Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
Personal Poems
William Forster
          William Forster, of Norwich, England, died in East Tennessee, in the 1st month, 1854, while engaged in presenting to the governors of the States of this Union the address of his religious society on the evils of slavery. He was the relative and coadjutor of the Buxtons, Gurneys, and Frys; and his whole life, extending almost to threescore and ten years, was a pure and beautiful example of Christian benevolence. He had travelled over Europe, and visited most of its sovereigns, to plead against the slave-trade and slavery; and had twice before made visits to this country, under impressions of religious duty. He was the father of the Right Hon. William Edward Forster. He visited my father’s house in Haverhill during his first tour in the United States.

THE YEARS are many since his hand
  Was laid upon my head,
Too weak and young to understand
  The serious words he said.
Yet often now the good man’s look        5
  Before me seems to swim,
As if some inward feeling took
  The outward guise of him.
As if, in passion’s heated war,
  Or near temptation’s charm,        10
Through him the low-voiced monitor
  Forewarned me of the harm.
Stranger and pilgrim! from that day
  Of meeting, first and last,
Wherever Duty’s pathway lay,        15
  His reverent steps have passed.
The poor to feed, the lost to seek,
  To proffer life to death,
Hope to the erring,—to the weak
  The strength of his own faith.        20
To plead the captive’s right; remove
  The sting of hate from Law;
And soften in the fire of love
  The hardened steel of War.
He walked the dark world, in the mild,        25
  Still guidance of the Light;
In tearful tenderness a child,
  A strong man in the right.
From what great perils, on his way,
  He found, in prayer, release;        30
Through what abysmal shadows lay
  His pathway unto peace,
God knoweth: we could only see
  The tranquil strength he gained;
The bondage lost in liberty,        35
  The fear in love unfeigned.
And I,—my youthful fancies grown
  The habit of the man,
Whose field of life by angels sown
  The wilding vines o’erran,—        40
Low bowed in silent gratitude,
  My manhood’s heart enjoys
That reverence for the pure and good
  Which blessed the dreaming boy’s.
Still shines the light of holy lives        45
  Like star-beams over doubt;
Each sainted memory, Christlike, drives
  Some dark possession out.
O friend! O brother! not in vain
  Thy life so calm and true,        50
The silver dropping of the rain,
  The fall of summer dew!
How many burdened hearts have prayed
  Their lives like thine might be!
But more shall pray henceforth for aid        55
  To lay them down like thee.
With weary hand, yet steadfast will,
  In old age as in youth,
Thy Master found thee sowing still
  The good seed of His truth.        60
As on thy task-field closed the day
  In golden-skied decline,
His angel met thee on the way,
  And lent his arm to thine.
Thy latest care for man,—thy last        65
  Of earthly thought a prayer,—
Oh, who thy mantle, backward cast,
  Is worthy now to wear?
Methinks the mound which marks thy bed
  Might bless our land and save,        70
As rose, of old, to life the dead
  Who touched the prophet’s grave!


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