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Short poem

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

An Autograph

              1I write my name as one,
              2On sands by waves o'errun
              3Or winter's frosted pane,
              4Traces a record vain.

              5Oblivion's blankness claims
              6Wiser and better names,
              7And well my own may pass
              8As from the strand or glass.

              9Wash on, O waves of time!
            10Melt, noons, the frosty rime!
            11Welcome the shadow vast,
            12The silence that shall last!

            13When I and all who know
            14And love me vanish so,
            15What harm to them or me
            16Will the lost memory be?

            17If any words of mine,
            18Through right of life divine,
            19Remain, what matters it
            20Whose hand the message writ?

            21Why should the "crowner's quest"
            22Sit on my worst or best?
            23Why should the showman claim
            24The poor ghost of my name?

            25Yet, as when dies a sound
            26Its spectre lingers round,
            27Haply my spent life will
            28Leave some faint echo still.

            29A whisper giving breath
            30Of praise or blame to death,
            31Soothing or saddening such
            32As loved the living much.

            33Therefore with yearnings vain
            34And fond I still would fain
            35A kindly judgment seek,
            36A tender thought bespeak.

            37And, while my words are read,
            38Let this at least be said:
            39"Whate'er his life's defeatures,
            40He loved his fellow-creatures.

            41"If, of the Law's stone table,
            42To hold he scarce was able
            43The first great precept fast,
            44He kept for man the last.

            45"Through mortal lapse and dulness
            46What lacks the Eternal Fulness,
            47If still our weakness can
            48Love Him in loving man?

            49"Age brought him no despairing
            50Of the world's future faring;
            51In human nature still
            52He found more good than ill.

            53"To all who dumbly suffered,
            54His tongue and pen he offered;
            55His life was not his own,
            56Nor lived for self alone.

            57"Hater of din and riot
            58He lived in days unquiet;
            59And, lover of all beauty,
            60Trod the hard ways of duty.

            61"He meant no wrong to any
            62He sought the good of many,
            63Yet knew both sin and folly, --
            64May God forgive him wholly!"


21] "crowner's quest": coroner's inquest.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 413. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1882
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/20

Rhyme: aabb

Other poems by John Greenleaf Whittier