Sonnets of Character.

From: Sonnets and Canzonets (1882)
Author: A. Bronson Alcott
Published: Roberts Brothers 1882 Boston


“In sundry moods, ‘twas pastime to be bound
Within the sonnet’s scanty plot of ground.”

I like that friendship which, by soft gentle pauses, steals upon the affections and grows mellow with time, by reciprocal offices and trials of love; that friendship is like to last long, and never shrink in the wetting.”

IN Youth’s glad morning, when the rising
East Glows golden with assurance of success,
And life itself’s a rare continual feast,
Enjoyed the more if meditated less,
‘Tis then that friendship’s pleasures chiefly bless,
As if without beginning,—ne’er to end,—
So rich the season and so dear the friend,
When thou and I went wandering hand in hand;
Mine wert thou in our years of earliest prime,
Studious at home, or to the southern land
Adventuring bold; again in later time,
Thy kindly service, always at command
Of calm discretion, and abounding sense,
Prompted and showed the path to excellence.

Power above powers! O heavenly eloquence!
That, with the strong rein of commanding words,
Dost manage, guide,and master the eminence
Of man’s affections more than all their swords;
Shall we not offer to thy excellence
The richest treasure that our wit affords?
Or should we careless come behind the rest
In power of words that go before in worth;
When all that ever hotter spirits exprest
Comes bettered by the patience of the North?



MY thought revives at utterance of thy name,—
Doth high behavior, sweet discourse recall,
Lit with emotion’s quick and quenchless flame,
Imagination interfused through all;
Then peals thy voice melodious on mine ear,
As when grave anthems thou didst well recite,—
Laodamia’s vision sad and dear,
Or “Thanatopsis,” or “Hail, Holy Light!”
Thou true Professor, gifted to dispense
New pathos e’en to Channing’s eloquence;
If mother tongue they fail to speak or write,
Nor Greek nor Latin draw thy pupils thence;
Such culture, taught by the far Northern sea,
This scholar brings, New England, home to thee.

Ascending soul, sing Pæan.”


CHRISTIAN beloved! devoid of art and wile,—
Who lovest thy Lord so well, with heart so true,
That neither mist nor mote of worldly guile
May clog thy vision, nor confuse the view
Of that transcendent and commanding style
Of god-like manhood; which had dazed long while
Each purblind brother’s idol-loving eye.
Sense overpowering doth the soul belie:
Thou the soul’s errand and due place dost see,
Its heavenly features to thy ken disclose,
As when in Nazareth thy Lord uprose,
The Father’s image in Humanity.
A holy service thine, interpreter
Of Lazarus rising from the sepulchre.

The virtuous mind that ever walks attended
By a strong siding champion, Conscience


CHANNING! my Mentor whilst my thought was young,
And I the votary of fair liberty,—
How hung I then upon thy glowing tongue,
And thought of love and truth as one with thee!
Thou wast the inspirer of a nobler life,
When I with error waged unequal strife,
And from its coils thy teaching set me free.
Be ye, his followers, to his leading true,
Nor privilege covet, nor the wider sway;
But hold right onward in his loftier way,
As best becomes, and is his rightful due.
If learning’s yours,—gifts God doth least esteem,—
Beyond all gifts was his transcendent view;
O realize his Pentecostal dream!

Without oblivion there is no remembrance possible.
When both oblivion and memory are wise, then the
general soul is clear, melodious, and true


DAUGHTER of Memory! who her watch doth keep
O’er dark Oblivion’s land of shade and dream,
Peers down into the realm of ancient Sleep,
Where Thought uprises with a sudden gleam
And lights the devious path ‘twixt Be and Seem;
Mythologist! that dost thy legend steep
Plenteously with opiate and anodyne,
Inweaving fact with fable, line with line,
Entangling anecdote and episode,
Mindful of all that all men meant or said,—
We follow, pleased, thy labyrinthine road,
By Ariadne’s skein and lesson led:
For thou hast wrought so excellently well,
Thou drop’st more casual truth than sages tell.

