Category: Ballads and Other Poems
|Last night I saw the sunset melt through my prison bars,
Last night across my damp earth floor fell the pale gleam of stars:
In the coldness and the darkness all through the long night-time,
My grated casement whited with autumn's early rime....
All night I sat unsleeping, for I knew that on the morrow
The ruler and the cruel priest would mock me in my sorrow.
Dragged to their place of market, and bargained for and sold,
Like a lamb before the shambles, like a heifer from the fold!
Oh, the weakness of the flesh was there,- - the shrinking and the shame;
And the low voice of the Tempter like whispers to me came:
"Why sit'st thou thus forlornly," the wicked murmur said,
"Damp walls thy bower of beauty, cold earth thy maiden bed?
"...And what a fate awaits thee!--A sadly toiling slave,
Dragging the slowly lengthening chain of bondage to the grave."
...I wrestled down the evil thoughts, and strove in silent prayer,
To feel, O Helper of the weak! That thou indeed were there...
At length the heavy bolts fell back, my door was open cast,
And slowly at the sheriff's side, up the long street I passed.
I heard the murmur round me, and felt, but dared not see,
How, from every door and window, the people gazed on me.
...We paused at length, where at my feet the sunlit waters broke
On glaring reach of shining beach, and shining wall or rock;
The merchant ships lay idly there, in hard clear lines on high,
Tracing with rope and sender spar their network on the sky....
Then to the stout sea-captains, the sheriff, turning, said,
"Which of ye, worthy seamen, will take this Quaker maid?
In the isle of fair Barbados, or on Virginia's shore,
You may sell her at a higher price than Indian girl or Moor."
Grim and silent stood the captains; and when again he cried,
"Speak out, my worthy seamen!"--no voice, no sign replied;
But I felt a hard hand press my own, and kind words met my ear,--
"God bless thee, and preserve thee, my gentle girl and dear!"
A weight seemed lifted from my heart, a pitying friend was nigh,--
I felt it in his hard, rough hand, and saw i in his eye;
And when again the sheriff spoke, that voice so kind to me,
Growled back its stormy answer like the roaring of the sea,--
"Pile my ship with bars of silver, pack with coins of Spanish gold,
From keel-piece up to deck plank, the roomage of her hold,
By the living God who made me!--I would sooner in your bay
Sink ship and crew and cargo, than bear this child away!"
"Well answered, worthy captain, shame on their cruel laws!"
Ran through the crowd in murmurs loud the people's just applause.
"Like the herdsman of Tekoa, in Israel of old,
Shall we see the poor and righteous again for silver sold?"
I looked on Governor Endicott, with weapon half-way drawn,
Swept round the throng his lion glare of bitter hate and scorn;
Fiercely he drew his bridle rein, and turned in silence back,
And sneering priest and baffled clerk rode murmuring in his track.
Hard after them the sheriff looked, in bitterness of soul;
Thrice smote his staff upon the ground, and crushed his parchment roll.
"Good friends," he said, "since both have fled, the ruler and the priest,
Judge ye, if from their further work I be not well released."
Loud was the cheer which, full and clear, swept round the silent bay,
As with kind words and kinder looks he bade me go my way;
For God who turns the courses of the streamlet of the glen,
And the river of great waters, had turned the hearts of men.
Thanksgiving to the Lord of Life! To God all praises be,
Who from the hands of evil men hath set his handmaid free.
All praise to God before whose power the mighty are afraid,
Who takes the crafty in the snare which for the poor is laid!
- John Greenleaf Whittier