Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (27 June 1863)
John G. Whittier, "In War-Time" The Anglo-African (27 June 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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IN WAR-TIME.[1]

      [Read before the Alumni of the Friends' Yearly Meeting School,
at the annual meeting at Newport, R. I., 15th 6th Month, 1863.][2]
           
Once more, dear friends, you meet beneath A clouded sky: Not yet the sword has found its sheath, And, on the sweet spring airs the breath Of war floats by.
Yet trouble springs not from the ground, Nor pain from chance; Th' eternal order circles round, And wave and storm find mete and bound In Providence.
Full long our feet the flowery ways Of peace have trod, Content with creed and garb and phrase; A harder path in earlier days Led up to God.
Too cheaply truths, once purchased dear, Are made our own; Too long the world has smiled to hear Our boast of full corn in the ear By others sown.
To see us stir the martyr fires Of long ago; And wrap our satisfied desires In the singed mantles that our sires Have dropped below.
But now the cross our worthies bore On us is laid.[4] Profession's quiet sleep is o'er, And in the scale of truth once more Our faith is weighed.
The cry of innocent blood at last Is calling down An answer in the whirlwind blast, The thunder and the shadow cast From Heaven's dark frown.
The land is red with judgments. Who Stands guiltless forth? Have we been faithful as we knew, To God and to our brother true, To Heaven and Earth?
How faint through din of merchandise And count of gain, Has seemed to us the captives' cries! How far away the tears and sighs Of souls in pain!
This day the fearful reckoning comes To each and all; We hear amidst our peaceful homes The summons of the conscript drums,[5] The bugle's call.
Our path is plain; the war-net draws Round us in vain, While, faithful to the Higher Cause, We keep our fealty to the laws Through patient pain.
The leveled gun, the battle-brand We may not take; But, calmly loyal, we can stand And suffer with our suffering land For conscience' sake.
Why ask for ease where all is pain? Shall we alone Be left to add our gain to gain, When over Armageddon's plain The trump is blown?
To suffer well is well to serve; Safe in our Lord The rigid lines of law shall curve To spare us; from our heads shall swerve Its smiting sword.
And light is mingled with the gloom And joy with grief; Divinest compensations come, Through thorns of judgment mercies bloom In sweet relief.
Thanks for our privilege to bless, By word and deed, The widow in her keen distress, The childless and the fatherless, The hearts that bleed!
For fields of duty, opening wide, Where all our powers Are tasked the eager steps to guide Of millions on a path untried The Slave is ours!
Ours by traditions dear and old Which make the race Our wards to cherish and uphold, And cast their freedom in the mold Of Christian grace.
And we may tread the sick-bed floors Where strong men pine, And, down the groaning corridors, Pour freely from our liberal stores The oil and wine.
Who murmurs that in these dark days His lot is cast? God's hand within the shadow lays The stones whereon His gates of praise Shall rise at last.
Turn and o'erturn, O outstretched Hand! Nor stint, nor stay; The years have never dropped their sand On mortal issue vast and grand As ours to-day.
Already, on the sable ground Of man's despair, Is freedom's glorious picture found, With all its dusky hands unbound Upraised in prayer.
Oh, small shall seem all sacrifice And pain and loss, When God shall wipe the weeping eyes, For suffering give the victor's prize, The crown for cross!

Notes

  1. Note on the text: The text in red, which is obscured in the newspaper printing represented here, is supplied by John Greenleaf Whittier, In War Time and Other Poems  (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864), 46.
  1. "In War-Time" appeared on the same day in the National Anti-Slavery Standard of June 27, 1863. There are a number of differences in the newspapers' printings of the poem, including in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.Go back
  2. The Society of Friends' New England Yearly Meeting established a school for the region's young Quakers in the late eighteenth century. Situated in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, the first school remained open for only four years (1784–88). Moses Brown revived the project decades later; the Friends accepted his donation of a farm and land near Providence in 1814, and the New England Yearly Meeting Boarding School opened on New Year's Day, 1819. The school flourished (Rayner Wickersham Kelsey, Centennial History of Moses Brown School, 1819–1919 [Providence, RI: Moses Brown School, 1919]). Its alumni formed an association in 1859 with the aim of raising funds for scholarships and facilities, and renewing "cherished associations" between old members (Proceedings of the Alumni Association of Friends' Yearly Meeting School [Providence: Knowles, 1863], 9).
     
