Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  “O May I Join the Choir Invisible”

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

George Eliot 1819–80

“O May I Join the Choir Invisible”


O MAY I join the choir invisible

Of those immortal dead who live again

In minds made better by their presence: live

In pulses stirr’d to generosity,

In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn

For miserable aims that end with self,

In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,

And with their mild persistence urge man’s search

To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven:

To make undying music in the world,

Breathing as beauteous order that controls

With growing sway the growing life of man.

So we inherit that sweet purity

For which we struggled, fail’d, and agoniz’d

With widening retrospect that bred despair.

Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,

A vicious parent shaming still its child,

Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolv’d;

Its discords, quench’d by meeting harmonies,

Die in the large and charitable air.

And all our rarer, better, truer self,

That sobb’d religiously in yearning song,

That watch’d to ease the burthen of the world,

Laboriously tracing what must be,

And what may yet be better,—saw within

A worthier image for the sanctuary,

And shap’d it forth before the multitude,

Divinely human, raising worship so

To higher reverence more mix’d with love,—

That better self shall live till human Time

Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky

Be gather’d like a scroll within the tomb Unread forever.

This is life to come,

Which martyr’d men have made more glorious

For us who strive to follow. May I reach

That purest heaven, be to other souls

The cup of strength in some great agony,

Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,

Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,

Be the sweet presence of a good diffus’d,

And in diffusion ever more intense!

So shall I join the choir invisible

Whose music is the gladness of the world.