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O May I Join the Choir Invisible! and Other Favorite Poems

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O may I join the choir invisibleOf those immortal dead who live againIn minds made better by their presence; liveIn pulses stirred to generosity,In deeds of daring rectitude, in scornOf miserable aims that end with self,In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,And with their mild persistence urge men’s mindsTo vaster issues.

   So to live is heaven:To make undying music in the world,Breathing a beauteous order that controlsWith growing sway the growing life of man.So we inherit that sweet purityFor which we struggled, failed and agonizedWith widening retrospect that bred despair.Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,A vicious parent shaming still its child,Poor, anxious penitence is quick dissolved;Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,Die in the large and charitable air;And all our rarer, better, truer self,That sobbed religiously in yearning song,That watched to ease the burden of the world,Laboriously tracing what must be,And what may yet be better—saw ratherA worthier image for the sanctuaryAnd shaped it forth before the multitude,Divinely human, raising worship soTo higher reverence more mixed with love—That better self shall live till human TimeShall fold its eyelids, and the human skyBe gathered like a scroll within the tombUnread forever.

   This is life to come,Which martyred men have made more gloriousFor us who strive to follow.

   May I reachThat purest heaven—be to other soulsThe cup of strength in some great agony,Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love,Beget the smiles that have no cruelty,Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,And in diffusion ever more intense!So shall I join the choir invisibleWhose music is the gladness of the world.



I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he:I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;“Good speed!” cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew,“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through.Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace—Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right,Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit,Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

’Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew nearLokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;At Boom a great yellow star came out to see;At Düffeld ’twas morning as plain as could be;And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime—So Joris broke silence with “Yet there is time!”

At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun,And against him the cattle stood black every one,To stare through the mist at us galloping past;And I saw my stout galloper Roland at lastWith resolute shoulders, each butting awayThe haze, as some bluff river headland its spray;

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent backFor my voice, and the other pricked out on his track,And one eye’s black intelligence—ever that glanceO’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance;And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anonHis fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, “Stay spur!Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her;“We’ll remember at Aix”—for one heard the quick wheezeOf her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So we were left galloping, Joris and I,Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh;’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;Till over by Delhem a dome spire sprung white,And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight...!