"O May I Join the Choir Invisible"

Original Text: 
George Eliot, The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems (Toronto: Adam, Stevenson, 1874): 208-10. B-12 1065 Fisher Rare Book Library
Longum illud tempus, quum non ero, magis me movet, quam hoc exigium.
-- CICERO, ad Att., xii. 18.
2Of those immortal dead who live again
3In minds made better by their presence: live
4In pulses stirred to generosity,
5In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
6For miserable aims that end with self,
7In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
8And with their mild persistence urge man's search
9To vaster issues.
10                    So to live is heaven:
11To make undying music in the world,
12Breathing as beauteous order that controls
13With growing sway the growing life of man.
14So we inherit that sweet purity
15For which we struggled, failed, and agonised
16With widening retrospect that bred despair.
17Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
18A vicious parent shaming still its child
19Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved;
20Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
21Die in the large and charitable air.
22And all our rarer, better, truer self,
23That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
24That watched to ease the burthen of the world,
25Laboriously tracing what must be,
26And what may yet be better -- saw within
27A worthier image for the sanctuary,
28And shaped it forth before the multitude
29Divinely human, raising worship so
30To higher reference more mixed with love --
31That better self shall live till human Time
32Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
33Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
34Unread for ever.
35                    This is life to come,
36Which martyred men have made more glorious
37For us who strive to follow. May I reach
38That purest heaven, be to other souls
39The cup of strength in some great agony,
40Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love,
41Beget the smiles that have no cruelty --
42Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
43And in diffusion ever more intense.
44So shall I join the choir invisible
45Whose music is the gladness of the world.


1] Cicero's letter to Atticus at Rome (DXLVIII [A XII, 18]): "And the infinite time during which I shall be non-existent has more influence on me than this brief life, which yet to me seems only too long." (Translation by Evelyn Shuckburgh.) Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
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