Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Present Crisis

"Truth forever on the scaffold, lies forever on the throne" — JamesRussell Lowell
James Russell Lowell
December, 1845.

When a deed is done for Freedom, 

through the broad earth's aching breast
Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, 
trembling on from east to west,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, 
feels the soul within him climb
To the awful verge of manhood, 
as the energy sublime
Of a century bursts full-blossomed 
on the thorny stem of Time.

Through the walls of hut and palace 

shoots the instantaneous throe,
When the travail of the Ages 

wrings earth's systems to and fro;
At the birth of each new Era, 

with a recognizing start,
Nation wildly looks at nation, 

standing with mute lips apart,
And glad Truth's yet mightier man-child leaps 

beneath the Future's heart. 

So the Evil's triumph sendeth, 
with a terror and a chill,
Under continent to continent, 

the sense of coming ill,
And the slave, where'er he cowers, 

feels his sympathies with God
In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, 

to be drunk up by the sod,
Till a corpse crawls round unburied, 

delving in the nobler clod. 

For mankind are one in spirit, 
and an instinct bears along,
Round the earth's electric circle, 

the swift flush of right or wrong;
Whether conscious or unconscious, 

yet Humanity's vast frame
Through its ocean-sundered fibres 

feels the gush of joy or shame;—
In the gain or loss of one race 

all the rest have equal claim. 

Once to every man and nation 
comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, 

for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God's new Messiah, 

offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, 

and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever 

'twixt that darkness and that light. 

Hast thou chosen, O my people, 
on whose party thou shalt stand,
Ere the Doom from its worn sandals 

shakes the dust against our land?
Though the cause of Evil prosper, 

yet 'tis Truth alone is strong,
And, albeit she wander outcast now, 

I see around her throng
Troops of beautiful, tall angels, 

to enshield her from all wrong. 

Backward look across the ages 
and the beacon-moments see,
That, like peaks of some sunk continent, 

jut through Oblivion's sea;
Not an ear in court or market 

for the low foreboding cry
Of those Crises, God's stern winnowers, 

from whose feet earth's chaff must fly;
Never shows the choice momentous 

till the judgment hath passed by. 

Careless seems the great Avenger; 
history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness 

'twixt old systems and the Word; Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the Future, and, 

behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, 

keeping watch above his own. 

We see dimly in the Present 
what is small and what is great,
Slow of faith, how weak an arm 

may turn the iron helm of fate,
But the soul is still oracular; 

amid the market's din,
List the ominous stern whisper 

from the Delphic cave within,—
"They enslave their children's children 

who make compromise with sin." 

Slavery, the earthborn Cyclops, 
fellest of the giant brood,
Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, 

who have drenched the earth with blood,
Famished in his self-made desert, 

blinded by our purer day,
Gropes in yet unblasted regions 

for his miserable prey;—
Shall we guide his gory fingers 

where our helpless children play? 

Then to side with Truth is noble 
when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, 

and 'tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses, 

while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit, 

till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue 

of the faith they had denied. 

Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes,
—they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized 

for hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene, and down the future 

saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice, 

mastered by their faith divine,
By one man's plain truth to manhood 

and to God's supreme design.
By the light of burning heretics 

Christ's bleeding feet I track,
Toiling up new Calvaries 

ever with the cross that turns not back,
And these mounts of anguish number 

how each generation learned
One new word of that grand Credo 

which in prophet-hearts hath burned
Since the first man stood God-conquered 

with his face to heaven upturned. 

For Humanity sweeps onward: 
where to-day the martyr stands,
On the morrow crouches Judas 

with the silver in his hands;
Far in front the cross stands ready 

and the crackling fagots burn,
While the hooting mob of yesterday 

in silent awe return
To glean up the scattered ashes 

into History's golden urn. 

'Tis as easy to be heroes 
as to sit the idle slaves
Of a legendary virtue 

carved upon our fathers' graves,
Worshippers of light ancestral 

make the present light a crime;—
Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, 

steered by men behind their time?
Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, 

that make Plymouth rock sublime? 

They were men of present valor, 
stalwart old iconoclasts,
Unconvinced by axe or gibbet 

that all virtue was the Past's;
But we make their truth our falsehood, 

thinking that hath made us free,
Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, 

while our tender spirits flee
The rude grasp of that great Impulse 

which drove them across the sea.
They have rights who dare maintain them; 

we are traitors to our sires,
Smothering in their holy ashes 

Freedom's new-lit altar-fires;
Shall we make their creed our jailer? 

Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets 

steal the funeral lamps away
To light up the martyr-fagots 

round the prophets of to-day? 

New occasions teach new duties; 
Time makes ancient good uncouth;
They must upward still, and onward, 

who would keep abreast of Truth;
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! 

we ourselves must Pilgrims be,
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly 

through the desperate winter sea,
Nor attempt the Future's portal 

with the Past's blood-rusted key.

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