Achsa White Sprague

Nov. 17, 1827 - Jul. 6, 1862


The Angel's Visit

by Achsa White Sprague

November winds were loud and high,
The storm-clouds drifted through the sky,
And, hid behind a frownling pile,
The sun refused for man to smile.
The earth had lost its sylvan sheen,
The forest trees their robes of green,
And tossed their naked branches high,
As if for succor to the sky,
In this their bitter trial day, --
Their all of beauty passed away.
The giant mountains, late so green,
Like rocky ramparts now were seen,
And frowning down upon the vale,
Seemed adding terror to the gale;
And over all, the murky clouds
Closed, dark and gloomy like a shroud.
And that strange, deep and mystic sound
Which Autumn breathes through all around, --
Her own sad dirge upon the day
When all her children pass away, --
Seemed strangely sad in that dark hour;
Now bursting forth with frenzied power,
As if the smothered grief of years,
Welled out in groans, and prayers, and tears;

'Twas now a fitful, gasping sigh,
Like one who struggled, but must die;
And now a wild, unearthly groan,
Like some poor sufferer's dying moan;
Then soft and low, a plaintive strain,
That thrilled the heart with sudden pain,
That told of suffering and of care,
Of blighted hopes, of dark despair.
So dark, so eerie was the tone,
The heart grew desolate and lone.

Within a vale where mountains high
Stood up as pillars for the sky,
And autumn's dirge went wailing on,
As though it murmured, Gone, all gone,
A young girl lay in darkened room,
Chained by disease, -- a living tomb!
And what to her was cloud or sky?
Such sights might never greet her eye.
And what was coming day or night?
To her, alas, there was no light!
What to her was Spring's bright morn?
She could not see its flowery dawn.
And what were Summer's glorious rays,
Its long, its bright, sunshiny days?
Could Autumn's dirge e'er give her pain?
Sang not her heart a sadder strain?
And cheek and lip, and heart and eye,
Gave but this prayer -- Oh, God, to die!
And wonder not she breathed such prayer,
And wonder not at her despair;

For, long and weary years she'd lain
Upon her couch of torturing pain;
Such years as make the heart grow old,
The fires of life burn dim and cold;
Such years as hush young life's rich thrill,
And crush the heart, or make it still,
There was a time when, glad and gay,
She speeded on her earthly way,
And though the clouds were round her path,
She heeded not their stormy wrath,
But still hoped on, one wish to gain, --
Alas, alas, how wholly vain!
She cared not for the wealth of worlds,
For Fame's broad banner wide unfurled;
But there was thirst her soul within,
The fount of Science, Truth, to win.
She heard far off the dashing waves
That this bright shrine forever lave;
She prayed the voices of the past
Their mystic light for her to cast;
She asked to feed the mind with lore,
Such as the ancients had in store;
For Genius, Intellect, and Power,
To be her bright, immortal dower;
To wander on as hand in hand
With gifted minds, a radiant band.
But that deep thirst might not be still,
There came no power her soul to fill;
She only caught the dashing spray
Of those bright waters far away,
That only bathed her parching lip --
The chaliced cup she might not sip.

Then came Disease with withering spell,
And o'er her hopes its dark blight fell,
And o'er her form; and there she lay
A suffering captive, day by day;
The same deep thirst within her soul,
Whose maddened waves but wilder rolled.
And there, as year by year passed on,
Without one hope to lean upon,
No voice to say, thou shalt again
Come forth among the haunts of men,
(For e'en the skilful could not cope,
But whispered low, There is no hope,)
Her memory faded like a dream,
From out the world, with passing gleam.
She learned to know the weary lot
Of those who live to be forgot;
Or but remembered still as one
From whom the love of life had gone;
Who turned her face unto the wall,
And listened only for her call;
Who bowed her head to meet her fate,
And waited lonely at the Gate.

What knew they of her wild despair?
What knew they of her ceaseless prayer?
Of all her struggles, still to gain
Her health, her place in life again,
That she might yet drink at the spring,
Whose thrilling waves such rapture bring?
That she might live, not all in vain,
But for the world some lasting gain.

