( Originally Published 1879 )
Give Sorrow words : the grief, that does not speak,
HE who tastes only the bitter in the cup of life, who looks only at the clouds which lower in one quarter of the heavens, while the sun is shining cheerily in another, who persists in pricking and scratching himself with the thorn, and refuses to enjoy the fragrance of the rose is an ingrate to God and a torment to himself.
The record of human life is far more melancholy than its course; the hours of quiet enjoyment are not noted; the thousand graces and happiness of social life, the loveliness of nature meeting us at every step, the buoyancy of spirit resulting from health and pure air, the bright sun, the starry firmament—all that cheers man on his road through his probationary state, that warms the heart and makes life pleasant—is omitted in the narrative, which can only deal with facts; and we read of disappointment, and sickness, and death, and exclaim, "Why is man born to sorrow?" He is not so.
Sorrows are only tempest clouds: when afar off, they look black, but when above us scarcely gray. Sorrow is the night of the mind. What would be a day with-out its night? The day reveals one sun only; the night brings to light the whole of the universe. The analogy is complete. Sorrow is the firmament of thought and the school of intelligence. Men that are wise, as the bees draw honey from the thyme, which is a most unsavory and dry herb, extract something that is convenient and useful even from the most bitter afflictions.
Great undertakings require the Christian's faith to endure the deep and overwhelming experiences of human sorrow without relinquishing their cherished life-work. The world in its bitterest forms of oppression spent itself upon Tasso, Dante, and Milton, in vain. Redeemed, exalted, purified, they came forth from the abyss of anguish, and sung to their fellows a song which those who have never suffered, could never utter. Alas ! how many richly freighted souls have sunk in the angry billows that came rushing in their furious strength only to bend beneath these master-spirits and bear them up to immortality. Sweetest of all songs are the Psalms in the night. David sang with the most touching tenderness when in the gloom of deepest affliction. The heart may wail a miserere over its dead or its dying, but even that will be sadly sweet, and will have a hope in it. The saddest song is better than none, because it is a song.
Sorrow is one of God's own angels in the land. Her pruning-knife may not spare the tender buds of hope that make glad the garden of the soul, but her fingers sow the seeds of a quick sympathy with the woes of a common humanity, which, springing into leaf, and bud, and blossom, send perfume and beauty into the waste places of lonely lives, and permeate with fragrant incense the soil that gave them birth.
The simplest and most obvious use of sorrow is to remind us of God. It would seem that a certain shock is needed to bring us in contact with reality. We are not conscious of breathing till obstruction makes it felt. We are not aware of the possession of a heart till some disease, some sudden joy or sorrow, rouses it into extra-ordinary action. And we are not conscious of the mighty cravings of our half divine humanity; we are not aware of the God within us till some chasm yawns which must be filled, or till the rending asunder of our affections forces us to become fearfully conscious of a need.
To mourn without measure, is folly; not to mourn at all, is insensibility. God says to the fruit tree, bloom and bear; and to the human heart, bear and bloom the soul's great blossoming is the flower of suffering. As the sun converts clouds into a glorious drapery, firing them with gorgeous hues, and draping the whole horizon with its glorious costume, and writing victory in fiery colors along the vanquished front of every cloud, so sometimes a radiant heart lets forth its hope upon its sorrow and all the blackness flies, and troubles that trooped to appal seem to crowd around as a triumphal procession following the steps of a victor.
There are people who think that to be grim is to be good, and that a thought, to be really wholesome, must necessarily be shaped like a coffin. They seem to think that black is the color of heaven, and that the more they can make their faces look like midnight, the holier they are.
The days of darkness come, and they are many, but our eye takes in only the first. One wave hides another, and the effort to encounter the foremost withdraws our thought from evils which are pressing on. If we could see them all at once we might lie down, like Elijah, under the juniper tree, and say, "It is enough —let me not live!" But patience attains her perfect work while trials unfold. The capacity of sorrow belongs to our grandeur; and the loftiest of our race are those who have had the profoundest grief because they have had the profoundest sympathies.
Sorrow comes soon enough without despondency; it does a man no good to carry around a lightning-rod to attract trouble. When a gloom falls upon us, it may be we have entered into the cloud that will give its gentle showers to refresh and strengthen us. Heavy burdens of sorrow seem like a stone hung round our neck, yet they are often only like the stone used by pearl divers, which enables them to reach the prize and rise enriched.
Without suffering there could be no fortitude, no courage, or forbearance. The beauty and grandeur of the starry heavens are only to be seen when set against the brow of night; so sorrow often reveals to us our Father, whom the sunlight of prosperity hides.
Woman's is a fixed, a secluded and a meditative life. She is the companion of her own thoughts and feelings, and if they are turned to ministers of sorrow, where shall she look for consolation ? Her lot is to be wooed and won, and if unhappy in her love, her heart is like some fortress that has been captured, and sacked, and abandoned, and left desolate.
