Cambridge Sketches
by Frank Preston Stearns

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The Whip of the Sky

  Weary with travel, charmed with home,
    The youth salutes New England’s air;
  Nor notes, within the azure dome,
    A vigilant, menacing figure there,
      Whose thonged hand swings
      A whip which sings:
  “Step, step, step,” sings the whip of the sky:
  “Hurry up, move along, you can if you try!"

  Remembering Como’s languid side,
    Where, pulsing from the citron deep,
  The nightingale’s aerial tide
    Floats through the day, repose and sleep,
      Reclined in groves,—
      A voice reproves.
  “Step, step, step,” cracks the whip of the sky:
  “Hurry up, jump along, rest when you die!"

  Slave of electric will, which strips
    From him the bliss of easeful hours;
  And bids, as from a tyrant’s lips,
    Rest, quiet, fly, as useless flowers,
      He wings his heart
      To make him smart.
  “Step, step, step,” snaps the whip of the sky:
  “Hurry up, race along, rest when you die!"

  He maddens in the breathless race,
    Nor misses station, power or pelf;
  And only loses in the chase
    The hunted lord of all,—himself.
      His gain is loss,
      His treasure dross.
  “Step, step, step,” mocks the whip of the sky,
  “Hurry up, limp along, rest when you die!"

  With care he burthens all his soul;
    Heaped ingots curve his willing back;
  Submissive to that fierce control,
    He needs at last the sky-whip’s crack,
      Till at the grave,
      No more a slave,—
  “Rest, rest, rest,” sighs the whip of the sky:
  “Hurry not, haste no more, rest when you die!”

Celia Thaxter, the finest of poetic readers, read this to me one September morning at the Isles of Shoals, and at the conclusion she remarked: “If that could only be read every year in our public schools it might do the American people some good.”

As compared with this, the sonnet on Pompeii has the effect of a strong complementary color,—for instance, like orange against dark blue. It echoes the pathetic reverie that we feel on beholding the monuments of the mighty past. It contains not the pathos of yesterday, nor of a hundred years ago, but as Emerson says, “of the time out of mind.”


Preface  •  The Close of the War  •  Francis J. Child  •  Longfellow  •  Lowell  •  Cranch  •  T. G. Appleton  •  The Whip of the Sky  •  Pompeii  •  Doctor Holmes  •  Frank W. Bird, and the Bird Club  •  Sumner  •  Chevalier Howe  •  The War Governor  •  The Colored Regiments  •  Emerson’s Tribute to George L. Stearns  •  Elizur Wright  •  Dr. W. T. G. Morton  •  William T. G. Morton  •  Leaves From a Roman Diary  •  My Last Visit to the Longfellows  •  Centennial Contributions  •  The Emerson Centennial  •  The Hawthorne Centennial  •  Hawthorne and Hamlet

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Cambridge Sketches
By Frank Preston Stearns
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