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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Si Descendero in Infernum, Ades

By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

O WANDERING dim on the extremest edge

Of God’s bright providence, whose spirits sigh

Drearily in you, like the winter sedge

That shivers o’er the dead pool stiff and dry,—

A thin, sad voice, when the bold wind roars by

From the clear North of Duty,—

Still by cracked arch and broken shaft I trace

That here was once a shrine and holy place

Of the supernal beauty,

A child’s play-altar reared of stones and moss,

With wilted flowers for offering laid across,

Mute recognition of the all-ruling Grace.

How far are ye from the innocent, from those

Whose hearts are as a little lane serene,

Smooth-heaped from wall to wall with unbroke snows,

Or in the summer blithe with lamb-cropped green,

Save the one track, where naught more rude is seen

Than the plump wain at even

Bringing home four months’ sunshine bound in sheaves!

How far are ye from those! yet who believes

That ye can shut out heaven?

Your souls partake its influence, not in vain

Nor all unconscious, as that silent lane

Its drift of noiseless apple blooms receives.

Looking within myself, I note how thin

A plank of station, chance, or prosperous fate,

Doth fence me from the clutching waves of sin;

In my own heart I find the worst man’s mate,

And see not dimly the smooth-hingèd gate

That opes to those abysses

Where ye grope darkly,—ye who never knew

On your young hearts love’s consecrating dew,

Or felt a mother’s kisses,

Or home’s restraining tendrils round you curled:

Ah, side by side with heart’s-ease in this world

The fatal nightshade grows, and bitter rue!

One band ye cannot break,—the force that clips

And grasps your circles to the central light;

Yours is the prodigal comet’s long ellipse,

Self-exiled to the farthest verge of night:

Yet strives with you no less that inward might

No sin hath e’er imbruted;

The god in you the creed-dimmed eye eludes;

The Law brooks not to have its solitudes

By bigot feet polluted:

Yet they who watch your God-compelled return

May see your happy perihelion burn

Where the calm sun his unfledged planets broods.