Not on the store of sprightly wine,
Nor plenty of delicious meats,
Though gracious Nature did design
To court us with perpetual treats;
‘Tis not on these we for content depend,
So much as on the shadow of a friend


MISFORTUNE to have lived not knowing thee!
‘T were not high living, nor to noblest end,
Who, dwelling near, learned not sincerity,
Rich friendship’s ornament that still doth lend
To life its consequence and propriety.
Thy fellowship was my culture, noble friend:
By the hand thou took’st me, and did’st condescend
To bring me straightway into thy fair guild;
And life-long hath it been high compliment
By that to have been known, and thy friend styled,
Given to rare thought and to good learning bent;
Whilst in my straits an angel on me smiled.
Permit me, then, thus honored, still to be
A scholar in thy university.

He shall not seek to weave,
In weak, unhappy times,
Efficacious rhymes;
Wait his returning strength.
Bird, that from the nadir’s floor
To the zenith’s top can soar,
The soaring orbit of the Muse exceeds that
journey’s length


HIEROPHANT, and lyrist of the soul!
Clear insight thine of universal mind;
While from its crypts the nascent Powers unrol,
And represent to consciousness the Whole.
Each in its order seeks its natural kind,
These latent or apparent, stir or sleep,
Watchful o’er widening fields of airy space,
Or slumbering sightless in the briny deep;—
Thou, far above their shows, servant of Grace,
Tread’st the bright way from SPIRIT down to Sense,
Interpreting all symbols to thy race,—
Commanding vistas of the fair Immense,
And glimpses upward far, where, sons of Heaven,
Sit in Pantheon throned the Sacred Seven.

The princely mind, that can
Teach man to keep a God in man,—
And when wise poets would search out to see
Good men, behold them all in thee!


PLEASED, I recall those hours, so fair and free,
When all the long forenoons we two did toss
From lip to lip, in lively colloquy,
Plato, Plotinus; or famed schoolman’s gloss,
Disporting in rapt thought and ecstasy.
Then by the tilting rail Millbrook we cross,
And sally through the fields to Walden wave,
Plunging within the cove, or swimming o’er;
Through woodpaths wending, he with gesture quick
Rhymes deftly in mid-air with circling stick,
Skims the smooth pebbles from the leafy shore,
Or deeper ripples raises as we lave;
Nor slumb’rous pillow touches at late night,
Till converse with the stars his eyes invite.

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep;
Seated in thy silver chair,
State in wonted manner keep:
Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess excellently bright.

“Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
And thy crystal shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever,
Thou who mak’st a day of night,
Goddess excellently bright
                          BEN JONSON.


DEAR Lady! oft I meditate on thee,
Noblest companion and fit peer of him
Whom envious years, in high prosperity,
Could blemish least, nor aught the lustre dim
Of that fair-fashioned native piety
Embosomed in the soul that smiles on Fate,
And held by him and thee inviolate,—
Fountain of youth, still sparkling o’er the brim.
Then I recall thy salient quick wit,
Its arrowy quiver and its supple bow,—
Huntress of wrong! right well thy arrows hit,
Though from the wound thou see’st the red drops flow:
I much admire that dexterous archery,
And pray that sinners may thy target be.

Upon the nineteenth day of the first month, they keep
a solemn festival to Hermes, wherein they eat honey and
figs, and withal, say these words, ‘Truth is a sweet
thing;’ and that amulet or charm which they fable to
hang about her is, when interpreted in our language,
‘A true voice.’


THOU, Sibyl rapt! whose sympathetic soul
Infused the myst’ries thy tongue failed to tell;
Though from thy lips the marvellous accents fell,
And weird wise meanings o’er the senses stole,
Through those rare cadences, with winsome spell;
Yet, even in such refrainings of thy voice,
There struggled up a wailing undertone,
That spoke thee victim of the Sisters’ choice,—
Charming all others, dwelling still alone.
They left thee thus disconsolate to roam,
And scorned thy dear, devoted life to spare.
Around the storm-tost vessel sinking there
The wild waves chant thy dirge and welcome home;
Survives alone thy sex’s valiant plea,
And the great heart that loved the brave and free.

One knocked at the Beloved’s door, and a Voice asked from within, Who is there? And he answered, It is I. Then the Voice said, This house will not hold me and thee, and the door was not opened. Then went the Lover into the desert, and fasted and prayed in solitude. And after a year he returned, and knocked again at the door. And again the Voice asked, Who is there? and he said, It is Thyself. And the door was opened to him.”
                          PERSIAN POET.


