To A Friend - Poem by John Pierpont
Friend of my dark and solitary hour,
When spectres walk abroad, and ghosts have power,
To thee I look to dissipate the gloom,
And banish sheeted corpses from my room.
Thou'rt not thyself a corpse, though, past all doubt,
Thou hast been a dead body, and 'laid out.'
Nor art thou quite a ghost, though, sooth to say,
Much like a ghost thou vanishest away,
And, like the ghost in Shakspeare's tragic tale,
(That of the royal Dane,) thou 'rt 'very pale.'
Life of my nights, thy cheering smile impart!
Light of my lone and melancholy heart,
Come stand beside me, and, with silent gaze,
O'erlook the line I'm weaving in thy praise.
But, should my numbers, like thyself, decline,
Start not indignant from thy silver shrine,
Such panegyric though incensed to hear,
Nor, like the Cynthian, touch my tingling ear.
Yea,-though I feel thy warm breath in my face,
As Daphne felt the Delphian's in the chase,
Let not my finger press thy polished form,
Lest, like Pygmalion, I should find thee warm.
Thou art not cold as marble, though thou 'rt fair
As smoothest alabaster statues are;
Thou 'rt like the lamp that brightens wisdom's page;
Thou 'rt like a glass to the dim eye of age;
Thou 'rt like the lantern Hero held, of yore,
On Sestos's tower, to light Leander o'er.
Thou art the friend of Beauty and of Wit;
Both beam the brighter when with thee they sit.
Thou giv'st to Beauty's cheek a softer hue,
Sprinklest on Beauty's lip a fresher dew,
Giv'st her with warmer eloquence to sigh,
And wing love's shafts more heated from her eye.
Still, pure thyself, as Nova Zembla's snows,
Thy blood bounds not,-it regularly flows.
Thou dost not feel, nor wake, impure desire;-
For, though thou standest with thy soul on fire,
Beside my couch, in all thy glowing charms,
I sleep, nor dream I clasp thee in my arms.
Thy faithfulness, my friend, oft hast thou shown;
Thou hast stood by me oft,-and stood alone;
And when the world has frowned, thou wouldst beguile
My hours of sadness with thy cheerful smile.
Yet well I know,-forgive the painful thought!-
With all thy faithfulness, thou hast been bought.
Yes, friend, thou hast been venal, and hast known
The time, when, just as freely as my own
Thou mightest, for a trifle, have been led
To grace the veriest stranger's board or bed.
Yet will I trust thee now,-while thou hast life;-
I'll trust thee with my money, or my wife,
Not doubting, for a moment, that thou 'lt be
As true to them as thou art true to me.
While thus I praise thee, I do not pretend
That though a faithful, thou 'rt a faultless friend.
Excuse me, then,-I do not love to blame,-
When, for thy sake, thy faults I briefly name.
Though often present when debates wax warm,
On Slavery, or the Temperance reform,
I ne'er have known thee lift thy voice or hand,
The car of Reformation through the land
Onward to roll.-Thou knowest well that I
Drink nothing but cold water, when I'm dry;-
It is my daily bath, my daily drink;-
What, then, with all thy virtues, must I think,
When, as thou seest my goblet filling up,
Or the pure crystal flowing from the cup,
In cool refreshment, o'er my parching lip,
I never can persuade thee e'en to sip?-
Nay,-when thou bear'st it with so ill a grace,
If but a drop I sprinkle in thy face?
Thou know'st this puts thee out. And then, once more,
Tobacco juice, on carpet, hearth, or floor,
I can't endure; and yet I know thou viewest
Such things unmoved. I say not that thou chewest
The Indian weed; but I'm in error far,
If I've not seen thee lighting a cigar;-
Fie! Fie! my friend, eschew the nauseous stuff!
I hate thy smoking! I detest thy snuff!
True, should my censures a retort provoke,
Thou mayst reply that Spanish ladies smoke;
And that e'en editors are pleased enough
Sometimes to take, as oft they give, a puff.
Ah well, 'with all thy faults,'-as Cowper says,-
'I love thee still,' and still I sing thy praise:
These few bad habits I o'erlook in thee;-
For who, on earth, from every fault is free?
Still, my fair friend, the poisonous gall that drips
On virtue's robe, from Scandal's viper lips,
Hath fallen on thee. When innocence and youth
Her victims are, she seems to tell the truth,
While yet she lies. But when, with deadly fangs,
She strikes at thee, and on thy mantel hangs,
She seems resolved a different game to try;
She tells the truth, but seems to tell a lie,
And calls thee,-thy tried character to stain,-
'The wicked fiction of some monster's brain!'
'Wicked!'-let all such slanderers be told
Thy maker cast thee in an upright mould;
And, though thou mayst be swayed, 't is ne'er to ill,
But thou maintainest thine uprightness still.
'Wicked'-while all thine hours, as they proceed,
See thee engaged in some illustrious deed!
See thee, thyself and all thou hast, to spend,
Like holy Paul, to benefit thy friend;
And, by the couch where wakeful woe appears,
See thee dissolve, like Niobe, in tears!
E'en now, as, gazing on thy slender frame,
That, like my own, still feeds the vital flame,
I strive to catch thy beauty's modest ray,
Methinks I see thee sink, in slow decay,
Beneath the flame that's kindled by my breath,
And preys upon thy heart-strings till thy death.
Yet, in thy melting mood, thy heart is light,
Thy smile is cheerful, and thy visage bright.
And, in thy pallid form, I see displayed
The Cyprian goddess and the martial maid;
For thou didst spring, like Venus, from the main,
And, like Minerva, from a thunderer's brain.
What though thou art a 'fiction'? Still, forsooth,
Fiction may throw as fair a light as truth.
But, thou'rt a 'wicked fiction'; yet, the while,
No crime is thine, and thou 'rt unknown to guile.
In fiery trials, I have seen thee stand
Firm, and more pure than e'en thy maker's hand;
And deeds of darkness, crimsoned o'er with shame,
Shrink from thine eye as from devouring flame.
True at thy post, I've ever seen thee stay,
Yet, truant-like, I 've seen thee run away;
And, though that want of firmness I deplore,
Wert thou less wicked thou wouldst run still more;
Wert thou more wicked, and less modest too,
The meed of greater virtue were thy due.
Wert thou less wicked, thou wouldst less dispense
The beams of beauty and benevolence.
Light of my gloomy hours, thy name I bless
The more, the greater is thy wickedness.
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