Of whispering trees the tongues to hear,
And sermons of the silent stone;
To read in brooks the print so clear
Of motion, shadowy light, and tone–
That man hath neither eye nor ear
Who careth not for human moan.
Yea, he who draws, in shrinking haste,
From sin that passeth helpless by;
The weak antennae of whose taste
From touch of alien grossness fly–
Shall, banished to the outer waste,
Never in Nature’s bosom lie.
But he whose heart is full of grace
To his own kindred all about,
Shall find in lowest human face,
Blasted with wrong and dull with doubt,
More than in Nature’s holiest place
Where mountains dwell and streams run out.
Coarse cries of strife assailed my ear,
In suburb-ways, one summer morn;
A wretched alley I drew near
Whence on the air the sounds were borne–
Growls breaking into curses clear,
And shrill retorts of keener scorn.
Slow from its narrow entrance came,
His senses drowned with revels dire,
Scarce fit to answer to his name,
A man unconscious save of ire;
Fierce flashes of dull, fitful flame
Broke from the embers of his fire.
He cast a glance of stupid hate
Behind him, every step he took,
Where followed him, like following fate,
An aged crone, with bloated look:
A something checked his listless gait;
She neared him, rating till she shook.
Why stood he still to be disgraced?
What hindered? Lost in his employ,
His eager head high as his waist,
Half-buttressed him a tiny boy,
An earnest child, ill-clothed, pale-faced,
Whose eyes held neither hope nor joy.
Perhaps you think he pushed, and pled
For one poor coin to keep the peace
With hunger! or home would have led
And given him up to sleep’s release:
Well he might know the good of bed
To make the drunken fever cease!
Not so; like unfledged, hungry bird
He stood on tiptoe, reaching higher,
But no expostulating word
Did in his anxious soul aspire;
With humbler care his heart was stirred,
With humbler service to his sire.
He, sleepless-pale and wrathful red,
Though forward leaning, held his foot
Lest on the darling he should tread:
A misty sense had taken root
Somewhere in his bewildered head
That round him kindness hovered mute.
The words his simmering rage did spill
Passed o’er the child like breeze o’er corn;
Safer than bee whose dodging skill
And myriad eyes the hail-shower scorn,
The boy, absorbed in loving will,
Buttoned his father’s waistcoat worn.
Over his calm, unconscious face
No motion passed, no change of mood;
Still as a pool in its own place,
Unsunned within a thick-leaved wood,
It kept its quiet shadowy grace,
As round it all things had been good.
Was the boy deaf–the tender palm
Of him that made him folded round
The little head to keep it calm
With a hitherto to every sound–
And so nor curse nor shout nor psalm
Could thrill the globe thus grandly bound?
Or came in force the happy law
That customed things themselves erase?
Or was he too intent for awe?
Did love take all the thinking place?
I cannot tell; I only saw
An earnest, fearless, hopeless face.