To Oliver Wendell Holmes by John Greenleaf Whittier
8TH Mo. 29TH, 1892.
This, the last of Mr. Whittier’s poems, was written but a few weeks
before his death.
Among the thousands who with hail and cheer
Will welcome thy new year,
How few of all have passed, as thou and I,
So many milestones by!
We have grown old together; we have seen,
Our youth and age between,
Two generations leave us, and to-day
We with the third hold way,
Loving and loved. If thought must backward run
To those who, one by one,
In the great silence and the dark beyond
Vanished with farewells fond,
Unseen, not lost; our grateful memories still
Their vacant places fill,
And with the full-voiced greeting of new friends
A tenderer whisper blends.
Linked close in a pathetic brotherhood
Of mingled ill and good,
Of joy and grief, of grandeur and of shame,
For pity more than blame,–
The gift is thine the weary world to make
More cheerful for thy sake,
Soothing the ears its Miserere pains,
With the old Hellenic strains,
Lighting the sullen face of discontent
With smiles for blessings sent.
Enough of selfish wailing has been had,
Thank God! for notes more glad.
Life is indeed no holiday; therein
Are want, and woe, and sin,
Death and its nameless fears, and over all
Our pitying tears must fall.
Sorrow is real; but the counterfeit
Which folly brings to it,
We need thy wit and wisdom to resist,
O rarest Optimist!
Thy hand, old friend! the service of our days,
In differing moods and ways,
May prove to those who follow in our train
Not valueless nor vain.
Far off, and faint as echoes of a dream,
The songs of boyhood seem,
Yet on our autumn boughs, unflown with spring,
The evening thrushes sing.
The hour draws near, howe’er delayed and late,
When at the Eternal Gate
We leave the words and works we call our own,
And lift void hands alone
For love to fill. Our nakedness of soul
Brings to that Gate no toll;
Giftless we come to Him, who all things gives,
And live because He lives.