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Poetry and Music for the New Year

Addressed to the Patrons of the Pennsylvania Freeman:

THE WAVE is breaking on the shore, 
  The echo fading from the chime;            
Again the shadow moveth o’er
  The dial-plate of time!

O seer-seen Angel! waiting now                        5
  With weary feet on sea and shore,        
Impatient for the last dread vow             
  That time shall be no more!      

Once more across thy sleepless eye         
  The semblance of a smile has passed:           10
The year departing leaves more nigh     
  Time’s fearfullest and last.        

Oh, in that dying year hath been             
  The sum of all since time began;             
The birth and death, the joy and pain,           15
  Of Nature and of Man.              

Spring, with her change of sun and shower,       
  And streams released from Winter’s chain,       
And bursting bud, and opening flower,
  And greenly growing grain;               20

And Summer’s shade, and sunshine warm,        
  And rainbows o’er her hill-tops bowed,              
And voices in her rising storm;   
  God speaking from His cloud! 

And Autumn’s fruits and clustering sheaves,               25
  And soft, warm days of golden light,   
The glory of her forest leaves,   
  And harvest-moon at night;    

And Winter with her leafless grove,        
  And prisoned stream, and drifting snow,                    30
The brilliance of her heaven above          
  And of her earth below:             

And man, in whom an angel’s mind       
  With earth’s low instincts finds abode,
The highest of the links which bind                   35
  Brute nature to her God;           

His infant eye hath seen the light,            
  His childhood’s merriest laughter rung,               
And active sports to manlier might         
  The nerves of boyhood strung!                        40

And quiet love, and passion’s fires,         
  Have soothed or burned in manhood’s breast,
And lofty aims and low desires 
  By turns disturbed his rest.       

The wailing of the newly-born            45
  Has mingled with the funeral knell;       
And o’er the dying’s ear has gone           
  The merry marriage-bell.           

And Wealth has filled his halls with mirth,            
  While Want, in many a humble shed,            50
Toiled, shivering by her cheerless hearth,             
  The live-long night for bread.  

And worse than all, the human slave,    
  The sport of lust, and pride, and scorn!               
Plucked off the crown his Maker gave,           55
  His regal manhood gone!          

Oh, still, my country! o’er thy plains,      
  Blackened with slavery’s blight and ban,            
That human chattel drags his chains,    
  An uncreated man!               60

And still, where’er to sun and breeze,    
  My country, is thy flag unrolled,             
With scorn, the gazing stranger sees      
  A stain on every fold.  

Oh, tear the gorgeous emblem down!            65
  It gathers scorn from every eye,             
And despots smile and good men frown              
  Whene’er it passes by.

Shame! shame! its starry splendors glow             
  Above the slaver’s loathsome jail;                  70
Its folds are ruffling even now   
  His crimson flag of sale.             

Still round our country’s proudest hall   
  The trade in human flesh is driven,        
And at each careless hammer-fall                    75
  A human heart is riven.              

And this, too, sanctioned by the men     
  Vested with power to shield the right, 
And throw each vile and robber den       
  Wide open to the light.                        80

Yet, shame upon them! there they sit,   
  Men of the North, subdued and still;    
Meek, pliant poltroons, only fit 
  To work a master’s will.             

Sold, bargained off for Southern votes,        85
  A passive herd of Northern mules,        
Just braying through their purchased throats    
  Whate’er their owner rules.      

And he,1 the basest of the base,               
  The vilest of the vile, whose name,                 90
Embalmed in infinite disgrace,  
  Is deathless in its shame!           

A tool, to bolt the people’s door               
  Against the people clamoring there,     
An ass, to trample on their floor                        95
  A people’s right of prayer!        

Nailed to his self-made gibbet fast,        
  Self-pilloried to the public view,              
A mark for every passing blast  
  Of scorn to whistle through;             100

There let him hang, and hear the boast
  Of Southrons o’er their pliant tool,—   
A new Stylites on his post,           
  “Sacred to ridicule!”     

