Imágenes de páginas


Longfellow's “Psalm of Life" was written when be was a young man, and for some years it carried the title he gave it, “What the Young Man's Heart Said to the Psalmist”—a caption altogether too long to bear currency.

The history of the beloved poet who wrote this opcimistic ballad of hope and courage is too well known to need recounting here. He was born in Portland, Ve., in 1807, graduated at Bowdoin College, and was for more than forty years professor of Belles Lettres in Harvard University. Died in Cambridge, March 4, 1882. Of his longer poems the most read and admired are his beautiful romance of "Evangeline," and his epic of “Hiawacha," but it is hardly too much to say that for the last sixty years, his “Psalm of Life” has been the common property of all American, if not English school-children, and a part of their educarion. When he was in London, Queen Victoria sent for him to come and see her at the palace. He went, and just as he was seating himself in the Waiting coach after the interview, a man in working cloches appeared, hat in hand, at the coach window.

"Please sir, yer honor,” said he, “an' are you Mr. Longfellow?" "I am Mr. Longfellow," said the poet.

In did you write the Psalm of Life ?” he asked.

"I wrote the Psalm of Life,” replied the poet.

[ocr errors]

"An', yer honor, would you be willing to take a workingman by the hand ?”

Mr. Longfellow gave the honest Englishman a hearty handshake, “And” (said he in telling the story) "I never in my life received a compliment that gave me more satisfaction.”

The incident has a delightful democratic flavor -and it is perfectly characteristic of the amiable author of the most popular poem in the English language. The “Psalm of Life" is a wonderful example of the power of commonplaces put into tuneful and elegant verse.

The thought of setting the poem to music came to the compiler of one of the Unitarian church singing books. Some will question, however, whether the selection was the happiest that could have been made. The tune is “Rathbun," Ithamar Conkey's melody that always recalls Sir John Bowring's great hymn of praise.


This poem by Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, known among his works as “The Chambered Nautilus," was considered by himself as his worthiest achievement in verse, and his wish that it might live is likely to be fulfilled. It is stately, and in character and effect a rhythmic sermon from a text in “natural theology.” The biography of one of the little molluscan sea-navigators that continually enlarges its shell to adapt it to its growth inspired the thoughtful lines. The third, fourth and fifth stanzas are as follows: Year after year beheld the silent toil

That spread the lustrous coil;

Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the last year's dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step the shining archway through,

Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,

Child of the wand'ring sea,

Cast from her lap forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathed homl

While on my ear it rings
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings,

“Build thee more noble mansions, O my soul.

As the swift seasons roll:

Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,

Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thy outgrown shell by life's unresting sea.”

Dr. Frederic Hedge included the poem in his hymn-book but without any singing-supplement to the words.


It may not be our lot to wield

The sickle in the harvest field. If this stanza and the four following do not reveal all the strength of John G. Whittier's spirit,

they convey its serious sweetness. The verses were loved and prized by both President Garfield and President McKinley. On the Sunday before the latter went from his Canton, O., home to his inauguration in Washington the poem was sung as a hymn at his request in the services at the Methodist church where he had been a constant worshipper.

The second stanza is the one most generally recognized and oftenest quoted:

Yet where our duty's task is wrought
In unison with God's great thought,
The near and future blend in one,
And whatsoe'er is willed, is done.

· John Greenleaf Whittier, the poet of the oppressed, was born in Haverhill, Mass., 1807, worked on a farm and on a shoe-bench, and studied at the local academy, until, becoming of age, he went to Hartford, Conn., and began a brief experience in editorial life. Soon after his return to Massachusetts he was elected to the Legislature, and after his duties ended there he left the state for Philadelphia to edit the Pennsylvania Freeman. A few years later he returned again, and established his home in Amesbury, the town with which his life and works are always associated.

He died in 1892 at Hampton Falls, N. H., where he had gone for his health.

THE TUNE. “Abends," the smooth triple-time choral joined to Whittier's poem by the music editor of the new Methodist Hymnal, speaks its meaning so well that it is scarcely worth while to look for another. Sir Herbert Stanley Oakeley, the composer, was born at Ealing, Eng., July 22, 1830, and educated at Rugby and Oxford. He studied music in Germany, and became a superior organist, winning great applause by his recitals at Edinburgh University, where he was elected Musical Professor.

Archbishop Tait gave him the doctorate of music at Canterbury in 1871, and he was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1876.

Besides vocal duets, Scotch melodies and student songs, he composed many anthems and tunes for the church—notably “Edina" ("Saviour, blessed Saviour”) and “Abends," originally written to Keble's “Sun of my Soul.”


This lay of a lost gift, with its striking lesson, might have been copied from the wounded bird's own song, it is so natural and so clear-toned. The opportune thought and pen of Mr. Hezekiah Butterworth gave being to the little ballad the day he heard the late Dr. George Lorimer preach from a text in the story of Samson's fall (Judges 16:21) “The Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza ....

« AnteriorContinuar »