Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

The Ermine

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I read of the ermine to-day,
Of the ermine who will not step
By the feint of a step in the mire,--
The creature who will not stain
Her garment of wild, white fire;


Of the dumb, flying, soulless thing
(So we with our souls dare to say),
The being of sense and of sod,
That will not, that will not defile
The nature she took from her God.


And we, with the souls that we have,
Go cheering the hunters on
To a prey with that pleading eye.
She cannot go into the mud!
She can stay like the snow, and die!


The hunters come leaping on.
She turns like a heart at bay.
They do with her as they will.
... O thou who thinkest on this!
Stand like a star, and be still,


Where the soil oozes under thy feet.
Better, ah, better to die
Than to take one step in the mire!
Oh, blessed to die or to live,
With garments of holy fire!

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Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward