BLACK CAT POEMS
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John Greenleaf Whittier
Never in tender quiet lapsed the day
From Pennsylvania's vales of spring away,
Where, forest-walled, the scattered hamlets lay
Along the wedded rivers. One long bar
Of purple cloud, on which the evening star
Shone like a jewel on a scimitar,
Held the sky's golden gateway. Through the deep
Hush of the woods a murmur seemed to creep,
The Schuylkill whispering in a voice of sleep.
All else was still. The oxen from their ploughs
Rested at last, and from their long day's browse
Came the dun files of Krisheim's home-bound cows.
And the young city, round whose virgin zone
The rivers like two mighty arms were thrown,
Marked by the smoke of evening fires alone,
Lay in the distance, lovely even then
With its fair women and its stately men
Gracing the forest court of William Penn,
Urban yet sylvan; in its rough-hewn frames
Of oak and pine the dryads held their claims,
And lent its streets their pleasant woodland names.
Was it caressing air, the brooding love
Of tenderer skies than German land knew of,
Green calm below, blue quietness above,
Still flow of water, deep repose of wood
That, with a sense of loving Fatherhood
And childlike trust in the Eternal Good,
Softened all hearts, and dulled the edge of hate,
Hushed strife, and taught impatient zeal to wait
The slow assurance of the better state?
Who knows what goadings in their sterner way
O'er jagged ice, relieved by granite gray,
Blew round the men of Massachusetts Bay?
What hate of heresy the cast-wind woke?
What hints of pitiless power and terror spoke
In waves that on their iron coast-line broke?
Be it as it may; within the Land of Penn
The sectary yielded to the citizen,
And peaceful dwelt the many-creeded men.
Peace brooded over all. No trumpet stung
The air to madness, and no steeple flung
Alarums down from bells at midnight rung.
The land slept well. The Indian from his face
Washed all his war-paint off, and in the place
Of battle-marches sped the peaceful chase,
Or wrought for wages at the white man's side--
Giving to kindness what his native pride
And lazy freedom to all else denied.
And well the curious scholar loved the old
Traditions that his swarthy neighbors told
By wigwam-fires when nights were growing cold,
Discerned the fact round which their fancy drew
Its dreams, and held their childish faith more true
To God and man than half the creeds he knew.
The desert blossomed round him; wheat-fields rolled,
Beneath the warm wind, waves of green and gold;
The planted ear returned its hundredfold.
Great clusters ripened in a warmer sun
Than that which by the Rhine stream shines upon
The purpling hillsides with low vines o'errun.
About each rustic porch the humming-bird
Tried with light bill, that scarce a petal stirred,
The Old World flowers to virgin soil transferred;
And the first-fruits of pear and apple, bending
The young boughs down, their gold and russet blending,
Made glad his heart, familiar odors lending
To the fresh fragrance of the birch and pine,
Life-everlasting, bay, and eglantine,
And all the subtle scents the woods combine.
Fair First-Day mornings, steeped in summer calm
Warm, tender, restful, sweet with woodland balm,
Came to him, like some mother-hallowed psalm
To the tired grinder at the noisy wheel
Of labor, winding off from memory's reel
A golden thread of music. With no peal
Of bells to call them to the house of praise,
The scattered settlers through green forest-ways
Walked meeting-ward. In reverent amaze
The Indian trapper saw them, from the dim
Shade of the alders on the rivulet's rim,
Seek the Great Spirit's houe to talk with Him.
There, through the gathered stillness multiplied
And made intense by sympathy, outside
The sparrows sang, and the gold-robin cried,
A-swing upon his elm. A faint perfume
Breathed through the open windows of the room
From locust-trees, heavy with clustered bloom.
Thither, perchance, sore-tried confessors came,
Whose fervor jail nor pillory could tame,
Proud of the cropped ears meant to be their shame--
Men who had eaten slavery's bitter bread
In Indian isles; pale women who had bled
Under the hangman's lash, and bravely said
God's message through their prison's iron bars;
And gray old soldier-converts, seamed with scars
From every stricken field of England's wars
Lowly before the Unseen Presence knelt
Each waiting heart, till haply some one felt
On his moved lips the seal of silence melt.
Or, without spoken words, low breathings stole
Of a diviner life from soul to soul,
Baptizing in one tender thought the whole.
When shaken hands announced the meeting o'er,
The friendly group still lingered at the door,
Greeting, inquiring, sharing all the store
Of weekly tidings. Meanwhile youth and maid
Down the green vistas of the woodland strayed,
Whispered and smiled and oft their feet delayed.
Did the boy's whistle answer back the thrushes?
Did light girl laughter ripple through the bushes
As brooks make merry over roots and rushes?
Unvexed the sweet air seemed. Without a wound
The ear of silence heard, and every sound
Its place in nature's fine accordance found.
And solemn meeting, summer sky and wood,
Old kindly faces, youth and maidenhood
Seemed, like God's new creation, very good!
poems by John Greenleaf Whittier