In the Old South

John Greenleaf Whittier

She came and stood in the Old South Church    
  A wonder and a sign,    
With a look the old-time sibyls wore,    
  Half-crazed and half-divine.    
Save the mournful sackcloth about her wound,          
  Unclothed as the primal mother,    
With limbs that trembled and eyes that blazed    
  With a fire she dare not smother.    
Loose on her shoulders fell her hair,    
  With sprinkled ashes gray;            
She stood in the broad aisle strange and weird    
  As a soul at the judgment day.    
And the minister paused in his sermon’s midst,    
  And the people held their breath,    
For these were the words the maiden spoke            
  Through lips as the lips of death:    
“Thus saith the Lord, with equal feet    
  All men my courts shall tread,    
And priest and ruler no more shall eat    
  My people up like bread!            
“Repent! repent! ere the Lord shall speak    
  In thunder and breaking seals!    
Let all souls worship Him in the way    
  His light within reveals.”    
She shook the dust from her naked feet,            
  And her sackcloth closer drew,    
And into the porch of the awe-hushed church    
  She passed like a ghost from view.    
They whipped her away at the tail o’ the cart    
  Through half the streets of the town,            
But the words she uttered that day nor fire    
  Could burn nor water drown.    
And now the aisles of the ancient church    
  By equal feet are trod,    
And the bell that swings in its belfry rings            
  Freedom to worship God!    
And now whenever a wrong is done    
  It thrills the conscious walls;    
The stone from the basement cries aloud    
  And the beam from the timber calls.            
There are steeple-houses on every hand,    
  And pulpits that bless and ban,    
And the Lord will not grudge the single church    
  That is set apart for man.    
For in two commandments are all the law            
  And the prophets under the sun,    
And the first is last and the last is first,    
  And the twain are verily one.    
So long as Boston shall Boston be,    
  And her bay-tides rise and fall,            
Shall freedom stand in the Old South Church    
  And plead for the rights of all!


In the Old South Church, in 1773, Samuel Adams gave the "war whoops" that started the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. The church narrowly escaped burning in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.

Poetry Atlas has many other poems about Boston.

Main Location:

Old South Meeting House, 310 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02108, USA

The Old South Meeting House in Boston, Massachussets