Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
1106. From “The Voice of Webster”
By Robert Underwood Johnson
SILENCE was envious of the only voice
That mightier seemed than she. So, cloaked as Death,
With potion borrowed from Oblivion,
Yet with slow step and tear-averted look,
She sealed his lips, closed his extinguished eyes,        5
And, veiling him with darkness, deemed him dead.
But no!—There ’s something vital in the great
That blunts the edge of Death, and sages say
You should stab deep if you would kill a king.
In vain! The conqueror’s conqueror he remains,        10
Surviving his survivors. And as when,
The prophet gone, his least disciple stands
Newly invested with a twilight awe,
So linger men beside his listeners
While they recount that miracle of speech        15
And the hushed wonder over which it fell.
What do they tell us of that storied voice,
Breathing an upper air, wherein he dwelt
Mid shifting clouds a mountain of resolve,
And falling like Sierra’s April flood        20
That pours in ponderous cadence from the cliff,
Waking Yosemite from its sleep of snow,
And less by warmth than by its massive power
Thawing a thousand torrents into one?
Such was his speech, and, were his fame to die,        25
Such for its requiem alone were fit:
Some kindred voice of Nature, as the Sea
When autumn tides redouble their lament
On Marshfield shore; some elemental force
Kindred to Nature in the mind of man—        30
A far-felt, rhythmic, and resounding wave
Of Homer, or a freedom-breathing wind
Sweeping the height of Milton’s loftiest mood.
Most fit of all, could his own words pronounce
His eulogy, eclipsing old with new,        35
As though a dying star should burst in light.
And yet he spoke not only with his voice.
His full brow, buttressing a dome of thought,
Moved the imagination like the rise
Of some vast temple covering nothing mean.        40
His eyes were sibyls’ caves, wherein the wise
Read sibyls’ secrets; and the iron clasp
Of those broad lips, serene or saturnine,
Made proclamation of majestic will.
His glance could silence like a frowning Fate.        45
His mighty frame was refuge, while his mien
Did make dispute of stature with the gods.


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