Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
Commemoration Ode
By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)
 
(See full text.)

Harvard University, July 21, 1865
*        *        *        *        *
  LIFE may be given in many ways,
  And loyalty to Truth be sealed
As bravely in the closet as the field,
    So generous is Fate;
    But then to stand beside her,        5
    When craven churls deride her,
To front a lie in arms, and not to yield,—
    This shows, methinks, God’s plan
    And measure of a stalwart man,
    Limbed like the old heroic breeds,        10
    Who stand self-poised on manhood’s solid earth,
    Not forced to frame excuses for his birth,
Fed from within with all the strength he needs.
 
Such was he, our Martyr-Chief,
    Whom late the Nation he had led,        15
    With ashes on her head,
Wept with the passion of an angry grief:
Forgive me, if from present things I turn
To speak what in my heart will beat and burn,
And hang my wreath on his world-honored urn.        20
    Nature, they say, doth dote,
    And cannot make a man
    Save on some worn-out plan,
    Repeating us by rote:
For him her Old-World moulds aside she threw,        25
    And, choosing sweet clay from the breast
    Of the unexhausted West,
With stuff untainted shaped a hero new,
Wise, steadfast in the strength of God, and true.
    How beautiful to see        30
Once more a shepherd of mankind indeed,
Who loved his charge, but never loved to lead;
One whose meek flock the people joyed to be,
    Not lured by any cheat of birth,
    But by his clear-grained human worth,        35
And brave old wisdom of sincerity!
    They knew that outward grace is dust;
    They could not choose but trust
In that sure-footed mind’s unfaltering skill,
    And supple-tempered will        40
That bent like perfect steel to spring again and thrust.
    His was no lonely mountain-peak of mind,
    Thrusting to thin air o’er our cloudy bars,
    A seamark now, now lost in vapors blind;
    Broad prairie rather, genial, level-lined,        45
    Fruitful and friendly for all human kind,
Yet also nigh to Heaven and loved of loftiest stars.
    Nothing of Europe here,
Or, then, of Europe fronting mornward still,
    Ere any names of Serf and Peer        50
    Could Nature’s equal scheme deface;
    Here was a type of the true elder race,
And one of Plutarch’s men talked with us face to face.
    I praise him not; it were too late;
And some innative weakness there must be        55
In him who condescends to victory
Such as the Present gives, and cannot wait,
    Safe in himself as in a fate.
        So always firmly he:
        He knew to bide his time,        60
        And can his fame abide,
Still patient in his simple faith sublime,
        Till the wise years decide.
    Great captains, with their guns and drums,
    Disturb our judgment for the hour,        65
    But at last silence comes:
These all are gone, and, standing like a tower,
Our children shall behold his fame,
  The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame,        70
  New birth of our new soil, the first American.
*        *        *        *        *
  We sit here in the Promised Land
  That flows with Freedom’s honey and milk;
  But ’twas they won it, sword in hand,
Making the nettle danger soft for us as silk.        75
  We welcome back our bravest and our best;—
  Ah, me! not all! some come not with the rest,
Who went forth brave and bright as any here!
I strive to mix some gladness with my strain,
    But the sad strings complain,        80
    And will not please the ear;
I sweep them for a pæan, but they wane
        Again and yet again
Into a dirge, and die away in pain.
In these brave ranks I only see the gaps,        85
Thinking of dear ones whom the dumb turf wraps,
Dark to the triumph which they died to gain:
    Fitlier may others greet the living,
    For me the past is unforgiving;
        I with uncovered head        90
        Salute the sacred dead,
Who went, and who return not.—Say not so!
’Tis not the grapes of Canaan that repay,
But the high faith that failed not by the way;
Virtue treads paths that end not in the grave;        95
No bar of endless night exiles the brave;
        And to the saner mind
We rather seem the dead that staid behind.
Blow, trumpets, all your exultations blow!
For never shall their aureoled presence lack:        100
I see them muster in a gleaming row,
With ever-youthful brows that nobler show;
We find in our dull road their shining track;
        In every nobler mood
We feel the orient of their spirit glow,        105
Part of our life’s unalterable good,
Of all our saintlier aspiration;
        They come transfigured back,
Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
Beautiful evermore, and with the rays        110
Of morn on their white Shields of Expectation!
*        *        *        *        *
    Not in anger, not in pride,
    Pure from passion’s mixture rude
    Ever to base earth allied,
    But with far-heard gratitude,        115
    Still with heart and voice renewed,
  To heroes living and dear martyrs dead,
The strain should close that consecrates our brave.
  Lift the heart and lift the head!
    Lofty be its mood and grave,        120
    Not without a martial ring,
    Not without a prouder tread
    And a peal of exultation:
    Little right has he to sing
    Through whose heart in such an hour        125
    Beats no march of conscious power,
    Sweeps no tumult of elation!
    ’Tis no Man we celebrate,
    By his country’s victories great,
  A hero half, and half the whim of Fate,        130
    But the pith and marrow of a Nation
    Drawing force from all her men,
    Highest, humblest, weakest, all,
    For her day of need, and then
    Pulsing it again through them,        135
Till the basest can no longer cower
Feeling his soul spring up divinely tall,
Touched but in passing by her mantle-hem.
Come back, then, noble pride, for ’tis her dower!
    How could poet ever tower,        140
    If his passions, hopes, and fears,
    If his triumphs and his tears,
    Kept not measure with his people?
Boom, cannon, boom to all the winds and waves!
Clash out, glad bells, from every rocking steeple!        145
Banners, adance with triumph, bend your staves!
    And from every mountain-peak
    Let beacon-fire to answering beacon speak,
    Katahdin tell Monadnock, Whiteface he,
And so leap on in light from sea to sea,        150
        Till the glad news be sent
        Across a kindling continent,
Making earth feel more firm and air breathe braver:—
“Be proud! for she is saved, and all have helped to save her!
    She that lifts up the manhood of the poor,        155
    She of the open soul and open door,
    With room about her hearth for all mankind!
    The fire is dreadful in her eyes no more;
    From her bold front the helm she doth unbind,
    Send all her handmaid armies back to spin,        160
    And bid her navies that so lately hurled
    Their crashing battle, hold their thunders in,
    Swimming like birds of calm along the unharmful shore.
    No challenge sends she to the elder world,
    That looked askance and hated; a light scorn        165
    Plays on her mouth, as round her mighty knees
    She calls her children back, and waits the morn
Of nobler day, enthroned between her subject seas.”
    Bow down, dear Land, for thou hast found release!
    Thy God, in these distempered days,        170
    Hath taught thee the sure wisdom of his ways,
    And through thine enemies hath wrought thy peace!
    Bow down in prayer and praise!
    O Beautiful! my Country! ours once more!
    Smoothing thy gold of war-dishevelled hair        175
    O’er such sweet brows as never other wore,
        And letting thy set lips,
        Freed from wrath’s pale eclipse,
    The rosy edges of their smile lay bare,
    What words divine of lover or of poet        180
    Could tell our love and make thee know it,
    Among the Nations bright beyond compare?
    What were our lives without thee?
    What all our lives to save thee?
    We reck not what we gave thee;        185
    We will not dare to doubt thee,
  But ask whatever else, and we will dare!
 
 
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