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Poem by John Greenleaf Whittier


The Vaudois Teacher


"O LADY fair, these silks of mine
     are beautiful and rare,--
The richest web of the Indian loom, which beauty's
     queen might wear;
And my pearls are pure as thy own fair neck, with whose
     radiant light they vie;
I have brought them with me a weary way,--will my
     gentle lady buy?"

The lady smiled on the worn old man through the
     dark and clustering curls
Which veiled her brow, as she bent to view his
     silks and glittering pearls;
And she placed their price in the old man's hand
     and lightly turned away,
But she paused at the wanderer's earnest call,--
     "My gentle lady, stay!

"O lady fair, I have yet a gem which a purer
     lustre flings,
Than the diamond flash of the jewelled crown on
     the lofty brow of kings;
A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue
     shall not decay,
Whose light shall be as a spell to thee and a
     blessing on thy way!"

The lady glanced at the mirroring steel where her
     form of grace was seen,
Where her eye shone clear, and her dark locks
     waved their clasping pearls between;
"Bring forth thy pearl of exceeding worth, thou
     traveller gray and old,
And name the price of thy precious gem, and my
     page shall count thy gold."

The cloud went off from the pilgrim's brow, as a
     small and meagre book,
Unchased with gold or gem of cost, from his
     folding robe he took!
"Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price, may it prove
     as such to thee
Nay, keep thy gold--I ask it not, for the word of
     God is free!"

The hoary traveller went his way, but the gift he
     left behind
Hath had its pure and perfect work on that high-
     born maiden's mind,
And she hath turned from the pride of sin to the
     lowliness of truth,
And given her human heart to God in its beautiful
     hour of youth

And she hath left the gray old halls, where an evil
     faith had power,
The courtly knights of her father's train, and the
     maidens of her bower;
And she hath gone to the Vaudois vales by lordly
     feet untrod,
Where the poor and needy of earth are rich in the
     perfect love of God!

This poem was suggested by the account given of the manner which the Waldenses disseminated their principles among the Catholic gentry. They gained access to the house through their occupation as peddlers of silks, jewels, and trinkets. "Having disposed of some of their goods," it is said by a writer who quotes the inquisitor Rainerus Sacco, "they cautiously intimated that they had commodities far more valuable than these, inestimable jewels, which they would show if they could be protected from the clergy. They would then give their purchasers a Bible or Testament; and thereby many were deluded into heresy." The poem, under the title Le Colporteur Vaudois, was translated into French by Professor G. de Felice, of Montauban, and further naturalized by Professor Alexandre Rodolphe Vinet, who quoted it in his lectures on French literature, afterwards published. It became familiar in this form to the Waldenses, who adopted it as a household poem. An American clergyman, J. C. Fletcher, frequently heard it when he was a student, about the year 1850, in the theological seminary at Geneva, Switzerland, but the authorship of the poem was unknown to those who used it. Twenty-five years later, Mr. Fletcher, learning the name of the author, wrote to the moderator of the Waldensian synod at La Tour, giving the information. At the banquet which closed the meeting of the synod, the moderator announced the fact, and was instructed in the name of the Waldensian church to write to me a letter of thanks. My letter, written in reply, was translated into Italian and printed throughout Italy.


1830

John Greenleaf Whittier


John Greenleaf Whittier's other poems:
  1. Kallundborg Church
  2. Barclay of Ury
  3. The Cypress-Tree of Ceylon
  4. The New Wife and the Old
  5. The Pumpkin


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