To James T. Fields by John Greenleaf Whittier
ON A BLANK LEAF OF “POEMS PRINTED, NOT PUBLISHED.”
Well thought! who would not rather hear
The songs to Love and Friendship sung
Than those which move the stranger’s tongue,
And feed his unselected ear?
Our social joys are more than fame;
Life withers in the public look.
Why mount the pillory of a book,
Or barter comfort for a name?
Who in a house of glass would dwell,
With curious eyes at every pane?
To ring him in and out again,
Who wants the public crier’s bell?
To see the angel in one’s way,
Who wants to play the ass’s part,–
Bear on his back the wizard Art,
And in his service speak or bray?
And who his manly locks would shave,
And quench the eyes of common sense,
To share the noisy recompense
That mocked the shorn and blinded slave?
The heart has needs beyond the head,
And, starving in the plenitude
Of strange gifts, craves its common food,–
Our human nature’s daily bread.
We are but men: no gods are we,
To sit in mid-heaven, cold and bleak,
Each separate, on his painful peak,
Thin-cloaked in self-complacency.
Better his lot whose axe is swung
In Wartburg woods, or that poor girl’s
Who by the him her spindle whirls
And sings the songs that Luther sung,
Than his who, old, and cold, and vain,
At Weimar sat, a demigod,
And bowed with Jove’s imperial nod
His votaries in and out again!
Ply, Vanity, thy winged feet!
Ambition, hew thy rocky stair!
Who envies him who feeds on air
The icy splendor of his seat?
I see your Alps, above me, cut
The dark, cold sky; and dim and lone
I see ye sitting,–stone on stone,–
With human senses dulled and shut.
I could not reach you, if I would,
Nor sit among your cloudy shapes;
And (spare the fable of the grapes
And fox) I would not if I could.
Keep to your lofty pedestals!
The safer plain below I choose
Who never wins can rarely lose,
Who never climbs as rarely falls.
Let such as love the eagle’s scream
Divide with him his home of ice
For me shall gentler notes suffice,–
The valley-song of bird and stream;
The pastoral bleat, the drone of bees,
The flail-beat chiming far away,
The cattle-low, at shut of day,
The voice of God in leaf and breeze;
Then lend thy hand, my wiser friend,
And help me to the vales below,
(In truth, I have not far to go,)
Where sweet with flowers the fields extend.