In the dark time in the autumn of 1861 after the rout of Bull Run and before any cheering successes of the Army of the Potomac, Lowell, striving against despair, wrote "The Washers of the Shroud." The Three Fates are preparing it for what nation? He pleads with them to spare ours. They answer: --
"When grass-blades stiffen with red battle-dew,
Ye deem we choose the victor and the slain:
Say, choose we them that shall be leal and true,
To the heart's longing, the high faith of brain?
Yet there the victory lies, if ye but knew.
"Three roots bear up Dominion: Knowledge, Will, --
These twain are strong, but stronger yet the third, --
Obedience. -- 'T is the great tap-root that still,
Knit round the rock of Duty, is not stirred,
Though Heaven-loosed tempests spend their utmost skill.
"Is the doom sealed for Hesper?1 'T is not we
Denounce it, but the Law before all time
The brave makes danger opportunity;
The waverer, paltering with the chance sublime,
Dwarfs it to peril; which shall Hesper be?
"Hath he let vultures climb his eagle's seat
To make Jove's bolts purveyors of their maw?
Hath he the Many's plaudits found more sweet
Than Wisdom? held Opinion's wind for Law?
Then let him hearken for the doomster's feet!
"Rough are the steps, slow-hewn in flintiest rock,
States climb to power by; slippery those with gold
Down which they stumble to eternal mock:
No chafferer's hand shall long the sceptre hold,
Who, given a Fate to shape, would sell the block.
"We sing old Sagas, songs of weal and woe,
Mystic because too cheaply understood;
Dark sayings are not ours; men hear and know,