Abraham Davenport [excerpt]
In the old days (a custom laid aside With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent Their wisest men to make the public laws. And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound Drinks the small tribute of the Mianas, Waved over by the woods of Rippowams, And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths, Stamford sent up to the councils of the State Wisdom and grace in Abraham Davenport. 'T was on a May-day of the far old year Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell Over the bloom and sweet life of the Spring Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon, A horror of great darkness, like the night In day of which the Norland sagas tell,— The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs The crater's sides from the red hell below. Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died; Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ Might look from the rent clouds, not as he looked A loving guest at Bethany, but stern As Justice and inexorable Law. Meanwhile in the old State-House, dim as ghosts, Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut, Trembling beneath their legislative robes. "It is the Lord's Great Day! Let us adjourn," Some said; and then, as if with one accord, All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport. He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice The intolerable hush. "This well may be The Day of Judgment which the world awaits; But be it so or not, I only know My present duty, and my Lord's command To occupy till He come. So at the post Where he hast set me in His providence, I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face,— No faithless servant frightened from my task, But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls; And therefore, with all reverence, I would say, Let God do His work, we will see to ours. Bring in the candles." And they brought them in. Then by the flaring lights the Speaker read, Albeit with husky voice and shaking hands, An act to amend an act to regulate The shad and alewive fisheries, Whereupon Wisely and well spake Abraham Davenport, Straight to the question, with no figures of speech Save the ten Arab signs, yet not without The shrewd dry humor natural to the man: His awe-struck colleagues listening all the while, Between the pauses of his argument, To hear the thunder of the wrath of God Break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud. And there he stands in memory to this day, Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen Against the background of unnatural dark, A witness to the ages as they pass, That simple duty hath no place for fear.
This poem is in the public domain.
John Greenleaf Whittier
An American poet and editor, John Greenleaf Whittier was born December 17, 1807
Date Published: 1866-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/abraham-davenport-excerpt