In the Old South Church: Boston, 1677

SHE came and stood in the Old South Church,
A wonder and a sign,
With the look the old-time sibyls wore,
Half crazed and half divine.
Save the mournful sackcloth about her wound,
Unclothed as the primal mother,
With limbs that trembled and eyes that burned
With a fire she dared not smother.
Loose on her shoulders fell her hair
With sprinkled ashes gray;
She stood in the broad aisle, strange and weird
As a soul at the judgment day!
And the minister paused in his sermon’s midst,
And the people held their breath;
For these were the words the maiden spoke
Through lips as pale as death:
“ Repent, repent! ere the Lord shall speak
In thunder and breaking seals!
Let all men worship Him in the way
That his light within reveals.
“ Thus saith the Lord! With equal feet
All men my courts shall tread;
And priest and ruler no more shall eat
My people up like bread!”
She shook the dust from her naked feet,
And her sackcloth closer drew;
And into the porch of the awe-hushed church
She passed like a ghost from view.
They whipped her away at the tail o’ the cart,
(Small blame to the angry town!)
But the words she uttered that day nor fire
Could burn nor water drown.
To-day the aisles of the ancient church
By equal feet are trod;
And the bell that swings in its belfry rings
Freedom to worship God.
And now, whenever a wrong is done,
It thrills the conscious walls;
The stone from the basement cries aloud,
And the beam from the timber calls.
There are steeple-houses on every hand,
And pulpits that bless and ban:
And the Lord will not grudge the single church
That is set apart for man.
For in two commandments are all the law
And the prophets under the sun,
And the first is last, and the last is first,
And the twain are verily one.
So, long as Boston shall Boston be,
And her bay tides rise and fall,
Shall Freedom stand in the Old South Church
And plead for the rights of all!
John Greenleaf Whittier.