And then, when came the crushing blow,
That she must still live on in woe,
That health might never come again,
That she must live, ay, worse than vain,
To make no human pathway bright,
But with her shadow cast a blight;
And that for every breath she drew,
A mother's heart must bleed anew,
And every comfort that might cheer,
Was purchased by a mother's tear,
And all her life was adding now
But wrinkles to that mother's brow;
How prayed her heart still o'er and o'er,
With agony unfelt before,
Until, with every labored breath,
Came welling forth, Where art thou, Death?
Thou comest to the glad and gay,
Thou bearest them from earth away,
And thou dost lay the mighty low,
Till nations wail in bitter woe;
And yet thou passest coldly by,
When all my prayer is, Let me die!
And am I then so slight a thing,
Thou deem'st me not worth conquering;
In pain and grief am I so low,
Thou scorn'st to be to such a foe?
Or dost thou laugh at my despair,
Exulting in my fruitless prayer,
And, feeling that the hell I live
Is greater than thy power can give,
So leavest me, with a torturer's art,
To suffer on with breaking heart,
To triumph in thy fiendish glee,
My tortured agony to see;
And coldly pass, in this my hour
Of bitterest need of all thy power, --
To leave me with my Cross of Fire,
With every flame but rising higher,
Upon the rack extended now,
The Crown of Thorns upon my brow, --
To aim thy dart where shrieks of fear
Shall sound when'er thy step draws near,
And wails of grief, and tears must flow,
And mankind curse thee in their woe?

O Death! thou tyrant, hated thing!
Thou art the conqueror of Kings.
The maiden's cheek grows pale with fear,
When thou dost whisper, I am here!
The lover's heart that wildly thrills,
At touch of thine grows strangely still;
The victor of the conquering fight,
Is but the victim of thy might;
And warriors brave that dare thy spell,
Leave but this story -- Here they fell.
No wonder all the world's thy foe,
For thou hast laid their great ones low;
No wonder that they shrink in dread
Upon thy breast to lean their head!
Cold-hearted one! thou wilt not tell
Where thou hast taken the loved to dwell,
Whether to Heaven, or yet to Hell;
Or whether thou leav'st them in the grave,
To slumber in oblivion's wave
Forever. None but those who lie
In Earth's deep Hell, can pray to die! --
Such was her fate. Thou wouldst not come
To take her to thy mystic home.
A greater tyrant reigned o'er her --
Thou wouldst not be its conqueror;
A darker fate than thou canst give;
Thy fiendish heart said, Let her live!

And in this hour of Autumn's gloom,
When earth was shrouding for the tomb,
And dirge-like music swept the blast,
As mourning over blessings past,
She lay in deep and cold despair,
Too deep for tears, too dark for prayer.
And hour by hour dragged slowly by,
And still she lifted not her eye;
The storm grew loud, the thunders rolled,
It waked no echo in her soul;
Cold, silent, prayerless in her gloom,
Like corse just shrouded for the tomb.
And then, as if some mighty spell.
Had touched her heart, a wondrous swell
Of wild, impassioned, burning prayer
Burst forth upon the midnight air;
A prayer in which the blight of years,
The bitter, burning, scalding tears,
The blasted hopes, the burning thirst,
Despair-- when fate had done its worst, --
All mingled, in heart-breaking wail
More dirge-like than the passing gale;

And in its power went up to God,
Through paths that once the Angels trod:
O, Mighty Father of us all,
Canst thou not hear me when I call?
Have I not prayed in agony,
Through weary years, O God, to Thee,
For life, for health, for strength once more,
And e'en for Death, from out thy store?
Have I not vowed my life should be
A consecration unto Thee?
That where Thy voice might call, I'd go,
O'er land or sea, through weal or woe?
A martyr unto Truth I'd be,
If Thou wouldst set thy captive free,
And let me live an active life,
E'en though through want, and woe, and strife?
Vain have I lived, ay, worse than vain!
Why art Thou mute, Great God, again?
Are there no Angels now in Heaven,
That unto man are ever given
To comfort, when the soul must weep
Such 'tears of blood,' and vigils keep
'Within the garden' of the soul,
Where midnight thunders awful roll?
And are there none to 'roll away
The stone' from sepulchres to-day?
No angels bright amid this gloom,
To enter now my living tomb,
And touch my form, and bid me rise,
And make this earth a paradise?
From living death to set me free, --
A 'Resurrection' unto Thee? --