    John Greenleaf Whittier did not attend the school; the association elected him as an honorary member at its second meeting in June 1860 (Report of the Proceedings of the Second Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association of the New England Yearly Meeting School [Philadelphia: Collins, 1860], 26). He wrote "The Quaker Alumni" for the same occasion (each alumni association meeting included a lecture and a poem). He contributed "In War-Time" for the same purpose three years later.
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  3. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892) dedicated himself to abolitionist activities in the early 1830s. He was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (est. December 1833) and held the editorship of the Pennsylvania Freeman from March 1838 until February 1840. Convinced that the Constitution and the ballot could be used to attack slavery, he supported the Liberty Party and played an active part in its members' campaigns. Antislavery journalism continued to feature largely in his life; for thirteen years, he worked as corresponding editor for the National Era (1847–1860).
     
    Orthodox Quaker Whittier managed to reconcile his abhorrence of war with his support for conflict that furthered the antislavery cause; during the war he urged members of the Society of Friends to assist the war effort in non-combatant roles, as nurses in hospitals and as teachers among the freedpeople (Samuel T. Pickard, Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier [London: Sampson Low, 1895], 2:440–41). Poetry had long been integral to his abolitionist mission. His first (unauthorized) collection of poetry, Poems Written during the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States, between 1830 and 1838, was published by antislavery colleagues in 1837 (Randall Cluff, "Whittier, John Greenleaf," in American National Biography Online). He continued to champion abolition in verse throughout the war. His poems often appeared in the Atlantic Monthly (which he supported from its inception) and in the New York Independent, and were widely reprinted in serials with antislavery sympathies. "In War-Time" became the title piece in Whittier's collection In War Time and Other Poems (1864), which also includes "Mithridates at Chios." For "Mithridates at Chios," see the National Anti-Slavery Standard of May 16, 1863, and the Anglo-African of May 23, 1863.
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  4. The Quakers had a long-standing connection with the antislavery movement, as a result of their religious principles. Committed abolitionist Whittier believed that his antebellum contemporaries had lapsed in their antislavery mission and had fallen short of the immediate emancipationist examples set by their eighteenth-century predecessors, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet. Lincoln's decision to make emancipation a war aim in 1862 would test the limits of Quaker pacifism by forcing Friends to "choose between liberty for slaves and the preservation of the union" (Ryan P. Jordan, Slavery and the Meetinghouse: The Quakers and the Abolitionist Dilemma, 1820–1865 [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007], 121); "In War-Time" addresses this moment of choice as an opportunity for renewed activism.Go back
  5. Lincoln's Enrollment Act of 1863 authorized a national draft. Only in February 1864 did Congress make allowance for conscientious objectors (Scott Reynolds Nelson and Carol Sheriff, A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War, 1854–1877 [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008], 202).
     
    Pacifism was a fundamental Quaker principle, yet antislavery Friends' support for violent resistance had increased in the wake of the Compromise of 1850 (Ryan P. Jordan, Slavery and the Meetinghouse: The Quakers and the Abolitionist Dilemma, 1820–1865 [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007], 125). At the beginning of the war, Whittier had urged members of the Society of Friends to support the war effort as relief workers: "Steadily and faithfully maintaining our testimony against war, we owe it to the cause of truth, to show that exalted heroism and generous self-sacrifice are not incompatible with our pacific principles" (Samuel T. Pickard, Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier [Boston: Houghton, 1894], 2:441). He reiterated and elaborated on that call in his alumni poem.
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