John Greenleaf Whittier’s “To—, with a Copy of Woolman’s Journal”

by Ann Neilson

I have found myself returning to my copy of Whittier over and over again as of recent, and I cannot begin to sincerely express the fullness I feel in my heart after reading his poems. His gentle, poetic voice and non-rebuking messages are currently healing and restorative for me. Below is another newfound favorite from amongst his vast works. I hope it may touch you, as well.

To—. 
with a Copy of Woolman’s Journal

MAIDEN! with the fair brown tresses
Shading o’er thy dreamy eye,
Floating on thy thoughtful forehead
Cloud wreaths of its sky.

Youthful years and maiden beauty,
Joy with them should still abide,–
Instinct take the place of Duty,
Love, not Reason, guide.

Ever in the New rejoicing,
Kindly beckoning back the Old,
Turning, with the gift of Midas,
All things into gold.

And the passing shades of sadness
Wearing even a welcome guise,
As, when some bright lake lies open
To the sunny skies,

Every wing of bird above it,
Every light cloud floating on,
Glitters like that flashing mirror
In the self-same sun.

But upon thy youthful forehead
Something like a shadow lies;
And a serious soul is looking
From thy earnest eyes.

With an early introversion,
Through the forms of outward things,
Seeking for the subtle essence,
And the bidden springs.

Deeper than the gilded surface
Hath thy wakeful vision seen,
Farther than the narrow present
Have thy journeyings been.

Thou hast midst Life’s empty noises
Heard the solemn steps of Time,
And the low mysterious voices
Of another clime.

All the mystery of Being
Hath upon thy spirit pressed,–
Thoughts which, like the Deluge wanderer,
Find no place of rest:

That which mystic Plato pondered,
That which Zeno heard with awe,
And the star-rapt Zoroaster
In his night-watch saw.

From the doubt and darkness springing
Of the dim, uncertain Past,
Moving to the dark still shadows
O’er the Future cast,

Early hath Life’s mighty question
Thrilled within thy heart of youth,
With a deep and strong beseeching
What and where is Truth?

(I have included an excerpt only. You may find the rest here.)