James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

January 1

Boston Hymn

By Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

  • On the Freeing of the Slaves, January 1, 1863.

  • THE WORD of the Lord by night

    To the watching Pilgrims came,

    As they sat by the seaside,

    And filled their hearts with flame.

    God said, I am tired of kings,

    I suffer them no more;

    Up to my ear the morning brings

    The outrage of the poor.

    Think ye I made this ball

    A field of havoc and war,

    Where tyrants great and tyrants small

    Might harry the weak and poor?

    My angel—his name is Freedom—

    Choose him to be your king;

    He shall cut pathways east and west,

    And fend you with his wing.

    Lo! I uncover the land,

    Which I hid of old time in the West,

    As the sculptor uncovers the statue

    When he has wrought his best;

    I show Columbia, of the rocks

    Which dip their foot in the seas,

    And soar to the air-borne flocks

    Of clouds, and the boreal fleece.

    I will divide my goods;

    Call in the wretch and the slave;

    None shall rule but the humble,

    And none but Toil shall have.

    I will have never a noble,

    No lineage counted great;

    Fishers and choppers and ploughmen

    Shall constitute a state.

    Go, cut down trees in the forest,

    And trim the straightest boughs;

    Cut down trees in the forest,

    And build me a wooden house.

    Call the people together,

    The young men and the sires,

    The digger in the harvest-field,

    Hireling, and him that hires;

    And here in a pine state-house

    They shall choose men to rule

    In every needful faculty,

    In church and state and school.

    Lo, now! if these poor men

    Can govern the land and sea,

    And make just laws below the sun,

    As planets faithful be.

    And ye shall succor men;

    ’Tis nobleness to serve;

    Help them who cannot help again;

    Beware from right to swerve.

    I break your bonds and masterships,

    And I unchain the slave;

    Free be his heart and hand henceforth

    As wind and wandering wave.

    I cause from every creature

    His proper good to flow;

    As much as he is and doeth,

    So much he shall bestow.

    But, laying hands on another,

    To coin his labor and sweat,

    He goes in pawn to his victim

    For eternal years in debt.

    To-day unbind the captive,

    So only are ye unbound;

    Lift up a people from the dust,

    Trump of their rescue, sound!

    Pay ransom to the owner,

    And fill the bag to the brim.

    Who is the owner? The slave is owner,

    And ever was. Pay him.

    O North! give him beauty for rags,

    And honor, O South! for his shame;

    Nevada! coin thy golden crags

    With Freedom’s image and name.

    Up! and the dusky race

    That sat in darkness long,—

    Be swift their feet as antelopes,

    And as behemoth strong.

    Come, East and West and North,

    By races, as snowflakes,

    And carry my purpose forth,

    Which neither halts nor shakes.

    My will fulfilled shall be,

    For in daylight or in dark,

    My thunderbolt has eyes to see

    His way home to the mark.