PRIEST of the gladsome tidings, old and new,
To whom by nature fell, as the most fit,
The saintly Channing’s mantle; brave and true,
Thou heedst thy calling, and dost well acquit
Thyself of the high mission. Thy sage wit
(O brother in the Lord, and well approved
To lead men heavenward to the Father’s throne,
And Son’s that sits at His right hand beloved!)
Hath ministered to every clime and zone
Washed by Pacific or Atlantic sea,
With chainless flow ‘neath Heaven’s unbounded cope.
Son of the Church, saint of thy century!
Undoubting faith is thine, and fadeless hope,
And ardent, all-embracing charity.

Philosophy does not look into pedigrees. She did not receive Plato as noble, but she made him such.”


INTERPRETER of the Pure Reason’s laws,
And all the obligations Thought doth owe
These high ambassadors of her great cause;
Philosopher! whose rare discernments show
Apt mastery of her surpassing skill,
And why each thought and thing is inly so
Conceived and fashioned in the plastic Will;
Thou Reason’s canons dost so well maintain,
With such adhesive and sincere regard,
That every deviator seeks in vain
To escape thy apprehension; evil-starred,
With Dante’s sophisters they writhe in pain.
Then from thy judgment-seat, dismissed with ruth,
Thou lead’st the stumblers in the way of truth.

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wild rose and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a hearl of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
Oh, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!



WHO nearer Nature’s life would truly come
Must nearest come to him of whom I speak;
He all kinds knew,—the vocal and the dumb;
Masterful in genius was he, and unique,
Patient, sagacious, tender, frolicsome.
This Concord Pan would oft his whistle take,
And forth from wood and fen, field, hill, and lake,
Trooping around him, in their several guise,
The shy inhabitants their haunts forsake:
Then he, like Esop, man would satirize,
Hold up the image wild to clearest view
Of undiscerning manhood’s puzzled eyes,
And mocking say, “Lo! mirrors here for you:
Be true as these, if ye would be more wise.”

The happy man who lived content
With his own town and continent,
Whose chiding stream its banks did curb
As ocean circumscribes its orb,
Round which, when he his walks did take,
Thought he performed far more than Drake:
For other lands he took less thought,
Than this his Muse and landscape brought


MUCH do they wrong our Henry, wise and kind,
Morose who name thee, cynical to men,
Forsaking manners civil and refined
To build thyself in Walden woods a den,—
Then flout society, flatter the rude hind.
We better knew thee, loyal citizen!
Thou, friendship’s all-adventuring pioneer,
Civility itself didst civilize:
Whilst braggart boors, wavering ‘twixt rage and fear,
Slave hearths lay waste, and Indian huts surprise,
And swift the Martyr’s gibbet would uprear:
Thou hail’dst him great whose valorous emprise
Orion’s blazing belt dimmed in the sky,—
Then bowed thy unrepining head to die.

Happy art thou whom God doth bless
With the full choice of thine own happiness;
And happier yet, because thou’rt blest
With prudence how to choose the best:
In books and gardens thou hast placed aright—
Things well which thou dost understand,
And both dost make with thy laborious hand—
Thy noble, innocent delight.

.    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .

Methinks I see great Diocletian walk
In the Salonian garden’s noble shade,
Which by his own imperial hands was made;
I see him smile, methinks, as he does talk
With the ambassadors, who come in vain
To entice him to a throne again


WHILST from the cloistered schools rushed forth in view
The eager Bachelors, on lucre bent,
Or life voluptuous; even the studious few,
Oblivious mostly, if they ever knew
What Nature mirrored and fair learning meant;
Thou, better taught, on worthier aims intent,
Short distance from the Pilgrims’ sea-washed street
Thine orchard planted; grove and garden there,
And sheltering coppice hide thy mansion neat,
By winding alley reached, and gay parterre;
Where cordial welcome chosen friends shall meet,
From courteous host and graceful lady fair;
Then thy choice fruits we taste, thy wisdom hived,
England’s rare Evelyn in thee revived.

