Mountain Pictures and Others

A Summer Pilgrimage


John Greenleaf Whittier

TO KNEEL before some saintly shrine,
    To breathe the health of airs divine,
Or bathe where sacred rivers flow,
    The cowled and turbaned pilgrims go.
I too, a palmer, take, as they
    With staff and scallop-shell, my way
To feel, from burdening cares and ills,
    The strong uplifting of the hills.

The years are many since, at first,
    For dreamed-of wonders all athirst,
I saw on Winnipesaukee fall
    The shadow of the mountain wall.
Ah! where are they who sailed with me
    The beautiful island-studded sea?
And am I he whose keen surprise
    Flashed out from such unclouded eyes?

Still, when the sun of summer burns,
    My longing for the hills returns;
And northward, leaving at my back
    The warm vale of the Merrimac,
I go to meet the winds of morn,
    Blown down the hill-gaps, mountain-born,
Breathe scent of pines, and satisfy
    The hunger of a lowland eye.

Again I see the day decline
    Along a ridged horizon line;
Touching the hill-tops, as a nun
    Her beaded rosary, sinks the sun.
One lake lies golden, which shall soon
    Be silver in the rising moon;
And one, the crimson of the skies
    And mountain purple multiplies.

With the untroubled quiet blends
    The distance-softened voice of friends;
The girl’s light laugh no discord brings
    To the low song the pine-tree sings;
And, not unwelcome, comes the hail
    Of boyhood from his nearing sail.
The human presence breaks no spell,
    And sunset still is miracle!

Calm as the hour, methinks I feel
    A sense of worship o’er me steal;
Not that of satyr-charming Pan,
    No cult of Nature shaming man,
Not Beauty’s self, but that which lives
    And shines through all the veils it weaves,—
Soul of the mountain, lake, and wood,
    Their witness to the Eternal Good!

And if, by fond illusion, here
    The earth to heaven seems drawing near,
And yon outlying range invites
    To other and serener heights,
Scarce hid behind its topmost swell,
    The shining Mounts Delectable
A dream may hint of truth no less
    Than the sharp light of wakefulness.

As through her vale of incense smoke.
    Of old the spell-rapt priestess spoke,
More than her heathen oracle,
    May not this trance of sunset tell
That Nature’s forms of loveliness
    Their heavenly archetypes confess,
Fashioned like Israel’s ark alone
    From patterns in the Mount made known?

A holier beauty overbroods
    These fair and faint similitudes;
Yet not unblest is he who sees
    Shadows of God’s realities,
And knows beyond this masquerade
    Of shape and color, light and shade,
And dawn and set, and wax and wane,
    Eternal verities remain.

O gems of sapphire, granite set!
    O hills that charmed horizons fret
I know how fair your morns can break,
    In rosy light on isle and lake;
How over wooded slopes can run
    The noonday play of cloud and sun,
And evening droop her oriflamme
    Of gold and red in still Asquam.

The summer moons may round again,
    And careless feet these hills profane;
These sunsets waste on vacant eyes
    The lavish splendor of the skies;
Fashion and folly, misplaced here,
    Sigh for their natural atmosphere,
And travelled pride the outlook scorn
    Of lesser heights than Matterhorn.

But let me dream that hill and sky
    Of unseen beauty prophesy;
And in these tinted lakes behold
    The trailing of the raiment fold
Of that which, still eluding gaze,
    Allures to upward-tending ways,
Whose footprints make, wherever found,
    Our common earth a holy ground.

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