“The Meeting,” by John Greenleaf Whittier

Paul Elmer More’s essay on Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, mentioned below, quotes Whittier’s poem “The Meeting.”  The poem is long, and not aimed at 21st century literary sensibilities.  It begins with a long passage from a visitor who reproves Whittier for attending the silent meetings of Quakers, deprecating them as “dull rites of drowsy-head” and extolling the outdoors as the proper place to worship the God who created nature.   In response, Whittier explains that wilderness is full of distractions, while the surroundings within the meetinghouse focus the mind on God.  More was an excellent critic, and chose the perfect lines to quote:

But nature is not solitude:
She crowds us with her thronging wood;
Her many hands reach out to us,
Her many tongues are garrulous;
Perpetual riddles of surprise
She offers to our ears and eyes;
….

And so I find it well to come
For deeper rest to this still room,
For here the habit of the soul
Feels less the outer world’s control;
The strength of mutual purpose pleads
More earnestly our common needs;
And from the silence multiplied
By these still forms on either side,
The world that time and sense have known
Falls off and leaves us God alone.

I recommend the whole poem.  Not least because the theme developed in my earlier post, that Quakerism tends to obscure the importance of habit in human life, is partially belied by Whittier’s lively interest in this topic.

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