I shall not soon forget that sight:
The glow of autumn’s westering day,
A hazy warmth, a dreamy light,
On Raphael’s picture lay.
It was a simple print I saw,
The fair face of a musing boy;
Yet, while I gazed, a sense of awe
Seemed blending with my joy.
A simple print:–the graceful flow
Of boyhood’s soft and wavy hair,
And fresh young lip and cheek, and brow
Unmarked and clear, were there.
Yet through its sweet and calm repose
I saw the inward spirit shine;
It was as if before me rose
The white veil of a shrine.
As if, as Gothland’s sage has told,
The hidden life, the man within,
Dissevered from its frame and mould,
By mortal eye were seen.
Was it the lifting of that eye,
The waving of that pictured hand?
Loose as a cloud-wreath on the sky,
I saw the walls expand.
The narrow room had vanished,–space,
Broad, luminous, remained alone,
Through which all hues and shapes of grace
And beauty looked or shone.
Around the mighty master came
The marvels which his pencil wrought,
Those miracles of power whose fame
Is wide as human thought.
There drooped thy more than mortal face,
O Mother, beautiful and mild!
Enfolding in one dear embrace
Thy Saviour and thy Child!
The rapt brow of the Desert John;
The awful glory of that day
When all the Father’s brightness shone
Through manhood’s veil of clay.
And, midst gray prophet forms, and wild
Dark visions of the days of old,
How sweetly woman’s beauty smiled
Through locks of brown and gold!
There Fornarina’s fair young face
Once more upon her lover shone,
Whose model of an angel’s grace
He borrowed from her own.
Slow passed that vision from my view,
But not the lesson which it taught;
The soft, calm shadows which it threw
Still rested on my thought
The truth, that painter, bard, and sage,
Even in Earth’s cold and changeful clime,
Plant for their deathless heritage
The fruits and flowers of time.
We shape ourselves the joy or fear
Of which the coming life is made,
And fill our Future’s atmosphere
With sunshine or with shade.
The tissue of the Life to be
We weave with colors all our own,
And in the field of Destiny
We reap as we have sown.
Still shall the soul around it call
The shadows which it gathered here,
And, painted on the eternal wall,
The Past shall reappear.
Think ye the notes of holy song
On Milton’s tuneful ear have died?
Think ye that Raphael’s angel throng
Has vanished from his side?
O no!–We live our life again
Or warmly touched, or coldly dim,
The pictures of the Past remain,–
Man’s works shall follow him!
–John Greenleaf Whittier
NOTE: In honor of National Poetry Month, each day a person’s birthday will be celebrated with a poem about or by him/her. The poems come from all over the place.