The Cypress-Tree of Ceylon

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The Cypress-Tree of Ceylon
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Ibn Batuta, the celebrated Mussulman traveller of the fourteenth century, speaks of a cypress-tree in Ceylon, universally held sacred by the natives, the leaves of which were said to fall only at certain intervals, and he who had the happiness to find and eat one of them was restored, at once, to youth and vigor. The traveller saw several venerable Jogees, or saints, sitting silent and motionless under the tree, patiently awaiting the falling of a leaf.


They sat in silent watchfulness
The sacred cypress-tree about,
And, from beneath old wrinkled brows,
Their failing eyes looked out.

Gray Age and Sickness waiting there
Through weary night and lingering day,--
Grim as the idols at their side,
And motionless as they.

Unheeded in the boughs above
The song of Ceylon's birds was sweet;
Unseen of them the island flowers
Bloomed brightly at their feet.

O'er them the tropic night-storm swept,
The thunder crashed on rock and hill;
The cloud-fire on their eyeballs blazed,
Yet there they waited still!

What was the world without to them?
The Moslem's sunset-call, the dance
Of Ceylon's maids, the passing gleam
Of battle-flag and lance?

They waited for that falling leaf
Of which the wandering Jogees sing:
Which lends once more to wintry age
The greenness of its spring.

Oh, if these poor and blinded ones
In trustful patience wait to feel
O'er torpid pulse and failing limb
A youthful freshness steal;

Shall we, who sit beneath that Tree
Whose healing leaves of life are shed,
In answer to the breath of prayer,
Upon the waiting head;

Not to restore our failing forms,
And build the spirit's broken shrine,
But on the fainting soul to shed
A light and life divine--

Shall we grow weary in our watch,
And murmur at the long delay?
Impatient of our Father's time
And His appointed way?

Or shall the stir of outward things
Allure and claim the Christian's eye,
When on the heathen watcher's ear
Their powerless murmurs die?

Alas! a deeper test of faith
Than prison cell or martyr's stake,
The self-abasing watchfulness
Of silent prayer may make.

We gird us bravely to rebuke
Our erring brother in the wrong,--
And in the ear of Pride and Power Our warning voice is strong.

Easier to smite with Peter's sword
Than "watch one hour" in humbling prayer.
Life's "great things," like the Syrian lord,
Our hearts can do and dare.

But oh! we shrink from Jordan's side,
From waters which alone can save;

And murmur for Abana's banks
And Pharpar's brighter wave.

O Thou, who in the garden's shade
Didst wake Thy weary ones again,
Who slumbered at that fearful hour
Forgetful of Thy pain;

Bend o'er us now, as over them,
And set our sleep-bound spirits free,
Nor leave us slumbering in the watch
Our souls should keep with Thee!