If such a boon thou e'er dost give,
Look on me, pity, let me live!
No more with every heart-string riven;
Oh, give to me as thou hast given!
Deny me not, mysterious Heaven!

Was it the rush of angels' wings?
Was it the song that seraphs sing?
For scarce had died that anguished prayer
Upon the darkened midnight air,
When, soft and low, a sweet refrain
Gave back the words, again, again,
As if some presence filled the spot,
Deny me not, deny me not!
A glorious light filled all the place,
Its radiance shone o'er all her face,
Gone, gone, was all her pall-like gloom,
As if bright angels filled the room.
A spell stole through her inmost soul,
She felt its waves in beauty roll;
Gone, gone, was all her pain and care,
She felt no thirst and no despair;
And strength through all her form was given --
Was she transported unto heaven?
Or had bright angels come to earth,
To raise her to a higher birth?

As if in answer to this thought,
In melody these words she caught, --
Like angel voices through the room, --
God heard thy prayer, we come, we come!

A wild, wild thought swept o'er her then,
That she should wake to life again,
That her deep prayers were heard in Heaven,
That angels unto her were given,
To cast away her veil of gloom,
To lift her from her living tomb.
With one wild burst of sudden tears, --
Like rain from heaven o'er all those years, --
Her soul gushed forth in living love,
In gratitude to Heaven above.
Like rock when smitten by the rod,
Was that young soul, when touched by God.
And from that hour new strength was given
By those bright messengers from Heaven.
The life-blood, with a sudden start,
Once more pulsated through the heart,
And waked new life in every vein,
Till that poor form revived again.
Until, as day by day passed on,
And week by week sped swiftly on,
That maiden left her couch of pain,
And stepped forth into life again.
Again the sunshine met her eye,
And those Green Mountains, grand and high;
Again she saw the forest trees
Wave green and fragrant in the breeze;
Again beheld earth's carpet bright,
As if just spread to meet her sight,
All woven with its brightest flowers;
She heard the birds amid the bowers,
That seemed to sing their sweetest strain,
As if to welcome back again.

One who had loved their woodland song,
And pined to hear it, oh, so long! --
And how felt she? Like captive freed
In some dark hour of sorest need.
She gazed upon the sunny sky,
She watched the streamlet flowing by,
She wandered in the greenwood shade,
And rested in the shadowy glade;
Drank in the sunshine and the breeze,
And rested 'neath the tall green trees,
With such a gush of grateful love
To that Great Father, God above,
As bade her half forget her pain,
And make her love to live again.
And round her still, in every hour,
Was this same bright, angelic power
(That woke her from her pain and woe),
Attending still where she might go.
It came in balmy sleep at night,
At morning's hour it woke to light;
Was with her in the woodland bower,
Gave brighter hues to every flower;
The living presence ever nigh,
Charmed earth and sea, and air and sky,
Till every place her footsteps trod
Seemed hallowed with the Present God.

And stronger, grew her form each day, --
All pain and languor swept away, --
Until, like some neglected lute,
With broken strings all sadly mute,
That some kind hand has tuned again,
And waked to old, familiar strain,
Her heart vibrated; and each string
Seemed swept by angels' starry wings,
And gave forth songs whose every tone
Was waked by angel hands alone.
She spoke such words of heavenly truth
And life, as fitted not her youth;
And taught of angels, God and Heaven,
And said that not one tie was riven
When loved ones, called away from earth,
Awoke in Heaven to purer birth.
But that they came again in love,
To point the weary heart above,
To heal the sick, to turn from sin,
To nobler truths the soul to win,
To save from pain, and woe, and care,
To lift above all dark despair,
To wipe away the mourner's tear,
And unto all to speak of cheer,
To light with hope each weary eye,
And teach the soul it cannot die.

