Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
India: Ceylon, the Island
The Cypress-Tree of Ceylon
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)
THEY sat in silent watchfulness
  The sacred cypress-tree about,
And, from beneath old wrinkled brows,
  Their failing eyes looked out.
Gray Age and Sickness waiting there        5
  Through weary night and lingering day,
Grim as the idols at their side,
  And motionless as they.
Unheeded in the boughs above
  The song of Ceylon’s birds was sweet;        10
Unseen of them the island flowers
  Bloomed brightly at their feet.
O’er them the tropic night-storm swept,
  The thunder crashed on rock and hill;
The cloud-fire on their eyeballs blazed,        15
  Yet there they waited still!
What was the world without to them?
  The Moslem’s sunset-call,—the dance
Of Ceylon’s maids,—the passing gleam
  Of battle-flag and lance?        20
They waited for that falling leaf
  Of which the wandering Jogees sing:
Which lends once more to wintry age
  The greenness of its spring.
Oh, if these poor and blinded ones        25
  In trustful patience wait to feel
O’er torpid pulse and failing limb
  A youthful freshness steal;
Shall we, who sit beneath that Tree
  Whose healing leaves of life are shed,        30
In answer to the breath of prayer,
  Upon the waiting head;
Not to restore our failing forms,
  And build the spirit’s broken shrine,
But on the fainting soul to shed        35
  A light and life divine;
Shall we grow weary in our watch,
  And murmur at the long delay?
Impatient of our Father’s time
  And his appointed way?        40
Or shall the stir of outward things
  Allure and claim the Christian’s eye,
When on the heathen watcher’s ear
  Their powerless murmurs die?
Alas! a deeper test of faith        45
  Than prison cell or martyr’s stake,
The self-abasing watchfulness
  Of silent prayer may make.
We gird us bravely to rebuke
  Our erring brother in the wrong,—        50
And in the ear of Pride and Power
  Our warning voice is strong.
Easier to smite with Peter’s sword
  Than “watch one hour” in humbling prayer.
Life’s “great things,” like the Syrian lord,        55
  Our hearts can do and dare.
But oh! we shrink from Jordan’s side,
  From waters which alone can save;
And murmur for Abana’s banks
  And Pharpar’s brighter wave.        60
O Thou, who in the garden’s shade
  Didst wake thy weary ones again,
Who slumbered at that fearful hour
  Forgetful of thy pain;
Bend o’er us now, as over them,        65
  And set our sleep-bound spirits free,
Nor leave us slumbering in the watch
  Our souls should keep with thee!

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