanest lump of clay,
With arms outstretched and eager face ablaze,
Yearning to be but understood and loved.

More by James Russell Lowell

The First Snowfall

The snow had begun in the gloaming,
   And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
   With a silence deep and white.
   
Every pine and fir and hemlock
   Wore ermine too dear for an earl,
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree
   Was ridged inch deep with pearl.

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara
   Came Chanticleer's muffled crow,
The stiff rails were softened to swan's-down,
   And still fluttered down the snow.

I stood and watched by the window
   The noiseless work of the sky,
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds,
   Like brown leaves whirling by.

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn
   Where a little headstone stood;
How the flakes were folding it gently,
   As did robins the babes in the wood.
   
Up spoke our own little Mabel,
   Saying, "Father, who makes it snow?"
And I told of the good All-father
   Who cares for us here below.
   
Again I looked at the snow-fall,
   And thought of the leaden sky
That arched o'er our first great sorrow,
   When that mound was heaped so high.
   
I remembered the gradual patience
   That fell from that cloud-like snow,
Flake by flake, healing and hiding
   The scar of our deep-plunged woe.
   
And again to the child I whispered,
   "The snow that husheth all,
Darling, the merciful Father
   Alone can make it fall!"
   
Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her;
   And she, kissing back, could not know
That my kiss was given to her sister,
   Folded close under deepening snow.

The Present Crisis

When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast	 
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west,	 
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb	 
To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime	 
Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time.	         
  
Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe,	 
When the travail of the Ages wrings earth's systems to and fro;	 
At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start,	 
Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart,	 
And glad Truth's yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future's heart.	  
  
So the Evil's triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill,	 
Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill,	 
And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God	 
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod,	 
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod.	  
  
For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along,	 
Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong;	 
Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame	 
Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;—	 
In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim.	  
  
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide,	 
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;	 
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,	 
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,	 
And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light.	  
  
Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand,	 
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land?	 
Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 'tis Truth alone is strong,	 
And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng	 
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong.	  
  
Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see,	 
That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion's sea;	 
Not an ear in court or market for the low, foreboding cry	 
Of those Crises, God's stern winnowers, from whose feet earth's chaff must fly;	 
Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by.	  
  
Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record	 
One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word;	 
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—	 
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,	 
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.	  
  
We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great,	 
Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate,	 
But the soul is still oracular; amid the market's din,	 
List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,—	 
"They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin."	  
  
Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood,	 
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood,	 
Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day,	 
Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;—	 
Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play?	  
  
Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust,	 
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 'tis prosperous to be just;	 
Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside,	 
Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified,	 
And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.	  
  
Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone,	 
While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone,	 
Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline	 
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine,	 
By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design.	  
  
By the light of burning heretics Christ's bleeding feet I track,	 
Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back,	 
And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned	 
One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned	 
Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned.	 
  
For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands,	 
On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands;	 
Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn,	 
While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return	 
To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn.	  
  
'Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves	 
Of a legendary virtue carved upon our fathers' graves,	 
Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;—	 
Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time?	 
Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, that made Plymouth Rock sublime?	  
  
They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts,	 
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past's;	 
But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free,	 
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee	 
The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea.	  
  
They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,	 
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom's new-lit altar-fires;	 
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,	 
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away	 
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day?	  
  
New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;	 
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;	 
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,	 
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea,	 
Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.

The Sirens

   The sea is lonely, the sea is dreary, 
The sea is restless and uneasy; 
Thou seekest quiet, thou art weary, 
Wandering thou knowest not whither;— 
Our little isle is green and breezy, 
Come and rest thee! Oh come hither, 
Come to this peaceful home of ours, 
      Where evermore 
The low west-wind creeps panting up the shore 
To be at rest among the flowers; 
Full of rest, the green moss lifts, 
   As the dark waves of the sea 
Draw in and out of rocky rifts, 
   Calling solemnly to thee 
With voices deep and hollow,— 
      "To the shore 
   Follow! Oh, follow! 
   To be at rest forevermore! 
         Forevermore!" 

Look how the gray old Ocean 
From the depth of his heart rejoices, 
Heaving with a gentle motion, 
When he hears our restful voices; 
List how he sings in an undertone, 
Chiming with our melody; 
And all sweet sounds of earth and air 
Melt into one low voice alone, 
That murmurs over the weary sea, 
And seems to sing from everywhere,— 
"Here mayst thou harbor peacefully, 
Here mayst thou rest from the aching oar; 
   Turn thy curvëd prow ashore, 
And in our green isle rest forevermore! 
         Forevermore!" 
And Echo half wakes in the wooded hill, 
   And, to her heart so calm and deep, 
   Murmurs over in her sleep, 
Doubtfully pausing and murmuring still, 
         "Evermore!" 
      Thus, on Life's weary sea, 
      Heareth the marinere 
      Voices sweet, from far and near, 
      Ever singing low and clear, 
      Ever singing longingly. 

   It is not better here to be, 
Than to be toiling late and soon? 
In the dreary night to see 
Nothing but the blood-red moon 
Go up and down into the sea; 
Or, in the loneliness of day, 
   To see the still seals only 
Solemnly lift their faces gray, 
   Making it yet more lonely? 
Is it not better than to hear 
Only the sliding of the wave 
Beneath the plank, and feel so near 
A cold and lonely grave, 
A restless grave, where thou shalt lie 
Even in death unquietly? 
Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark, 
   Lean over the side and see 
The leaden eye of the sidelong shark
      Upturnëd patiently, 
   Ever waiting there for thee: 
Look down and see those shapeless forms, 
   Which ever keep their dreamless sleep 
   Far down within the gloomy deep, 
And only stir themselves in storms, 
Rising like islands from beneath, 
And snorting through the angry spray, 
As the frail vessel perisheth 
In the whirls of their unwieldy play; 
   Look down! Look down! 
Upon the seaweed, slimy and dark, 
That waves its arms so lank and brown, 
      Beckoning for thee! 
Look down beneath thy wave-worn bark 
      Into the cold depth of the sea! 
   Look down! Look down! 
      Thus, on Life's lonely sea, 
      Heareth the marinere 
      Voices sad, from far and near, 
      Ever singing full of fear, 
      Ever singing dreadfully. 

   Here all is pleasant as a dream; 
The wind scarce shaketh down the dew, 
The green grass floweth like a stream 
         Into the ocean's blue; 
            Listen! Oh, listen! 
Here is a gush of many streams, 
   A song of many birds, 
And every wish and longing seems 
Lulled to a numbered flow of words,— 
            Listen! Oh, listen! 
Here ever hum the golden bees 
Underneath full-blossomed trees, 
At once with glowing fruit and flowers crowned;— 
So smooth the sand, the yellow sand, 
That thy keel will not grate as it touches the land; 
All around with a slumberous sound, 
The singing waves slide up the strand, 
And there, where the smooth, wet pebbles be 
The waters gurgle longingly, 
As if they fain would seek the shore, 
To be at rest from the ceaseless roar, 
To be at rest forevermore,— 
         Forevermore. 
      Thus, on Life's gloomy sea, 
      Heareth the marinere 
      Voices sweet, from far and near, 
      Ever singing in his ear, 
      "Here is rest and peace for thee!"

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