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Whittier’s poem “The Library” begins with a plea from God to let there be light and life in the world. The poet compares the emergence of life from the darkness and chaos of the world to the way waves emerge from the sea. Over time, people have abandoned the meaningless symbols of the past and developed the ability to think and communicate.
This has allowed the dead to be resurrected through the thoughts and memories of those who knew them. In the solitude of the monastery, ancient poets and prophets sang
About the poet
American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier was a leading voice for the abolition of slavery in the country. In most lists, he is referred to be one of the Fireside Poets. Scottish poet Robert Burns had a big impact on Whittier. He was well-liked throughout his lifetime and for some time afterward.
Today, he is most known for his poem Snow-Bound and the lyrics to Hubert Parry’s hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, which is based on his poem The Brewing of Soma.
'Let there be light!' God spake of old, And over chaos dark and cold, And through the dead and formless frame Of nature, life and order came.
The poet begins with God asking to Let there be light. This alludes to a time when nature was barren and chaotic, dark, and cold, and when life and order finally broke through the barren and lifeless turmoil of nature.
Faint was the light at first that shone On giant fern and mastodon, On half-formed plant and beast of prey, And man as rude and wild as they.
The creation period is described by the poet. When it first appeared, the light was dim. On mastodons, huge ferns, half-grown plants, and raptor species, the man was just as rude and obnoxious as they were.
Age after age, like waves, o'erran The earth, uplifting brute and man; And mind, at length, in symbols dark Its meanings traced on stone and bark.
Animals and humans have been emerging from the ground for millennia like waves as time has passed. At some point, the mind left its meanings behind in the form of cryptic symbols on stone and bark.
On leaf of palm, on sedge-wrought roll, On plastic clay and leathern scroll, Man wrote his thoughts; the ages passed, And to! the Press was found at last!
Over the years, the man wrote down his thoughts on palm leaves, sedge-wrought rolls, plastic clay, and leather scrolls. But as people gained more education, the press grew to be known.
Then dead souls woke; the thoughts of men Whose bones were dust revived again; The cloister's silence found a tongue, Old prophets spake, old poets sung.
The dead were thus awakened by the thoughts of men whose bones had long since crumbled. In the isolation of the monastery, old poets and prophets both spoke and sang.
And here, to-day, the dead look down, The kings of mind again we crown; We hear the voices lost so long, The sage's word, the sibyl's song.
The departed present at this time is looking down. We re-crown the mental kings and queens, and we hear voices that have been lost for a very long time. The advice of the wise man and the sibyl’s song.
Here Greek and Roman find themselves Alive along these crowded shelves; And Shakespeare treads again his stage, And Chaucer paints anew his age.
Greek and Roman cultures are alive and well along these crowded shelves. Shakespeare recreates his play; Chaucer does the same for his period.
As if some Pantheon's marbles broke Their stony trance, and lived and spoke, Life thrills along the alcoved hall, The lords of thought await our call!
The lords of thought are waiting for our call as if certain Pantheon marbles had awakened from their stone sleep and started to move and talk.