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
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Complete Issue: National Anti-Slavery Standard (19 September 1863)
Rev. John Pierpont, "Refining Fires" National Anti-Slavery Standard (19 September 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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REFINING FIRES.

            "Behold. I have refined thee, but not with silver."—
Isaiah xlviii. 10.[2]
Not with silver, not with gold, Every gift of every mine, Multiplied a thousandfold, Doth our God the soul refine.
Not from broad and fertile fields, Nor from any form of wealth That Earth's face or bosom yields, Comes "the soul's eternal health."
But "true riches"[3] come from toil Of the muscles or the mind, And, by culture of the soil, Or the soul, is man refined.
With the chastening power of pain, Tossings on a sleepless bed, Cares that gnaw upon the brain, Bleeding heart and throbbing head;
With our sorrows for the past, With our fears of coming ill, That their forward shadows cast On our pathway dark and chill;
With the discipline of tears, Over loved and lost ones shed, With our loves of early years Dying out, or wholly dead;
With the depths of voiceless woe That have whelmed our hearts so much, Hopes that withered long ago Under Disappointment's touch;
With the agonizing pang, Felt from Folly's Parthian dart,[4] With Remorse's viperous fang Struck into the guilty heart;
With our fruitless efforts, made To attain some shining goal, Labors lost, and trust betrayed— Doth our God refine the soul.

Notes

  1. John Pierpont (1785–1866) served as minister at Boston's Unitarian Hollis Street Church from 1819 until 1845, when he resigned after a long struggle with parish members who objected to his reform-oriented sermons. His poems appeared in the antislavery press during this period; Oliver Johnson, wartime editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, published The Anti-Slavery Poems of John Pierpont in 1843.
     
    Pierpont moved to the First Unitarian Church of Troy, in New York, then settled at the First Congregational (Unitarian) Church of West Medford, Massachusetts (1849–1858). He supported the Liberty, Free Soil, and Republican parties (Reinhard O. Johnson, The Liberty Party, 1840–1848: Antislavery Third-Party Politics in the United States [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009], 365). The outbreak of Civil War prompted him to enlist as a chaplain for the Twenty-Second Massachusetts Volunteers, but poor health forced the seventy-six year-old to give up the post after less than a month. "Our Country's Call" suggests that he continued to champion the war effort as a Union League member. He worked as a treasury clerk in Washington, DC from 1861 until his death.
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  2. The whole verse reads, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction" (Isaiah 48:10). Pierpont delivers a somber sermon in verse on meaningful and necessary suffering. In the context of the war, Pierpont's narrative of individual purification through suffering merged with a larger national narrative: God's chosen nation would be redeemed through the sacrifice and suffering of its people (see Phillip Shaw Paludan, "Religion and the American Civil War," in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, et al. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998], 24–27).
     
    While Pierpont's opening stanza hints that self-culture enables mankind to purify body and soul, subsequent stanzas quickly establish the futility of human effort; divine afflictions must be endured. In formal terms, the consolation of the closing line barely serves as a counterweight to the preceding list of afflictions. The poem's grim aspect qualifies the triumphalism of "Our Country's Call."
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  3. Luke 16:11: "If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?"Go back
  4. A "Parthian shot" is a "pointed glance" or "cutting remark delivered . . . at the moment of departure" (Oxford English Dictionary). The phrase refers to the battle tactics of agile Parthian horsemen, who twisted in their saddles to shoot back at enemies even as they appeared to retreat. Here, Folly personified throws a "Parthian dart"; its "pang" comprises one of the soul's trials and is linked by rhyme with "Remorse's . . . fang."Go back