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

December 22

Oh May I Join the Choir Invisible

By George Eliot (1819–1880)

  • George Eliot, known in private life as Mary Ann Evans Cross, the author of “The Mill on the Floss,” “Adam Bede” and other novels, died Dec. 22, 1880.
  • Longum illud tempus quum non ero, magis me movet, quam hoc exiguum.
  • Cicero, ad Att., XII., 18.

  • OH may I join the choir invisible

    Of those immortal dead who live again

    In minds made better by their presence: live

    In pulses stirred 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, failed and agonized

    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 dissolved;

    Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,

    Die in the large and charitable air.

    And all our rarer, better, truer self,

    That sobbed religiously in yearning song,

    That watched to ease the burden of the world,

    Laboriously tracing what must be,

    And what may yet be better—saw within

    A worthier image for the sanctuary,

    And shaped it forth before the multitude

    Divinely human, raising worship so

    To higher reverence more mixed with love—

    That better self shall live till human Time

    Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky

    Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb

    Unread forever.

    This is life to come,

    Which martyred 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 diffused,

    And in diffusion ever more intense.

    So shall I join the choir invisible

    Whose music is the gladness of the world.