The Relic (Whittier)

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The Relic (Whittier)
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Written on receiving a cane wrought from a fragment of the wood-work of Pennsylvania Hall which the fire had spared.


Token of friendship true and tried,
From one whose fiery heart of youth
With mine has beaten, side by side,
For Liberty and Truth;
With honest pride the gift I take,
And prize it for the giver's sake.

But not alone because it tells
Of generous hand and heart sincere;
Around that gift of friendship dwells
A memory doubly dear;
Earth's noblest aim, man's holiest thought,
With that memorial frail in wrought!

Pure thoughts and sweet like flowers unfold,
And precious memories round it cling,
Even as the Prophet's rod of old
In beauty blossoming:
And buds of feeling, pure and good,
Spring from its cold unconscious wood.

Relic of Freedom's shrine! a brand
Plucked from its burning! let it be
Dear as a jewel from the hand
Of a lost friend to me!
Flower of a perished garland left,
Of life and beauty unbereft!

Oh, if the young enthusiast bears,
O'er weary waste and sea, the stone
Which crumbled from the Forum's stairs,
Or round the Parthenon;
Or olive-bough from some wild tree
Hung over old Thermopylae:

If leaflets from some hero's tomb,
Or moss-wreath torn from ruins hoary;
Or faded flowers whose sisters bloom
On fields renowned in story;
Or fragment from the Alhambra's crest,
Or the gray rock by Druids blessed;

Sad Erin's shamrock greenly growing
Where Freedom led her stalwart kern,
Or Scotia's "rough bur thistle" blowing
On Bruce's Bannockburn;
Or Runnymede's wild English rose,
Or lichen plucked from Sempach's snows!

If it be true that things like these
To heart and eye bright visions bring,
Shall not far holier memories
To this memorial cling
Which needs no mellowing mist of time
To hide the crimson stains of crime!

Wreck of a temple, unprofaned;
Of courts where Peace with Freedom trod,
Lifting on high, with hands unstained,
Thanksgiving unto God;
Where Mercy's voice of love was pleading
For human hearts in bondage bleeding;

Where, midst the sound of rushing feet
And curses on the night-air flung,
That pleading voice rose calm and sweet
From woman's earnest tongue;
And Riot turned his scowling glance,
Awed, from her tranquil countenance!

That temple now in ruin lies!
The fire-stain on its shattered wall,
And open to the changing skies
Its black and roofless hall,
It stands before a nation's sight,
A gravestone over buried Right!

But from that ruin, as of old,
The fire-scorched stones themselves are crying,
And from their ashes white and cold
Its timbers are replying!
A voice which slavery cannot kill
Speaks from the crumbling arches still!

And even this relic from thy shrine,
O holy Freedom! Hath to me
A potent power, a voice and sign
To testify of thee;
And, grasping it, methinks I feel
A deeper faith, a stronger zeal.

And not unlike that mystic rod,
Of old stretched o'er the Egyptian wave,
Which opened, in the strength of God,
A pathway for the slave,
It yet may point the bondman's way,
And turn the spoiler from his prey.