John Greenleaf Whittier and “Forgiveness”

by Ann Neilson

Forgiveness is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow. Pride-“abominable pride,” to nod to Jane Austen-is still something I have yet to control. Many times have I felt wronged by our chaotic world. Many times have I turned coldly and dismissively upon friends, peers, and loved ones due to a simple disagreement, one which could merely be solved with an open, warm heart and empathetic viewpoint. I’ve shaken my stubborn, angry fist at it all, only to find no respite in my anger. There is no solace to be found in perpetuating anger, but only malice, toxicity, and prolonging self-defeat. I have found myself, several times, mulling with regret over the consequential remains dealt destruction by my petulance.

These intimate details have been shared in order to preface a poem that I have just discovered today. Whittier’s message resonates deeply with me, as I hope it will with you.

Forgiveness

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul
wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and
hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened
face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none
depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I
forgave!