Miriam and Other Poems


By JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER. Boston : Fields, Osgood, & Co.
IN these poems Mr. Whittier touches hardly any key that is not already familiar, and the book gives occasion for us to testify our love of his verse anew, rather than provokes a fresh examination of it. The “Miriam,” the “Norembega,” “ Nauhaught the Deacon,” “My Triumph.” “ The Prayer-Seeker,” and the “ Hymn ” are all akin in their religious feeling, their lessons of toleration, faith, charity, self-question, and self-mistrust ; in “ After Election ” and “Howard at Atlanta” there is the old political strain of the time when there was a soul in politics ; “In School Days” is one of those sweet and touching personal poems every one of which endears this poet to his reader and makes each reader proud and tender of it as of a confidence. Altogether we like it the best in the book : it is the simplest, and it is perfect both in sentiment and form, and the slight pictures in it are surpassingly delicate and real.
Neither in essentials nor in non-essentials are some of the other poems so good as this ; though, as our readers have had occasion to know, they have all of them in certain measure the peculiar charm of the poet’s style and thought. “Norembega” is very impressive with the sense of wildness and loneliness, which Mr. Whittier understands so well how to impart in his descriptions of forest solitudes, and is a clear and exquisite setting for one of those legends which the romance of another race has bestowed upon our poor old matter-of-fact New England. A curious contrast to the æsthetics of this piece is afforded in “Nauhaught the Deacon,” where there is no pretty veil of mediæval mysticism, but the hard modern interest of a man face to face with sore temptation and pitiless conscience. We suppose most readers will recur from him with pleasure to the Norman knight dying in the woods of Maine and beholding in the sunset heavens the undiscovered city of his search. Yet even this is too strongly moralized ; and Mr. Whittier shows in nearly all his pieces a distrust of his reader’s power to make any application for himself of the poetical lesson. Here and there, as in “The Hive at Gettysburg,” the meaning is enforced with an elaboration that mars the bloom and freshness of the poetry, and with a determination not daunted by the disparity of the things to be compared and equalized in the precept.
Of course the poems are not free from the poet’s more than occasional indifference to the metrical proprieties ; and in one place we have “proud for” doing arduous duty as a rhyme for “chowder,” to say nothing of the pairing off of “water” and “ assort - er.” Nothing but the excellence and delightfulness otherwise of the poem in which these rhymes occur could excuse them. It is “A Spiritual Manifestation ” at the levee of the President of Brown University, when the ghost of Roger Williams rises and recalls the first days of the Providence Plantations. The thronging thither of the persecuted from all other parts of New England is described with a grim humor which, if reform and humor had been oftener friends, we might well believe the fact inspired in Williams: —
“ ' I hear again the snuffled tones,
I see in dreary vision
Dyspeptic dreamers, spiritual bores,
And prophets with a mission.
‘ Scourged at one cart-tail, each denied
The hope of every other ;
Each martyr shook his branded fist
At the conscience of his brother ! ’ ’
The “ Hymn for the Celebration of Emancipation at Newburyport,” and the verses addressed to Lydia Maria Child, are beautiful and moving expressions of feeling for the sublimest phase which our political life has shown. Never in the history of the world were a people’s politics so ennobled as ours were by the long solution of the slavery question, and such an abolitionist as our poet can cherish the memories of the cause and of the friendships formed in the common devotion to it as incomparably precious. Without giving his words we could not give a just idea of the perfect loveliness, simplicity, and beauty of the faith and hope uttered in the poem to Mrs. Child.
“Miriam” is a tale teaching — by the story of a Christian girl who wins from her Moslem lord, for those who have offended him, that mercy which he sees to be in all creeds and finds so little in any life—the plain old lesson of doing the good we discern and love. We take from it two pictures of landscape, which strike us as peculiarly fine in contrast : —


“ The date-palms rustled not; the peepul laid
Its topmost boughs against the balustrade,
Motionless ns the mimic leaves and vines
That, light and graceful as the shawl-designs
Of Delhi or Umritsir, twined in stone.
Below him Agra slept. By the long light of sunset overswept :
The river flowing through a level land,
By mango-groves and banks of yellow sand,
Skirted with lime and orange, gay kiosks,
Fountains at play, tall minarets of mosques,
Fair pleasure-gardens, with their flowering trees
Relieved against the mournful cypresses ;
And, air-poised lightly as the blown sea-foam,
The marble wonder of some holy dome
Hung a white moonrise over the still wood,
Glassing its beauty in a stiller flood.”


Along the naked hillside cast
Our shadows as of giants vast.
We reached, at length, the topmost swell,
Whence, either way, the green turf fell
In terraces of nature down
To fruit-hung orchards, and the town
With white, pretenceless houses, tall
Church-steeples, and, o’ershadowing all,
Huge mills whose windows had the look
Of eager eyes that ill could brook
The Sabbath rest. We traced the track
Of the sea-seeking river back
Glistening for miles above its mouth,
Through the long valley to the south.
And, looking eastward, cool to view,
Stretched the illimitable blue
Of ocean, from its curved coast-line ;
Sombred and still, the warm sunshine
Filled with pale gold-dust all the reach
Of slumberous woods from hill to beach, —
Touched the far-glancing sails, and showed
White lines of foam where long waves flowed
Dumb in the distance. In the north,
Dim through their misty hair, looked forth
The space-dwarfed mountains to the sea,
From mystery to mystery ! ”