To H. W. L.

To H. W. L.  (1867) 
by James Russell Lowell

On his birthday, 27th February 1867

I need not praise the sweetness of his song,
   Where limpid verse to limpid verse succeeds
Smooth as our Charles, when, fearing lest he wrong
The new moon's mirrored skiff, he slides along,
   Full without noise, and whispers in his reeds.

With loving breath of all the winds his name
   Is blown about the world, but to his friends
A sweeter secret hides behind his fame,
And Love steals shyly through the loud acclaim
   To murmur a God bless you! and there ends.

As I muse backward up the checkered years
   Wherein so much was given, so much was lost,
Blessings in both kinds, such as cheapen tears,—
But hush! this is not for profaner ears;
   Let them drink molten pearls not dream the cost.

Some suck up poison from a sorrow's core,
   As naught but nightshade grew upon earth's ground;
Love turned all his to heart's-ease, and the more
Fate tried his bastions, she but forced a door
   Leading to sweeter manhood and more sound.

Even as a wind-waved fountain's swaying shade
   Seems of mixed race, a gray wraith shot with sun,
So through his trial faith translucent rayed
Till darkness, half disnatured so, betrayed
   A heart of sunshine that would fain o'errun.

Surely if skill in song the shears may stay
   And of its purpose cheat the charmed abyss,
If our poor life be lengthened by a lay,
He shall not go, although his presence may,
   And the next age in praise shall double this.

Long days be his, and each as lusty-sweet
   As gracious natures find his song to be;
May Age steal on with softly-cadenced feet
Falling in music, as for him were meet
   Whose choicest verse is harsher-toned than he!