Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

The Poet And The Poem

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Upon the city called the Friends'
The light of waking spring
Fell vivid as the shadow thrown
Far from the gleaming wing
Of a great golden bird, that fled
Before us loitering.


In hours before the spring, how light
The pulse of heaviest feet!
And quick the slowest hopes to stir
To measures fine and fleet.
And warm will grow the bitterest heart
To shelter fancies sweet.


Securely looks the city down
On her own fret and toil;
She hides a heart of perfect peace
Behind her veins' turmoil--
A breathing-space removed apart
From out their stir and soil.


Our reverent feet that golden day
Stood in a quiet place,
That held repressed--I know not what
Of such a poignant grace
As falls, if dumb with life untold,
Upon a human face.


To fashion silence into words
The softest, teach me how!
I know the place is Silence caught
A-dreaming, then and now.
I only know 't was blue above,
And it was green below.


And where the deepening sunshine found
And held a holy mood,
Lowly and old, of outline quaint,
In mingled brick and wood,
Clasped in the arms of ivy vines
A nestling cottage stood:


A thing so hidden and so fair,
So pure that it would seem
Hewn out of nothing earthlier
Than a young poet's dream,
Of nothing sadder than the lights
That through the ivies gleam.


"Tell me," I said, while shrill the birds
Sang through the garden space,
To her who guided me--"tell me
The story of the place."
She lifted, in her Quaker cap,
A peaceful, puzzled face,


Surveyed me with an aged, calm,
And unpoetic eye;
And peacefully, but puzzled half,
Half tolerant, made reply:
"The people come to see that house--
Indeed, I know not why,


"Except thee know the poem there--
'T was written long since, yet
His name who wrote it, now--in fact--
I cannot seem to get--
His name who wrote that poetry
I always do forget.


"Hers was Evangeline; and here
In sound of Christ Church bells
She found her lover in this house,
Or so I 've heard folks tell.
But most I know is, that 's her name,
And his was Gabriel.


"I 've heard she found him dying, in
The room behind that door,
(One of the Friends' old almshouses,
Perhaps thee 've heard before
Perhaps thee 've heard about her all
That I can tell, and more.


"Thee can believe she found him here,
If thee do so incline.
Folks have their fashions in belief--
That may be one of thine.
I'm sure his name was Gabriel,
And hers Evangeline."


She turned her to her common work
And unpoetic ways,
Nor knew the rare, sweet note she struck
Resounding to your praise,
O Poet of our common nights,
And of our care-worn days!


Translator of our golden mood,
And of our leaden hour!
Immortal thus shall poet gauge
The horizon of his power.
Wear in your crown of laurel leaves,
The little ivy flower!


And happy be the singer called
To such a lofty lot!
And ever blessed be the heart
Hid in the simple spot
Where Evangeline was loved and wept,
And Longfellow forgot.


O striving soul! strive quietly,
Whate'er thou art or dost,
Sweetest the strain, when in the song
The singer has been lost;
Truest the work, when 't is the deed,
Not doer, counts for most!


The shadow of the golden wing
Grew deep where'er it fell.
The heart it brooded over will
Remember long and well
Full many a subtle thing, too sweet
Or else too sad to tell.


Forever fall the light of spring
Fair as that day it fell,
Where Evangeline, led by your voice,
O solemn Christ Church bell!
For lovers of all springs, all climes,
At last found Gabriel.

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