Thou art not gone, being gone,—where’er thou art,
Thou leav’st in him thy watchful eyes, in him thy loving heart


BRIGHT visions of my sprightlier youthful days,
With sunny gleams of answering friendliness,
Thou brought’st me, maiden, in delightful ways,
In conversation, letters, frank address;
And these attractions did me so possess,
The moments all were thine, and thou in sight
By day’s engagements, and in dreams by night.
Wished I the spell dissolved, or ever less?
Ne’er may advancing years remove one tint
From memory’s tablet of that happy time;
And if thus .tamely that romance I hint,
Forgive my poor endeavor in this rhyme,
Nor warrant give me now, my cherished friend,
To add the more, lest I the more offend.

‘Aστήρ πρίν μέν έλαμπες ένί ξωοΐσιν έώος,
Νϋν ϭέ θανών λάμπεις Έσπερος έν ϕθιμένις.

“Thou wert a morning star among the living
Ere thy fair light had fled;
Now, being gone, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New lustre to the dead


SWEET saint! whose rising dawned upon the sight
Like fair Aurora chasing mists away;
Our ocean billows, and thy western height
Gave back reflections of the tender ray,
Sparkling and smiling as night turned to day:—
Ah! whither vanished that celestial light?
Suns rise and set, Monadnoc’s amethyst
Year-long above the sullen cloud appears,
Daily the waves our summer strand have kissed,
But thou returnest not with days and years:
Or is it thine, yon clear and beckoning star,
Seen o’er the hills that guarded once thy home?
Dost guide thy friend’s free steps that widely roam
Toward that far country where his wishes are?

Thus sing I to cragg’d clifts and hills,
To sighing winds, to murmuring rills,
To wasteful woods, to empty groves,
Such things as my dear mind most loves
                            HENRY MORE.


ADVENTUROUS mariner! in whose gray skiff,
Dashing disastrous o’er the fretful wave,
The steersman, subject to each breeze’s whiff,
Or blast capricious that o’er seas doth rave,
Scarce turns his rudder from the fatal cliff,—
Scorning his craft or e’en himself to save.
Ye Powers of air, that shift the seaman’s grave,
Adjust the tackle of his right intent,
And bring him safely to the port he meant!
Long musing there on that divinity
Who to his hazard had assistance lent,
He verses cons, oft taken by surprise
In diverse meanings, and shrewd subtlety,
That pass quaint Donne, and even Shakespeare wise.

But else, in deep of night, when drowsiness
Hath locked up mortal sense, then listen I
To the celestial Syrens’ harmony
That sit upon the nine infolded spheres,
And sing to those that hold the vital shears,
And turn the adamantine spindle round,
On which the fate of gods and men is wound


ROMANCER, far more coy than that coy sex!
Perchance some stroke of magic thee befell,
Ere thy baronial keep the Muse did vex,
Nor grant deliverance from enchanted spell,
But tease thee all the while and sore perplex,
Till thou that wizard tale shouldst fairly tell,
Better than poets in thy own clear prose.
Painter of sin in its deep scarlet dyes,
Thy doomsday pencil Justice doth expose,
Hearing and judging at the dread assize;
New England’s guilt blazoning before all eyes,
No other chronicler than thee she chose.
Magician deathless! dost thou vigil keep,
Whilst ‘neath our pines thou feignest deathlike

There is a Roman splendor in her smile,
A tenderness that owes its depth to toil;
Well may she leave the soft voluptuous wile,
That forms the woman of a softer soil;
She does pour forth herself, a fragrant oil,
Upon the dark asperities of Fate,
And make a garden else all desolate
                        ELLERY CHANNING.


STILL held in sweet remembrance thou, my friend,
As when I knew thee in thy maiden prime;
Though later years to ripening graces lend
The graver traits, whilst we together climb
The pathway upward to those loftier heights,
‘Bove clouded prospects and familiar sights.
Thy gracious worth shines brightly in mine eyes,
Thy warm heart’s labors, thy large liberal brain,
Ennobling studies, and broad charities,
Thou woman worthy of the coming age!
Whilst household duties thou dost well sustain,
Yet ampler service for thy sex presage;
Can aught from Memory’s record e’er erase
Thy cordial manners, and resplendent face?