Look we at home! our noble hall,                      105
  To Freedom’s holy purpose given,         
Now rears its black and ruined wall,       
  Beneath the wintry heaven,     

Telling the story of its doom,      
  The fiendish mob, the prostrate law,             110
The fiery jet through midnight’s gloom,
  Our gazing thousands saw.     

Look to our State! the poor man’s right
  Torn from him: and the sons of those  
Whose blood in Freedom’s sternest fight                      115
  Sprinkled the Jersey snows,      

Outlawed within the land of Penn,          
  That Slavery’s guilty fears might cease,              
And those whom God created men        
  Toil on as brutes in peace.                  120

Yet o’er the blackness of the storm         
  A bow of promise bends on high,          
And gleams of sunshine, soft and warm,             
  Break through our clouded sky.              

East, West, and North, the shout is heard,                   125
  Of freemen rising for the right:
Each valley hath its rallying word,           
  Each hill its signal light.               

O’er Massachusetts’ rocks of gray,         
  The strengthening light of freedom shines,                130
Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay,           
  And Vermont’s snow-hung pines!         

From Hudson’s frowning palisades         
  To Alleghany’s laurelled crest, 
O’er lakes and prairies, streams and glades,                135
  It shines upon the West.            

Speed on the light to those who dwell   
  In Slavery’s land of woe and sin,            
And through the blackness of that hell,
  Let Heaven’s own light break in.                      140

So shall the Southern conscience quake
  Before that light poured full and strong,            
So shall the Southern heart awake          
  To all the bondman’s wrong.   

And from that rich and sunny land                  145
  The song of grateful millions rise,          
Like that of Israel’s ransomed band        
  Beneath Arabia’s skies:              

And all who now are bound beneath     
  Our banner’s shade, our eagle’s wing,        150
From Slavery’s night of moral death      
  To light and life shall spring.     

Broken the bondman’s chain, and gone               
  The master’s guilt, and hate, and fear,
And unto both alike shall dawn        155
  A New and Happy Year.

“The New Year” by John Greenleaf Whittier. Born in 1807 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Whittier was a prolific Quaker poet who advocated for the abolition of slavery. His first poem was published in 1826 in the Newburyport Free Pressafter his sister submitted it without his permission. The editor, William Lloyd Garrison, encouraged Whittier to attend high school at Haverhill Academy. In order to pay for school, Whittier became a shoemaker and worked out a deal to pay part of his tuition with food from his family’s farm. After graduation, Whittier went on to become editor of several magazines. By the 1830s, he became interested in politics and joined his former editor, Garrison, in the abolitionist movement. Whittier dedicated the next 20 years of his life to the cause, writing and speaking out against the injustice of slavery. He often received negative – and even violent – responses, and was mobbed, stoned, and run out of towns several times. Later in life, Whittier became one of the founding contributors to Atlantic Monthly (now The Atlantic) which was founded in 1857. Whittier died at his home in 1892.2

 

“Another Year is Dawning” written by Frances Ridley Havergal. Havergal was an English writer born in 1836. Her father was an Anglican clergyman, writer, composer and hymn writer. She followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming a poet and hymn writer herself. She lived a quiet life until her death in 1879 from peritonitis. She was 42.3 The hymn above is said to have been a new year’s greeting Havergal sent to friends in January of 1874, just five years before her death. The hymn was later put to music by Charles Wesley’s grandson Samuel S. Wesley.4

 

Notes:

1.       The Northern author of the Congressional rule against receiving petitions of the people on the subject of Slavery.
2.       More of John Greenleaf Whittier’s biography can be found here.
3.       More of Frances Ridley Havergal’s biography can be found here.
4.       More about the hymn “Another Year is Dawning” can be found here.

 

Alisa Williams is Spirituality Editor at SpectrumMagazine.org.
Photo Credit: Aureliy Movila / FreeImages.com

 

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