The Lost Occasion by John G. Whittier









The Lost Occasion
by John G. Whittier

(Written in memory of Daniel Webster.)

Some die too late and some too soon,

At early morning, heat of noon,

Or the chill evening twilight. Thou,

Whom the rich heavens did so endow

With eyes of power and Jove's own brow,

With all the massive strength that fills

Thy home-horizon's granite hills,

With rarest gifts of heart and head

From manliest stock inherited—

New England's stateliest type of man,

In port and speech Olympian;

Whom no one met, at first, but took

A second awed and wondering look

(As turned, perchance, the eyes of Greece

On Phidias' unveiled masterpiece);

Whose words, in simplest home-spun clad,

The Saxon strength of Caedmon's had,

With power reserved at need to reach

The Roman forum's loftiest speech,

Sweet with persuasion, eloquent

In passion, cool in argument,

Or, ponderous, falling on thy foes

As fell the Norse god's hammer blows.

Crushing as if with Talus' flail

Through Error's logic-woven mail,

And failing only when they tried

The adamant of the righteous side,—

Thou, foiled in aim and hope, bereaved

Of old friends, by the new deceived,

Too soon for us, too soon for thee,

Beside thy lonely Northern sea,

Where long and low the marsh-lands spread,

Laid wearily down thy august head.

Thou shouldst have lived to feel below

Thy feet Disunion's fierce upthrow,—

The late-sprung mine that underlaid

Thy sad concessions vainly made.


Thou shouldst have seen from Sumter's wall

The star-flag of the Union fall,

And armed Rebellion pressing on

The broken lines of Washington!

No stronger voice than thine had then

Called out the utmost might of men,

To make the Union's charter free

And strengthen law by liberty.

How had that stern arbitrament

To thy gray age youth's vigor lent,

Shaming ambition's paltry prize

Before thy disillusioned eyes;

Breaking the spell about thee wound

Like the green withes that Samson bound;

Redeeming, in one effort grand,

Thyself and thy imperiled land!

Ah cruel fate, that closed to thee,

O sleeper by the Northern sea,

The gates of opportunity!

God fills the gaps of human need,

Each crisis brings its word and deed.

Wise men and strong we did not lack;

But still, with memory turning back,

In the dark hours we thought of thee,

And thy lone grave beside the sea.


Above that grave the east winds blow,

And from the marsh-lands drifting slow

The sea-fog comes, with evermore

The wave-wash of a lonely shore,

And sea-bird's melancholy cry,

As Nature fain would typify

The sadness of a closing scene,

The loss of that which should have been.

But, where thy native mountains bare

Their foreheads to diviner air,

Fit emblem of enduring fame,

One lofty summit keeps thy name.

For thee the cosmic forces did

The rearing of that pyramid,

The prescient ages shaping with

Fire, flood, and frost thy monolith.

Sunrise and sunset lay thereon

With hands of light their benison,

The stars of midnight pause to set

Their jewels in its coronet.

And evermore that mountain mass

Seems climbing from the shadowy pass

To light, as if to manifest

Thy nobler self, they life at best!