So have I seen in fair Castile,
The youth in glittering squadrons start,
Sudden the flying jennet wheel,
And hurl the unexpected dart


POET of the Pulpit, whose full-chorded lyre
Startles the churches from their slumbers late,
Discoursing music, mixed with lofty ire,
At wrangling factions in the restless state,
Till tingles with thy note each listening ear,—
Then household charities by the friendly fire
Of home, soothe all to fellowship and good cheer.
No sin escapes thy fervent eloquence,
Yet, touching with compassion the true word,
Thou leavest the trembling culprit’s dark offence
To the mediation of his gracious Lord.
To noble thought and deep dost thou dispense
Due meed of praise, strict in thy just award.
Can other pulpits with this preacher cope?
I glory in thy genius, and take hope!

Many are the friends of the golden tongue.”
                         WELSH TRIAD.


PEOPLE’S Attorney, servant of the Right!
Pleader for all shades of the solar ray,
Complexions dusky, yellow, red, or white;
Who, in thy country’s and thy time’s despite,
Hast only questioned, What will Duty say?
And followed swiftly in her narrow way:
Tipped is thy tongue with golden eloquence,
All honeyed accents fall from off thy lips,—
Each eager listener his full measure sips,
Yet runs to waste the sparkling opulence,—
The scorn of bigots, and the worldling’s flout.
If Time long held thy merit in suspense,
Hastening repentant now, with pen devout,
Impartial History dare not leave thee out.

Who faithful in insane sedition keeps,
With silver and with ruddy gold may vie


‘T WAS when the land was struggling to break free
From Slavery’s fetter and provincial ban,
Whilst a great people dreaded liberty,—
That the dire conflict of thine age began.
Thy voice rang clear o’er selfish sect and clan;
Nor politician’s, priest’s, nor tradesman’s plea
Did aught avail to quench, but more to fan
The flame that must consume all slavery,—
The serf then franchised and proclaimed a man.
Long wast thou heard amid the scoff and scorn
Of voices potent in thy city dear;
Steadfast didst face the storm, with heart of cheer,
And prove thyself the freeman nobly born,
Preacher of righteousness, of saints the peer.

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise or blame, nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble


BOLD Saint, thou firm believer in the Cross,
Again made glorious by self-sacrifice,—
Love’s free atonement given without love’s loss,—
That martyrdom to thee was lighter pain,
Since thus a race its liberties should gain;
Flash its sure consequence in Slavery’s eyes
When, ‘scaping sabre’s clash and battle’s smoke,
She felt the justice of thy master-stroke:
Peaceful prosperity around us lies,
Freedom with loyalty thy valor gave;
Whilst thou, no felon doomed, for gallows fit,
O Patriot true! O Christian meek and brave!
Throned in the martyrs’ seat henceforth shalt sit;
Prophet of God! Messias of the Slave!

O my brethren! I have told
Most bitter truth, but without bitterness,
Nor deem my zeal or factious or mistimed;
For never can true courage dwell with them
Who, playing tricks with conscience, dare not look
At their own vices


NOBLY censorious of our transient age,
Hating oppressors in thy love of man,
Thou didst stride forward on the public stage
With the bold liberators to the van,
Scourging delinquents with a lofty rage.
Iconoclast, who ‘gainst foul idols ran,
Tumbling, false gods from their wide-worshipped shrine,
To throne therein the human and divine.
Charged was thy soul with vehement eloquence,
Strenuous with ample reason’s manly art;
Thy prayers were fervent, void of all pretence,
Wrath yielded place to pity in thy heart;
Eagerly of all learning mad’st thou spoil,
Before thy lamp, extinguished, spent its oil.

There’s not a breathing of the common-wind
That will forget thee: thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind


FREEDOM’S first champion in our fettered land!
Nor politician nor base citizen
Could gibbet thee, nor silence, nor withstand.
Thy trenchant and emancipating pen
The patriot Lincoln snatched with steady hand,
Writing his name and thine on parchment white,
Midst war’s resistless and ensanguined flood;
Then held that proclamation high in sight
Before his fratricidal countrymen,—
“Freedom henceforth throughout the land for all,”—
And sealed the instrument with his own blood,
Bowing his mighty strength for slavery’s fall;
Whilst thou, stanch friend of largest liberty,
Survived,—its ruin and our peace to see.

E venni dal martirio a questa pace.”

Ah, me! how dark the discipline of pain,
Were not the suffering followed by the sense
Of infinite rest and infinite release!
This is our consolation; and again
A great soul cries to us in our suspense:
‘I came from martyrdom unto this peace.’


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