How many bright eyes grow dim-how many soft cheeks grow pale —how many lovely forms fade away into the tomb, and none can tell the cause that blighted their loveliness ! As the dove will clasp its wings to its side, and cover and conceal the arrow, that is preying on its vitals, so it is the nature of woman to hide from the world the pangs of wounded affection. The love of a delicate female is always shy and silent. Even when fortunate she scarcely breathes it to herself; but when otherwise, she buries it in the recesses of her bosom, and there lets it brood and cower among the ruins of her peace. With her the desire of the heart has failed. The great charm of existence is at an end. She neglects all the cheerful exercises which gladden the spirits, quicken the pulses, and send the tide of life in healthful, currents through the veins. Her rest is broken—the sweet refreshment of sleep is poisoned by melancholy dreams—" dry sorrow drinks her blood," until her feeble frame sinks under the slightest external injury. Look for her after a little while, and you will find friendship weeping over her untimely grave, and wondering that one who but lately glowed with all the radiance of health and beauty, should be so speedily brought down to "darkness and the worm." You will be told of some wintry chill, some casual indisposition that laid her low; but no one knows of the mental malady that previously sapped her strength and made her so easy a prey to the spoiler.
There are sorrows too sacred to be babbled to the world, and there may be loves which one would forbear to whisper even to a friend. Real sorrow is not clamorous. It seeks to shun every eye, and breathes in solitude and silence the sighs that come from the heart. Every heart has its secret sorrow, which the world knows not; and oftentimes we call a man cold when he is only sad. Give not thy mind to heaviness; the gladness of the heart is the life of man, and joyfulness of a man prolongeth his days. Remove sorrow far from thee, for sorrow hath killed many, and there is no profit therein; and carefulness bringeth age before the time.
We are inclined to think that the causes of our sorrows are sent to us from above; often we weep, we groan in our spirits, and we murmur against God; but he leaves us to our sorrow, and we are saved; our present grief saves us from an eternal sorrow. It would be well, however, if we attempted to trace the cause of them; we should probably find their origin in some region of the heart which we never had well explored, or in which we had secretly deposited our worst indulgences. The clouds that intercept the heavens from us, come not from the heavens, but from the earth. Excess of sorrow is as foolish as profuse laughter. Loud mirth, or immoderate sorrow, inequality of behavior, either in prosperity or adversity, are alike ungraceful in a man that is born to die. Some are refined, like gold, in the furnace; others, like chaff, are consumed in it. Sorrow, when it is excessive, takes away fervor from piety, vigor from action, health from body, light from reason, and repose from the conscience.
Those who work hard seldom yield themselves entirely up to fancied or real sorrow. When grief sits down, folds its hands, and mournfully feeds upon its own tears, weaving the dim shadows, that a little exertion might sweep away into a funeral pall, the strong spirit is shorn of its might, and sorrow becomes our master. When troubles flow upon you, dark and heavy, toil not with the waves; wrestle not with the torrent ; rather seek, by occupation, to divert the dark waters that threaten to overwhelm you, into a thou-sand channels which the duties of life always present. Before you dream of it, those waters will fertilize the present, and give birth to fresh flowers that may brighten the future—flowers that will become pure and holy, in the sunshine which penetrates to the path of duty, in spite of every obstacle. Grief, after all, is but a selfish feeling; and most selfish is the man who yields himself to the indulgence of any passion which brings no joy to his fellow, man.
They are true kings and queens, heroes and heroines, who, folding a pall of tenderest memory over the faces of their own lost hopes and perished loves, go with unfaltering courage, to grapple with the future, to strengthen the weak, to comfort the weary, to hang sweet pictures of faith and trust in the silent galleries of sunless lives, and to point the desolate, whose paths wind ever among shadows and over rocks where never the green moss grows, to the golden heights of the hereafter, where the palms of victory wave.
Difficulties are things that show what men are. In case of any difficulty, remember that God, like a gymnastic trainer, has pitted you against a rough antagonist. For what end? That you may be an Olympic conquerer, and this cannot be without toil. He that has great affliction is made of sterner stuff than most men. God seems to have selected him, like second growth timber, for important work. It is not every one that can be trusted to suffer greatly. God has confidence in him to the extent of the affliction.
Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David's harp charm it away, by sweet discoursings. As well fight with the mist as with this shape-less, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness. If those who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it, for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion. Resolution might, perhaps, shake it off, but where are we to find the resolution, when the whole man is unstrung?
It is a poor relief for sorrow to fly to the distractions. of the world;. as well might a lost and wearied bird, suspended over the abyss of the tempestuous ocean, seek a resting place on its heaving waves, as the child of trouble seek a place of repose amid the bustling cares and intoxicating pleasures of earth and time. Christ is a refuge and "a very present help in trouble."