Enrapt, like one inspired of old,
Forth from her lips such teachings rolled,
Till lost to self the voice would say,
'Tis Angels speak to you to-day.
This form has languished long in pain,
But we have given it life again;
And we will work for suffering earth,
And wake new flowers of life to birth,
Till all shall know that our bright band
With human souls walks hand in hand.

And mankind listened when she spoke,
While light o'er all her features broke,
And marvelled much. What is the power,
They argued, that in this dark hour
Has brought her from her living tomb,
Waked unto life, with sudden bloom?
And what has wreathed her face in light?
And what has given her voice such might?
Why do the words like torrents flow,
And speak of Heaven to all below?
Why leaves she woman's lowly sphere,
To speak where crowds these words can hear,
When all the men of God but say,
She doth blaspheme, -- away, away?
And thoughtless worldlings scorn to hear
A message from the brighter sphere,
Or say our friends in heaven are blest;
Call them not back, but let them rest!

'Tis strange, 'tis passing strange, they say, --
By ignis fatuus led away!
What spell is woven o'er her brain?
And yet that power assuaged her pain?

And some looked, listened, and believed,
Rejoicing in the truth received;
And many a mourner wiped the tear,
The loved one's voice from heaven to hear.
And many a suffering form of pain,
Arose to life and light again;
And many an erring one from sin,
That voice from heaven reclaimed again.

And many passed it coldly by,
And knew not that the loved were nigh,
And said, It is an evil thing
To listen to the songs she sings;
Her words are full of error; go
Not in her path, it leads to woe!

But still she swerved not from her path,
She heeded not the world's dark wrath;
But where the voice said, go, she went,
Upon her holy mission bent.
Unshrinking in the stormy blast,
Calm and serene she onward passed,
To do the work the angels gave --
Poor suffering ones of earth to save.
And what to her the scoffing sneer?
Did not bright forms her pathway cheer?
And what was scandal's scorching tone?
She did not bide its blast alone.
What though the thoughtless ones might say,
The girl is mad? She kept her way;
For, all the sneers and scorn of worlds,
Anathemas upon her hurled,
Were nothing in the brimming cup
That angel hands were filling up.
Could she forget that Living Tomb?
That deep, wild agony and gloom?
Could she forget her wildest prayer --
To truly live -- no matter where --
So that her life, not all in vain,
Might homeward turn to God again?

And will she waver now? Though scorn
May meet her gaze, and though the thorn
May pierce her feet, and bind her head,
While light for others' paths she sheds?
While guardian angels ever near,
Are speaking words of glorious cheer,
And giving strength for every hour,
Drawn from the Father's mighty power?
No, never! Onward is her way --
The path leads to eternal day!
'Tis only when she sees how small
Her power to raise when others fall,
How weak she stands in sight of Heaven,
With all the gifts that God has given,
That she can falter. Only then.
An hour, and she is strong again,
Uplifted by her faith in laws
That give effect to every cause,
Proportioned to itself. Each thought,
And word and act with love that's fraught,
Each seed thus sown, at last must bloom,
Surviving e'en the darkest tomb.
Strong? Yes, how strong! Too slight a thing
Is human scorn the heart to sting,
When borne for Truth, and God, and Love,
When guarded by his Hosts above!

Oh, may her soul be ever strong
To triumph over pain and wrong!
No sin to dim the heavenly light
That now illumes her pathway bright;
But ever listening to the strain
That Angels sing again, again;
And ear as open to the cry
That sorrow makes in passing by.
With hand as ready to relieve,
And even more, than to receive;
And soul out flowing in its love,
To that bright host in Heaven above;
And unto God, the mighty Giver --
In deeds of love, in high endeavor --
The soul's true offering forever!


The Poet And Other Poems.
Copyright 1864
Boston: William White And Co.,
158 Washington Street.