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Good Words 1860
Idle Words


Say not thy speech was idle; not a word
Has cross'd thy lips, but that its import was
For evil or for good. For speech is but
The audible expression of the will—
A transcript from the volume of the mind,
Which all around may read; and if that mind
Is fill'd with weak or base imaginings,
Then will its language the stern truth attest.
Some may affect concealment, and perchance
Are for a time successful: but the force
Of the true leaven soon will penetrate,
And its pervading influence appear;
The flimsy veil—unwilling meed which vice
Is forced to yield to virtue—soon or late
Is lifted, and the glaring truth reveal'd,
Bereft of every shield. But if that mind
Burns with high thoughts that lead to glorious deeds,
Or beats with childlike innocence, its speech—
Open and guileless, springing from the heart—
Betokens the bright purity within,
And claims our reverence, while it wins our love.
How oft a word—a little, mocking word-
Has led a fellow-creature into sin,
When he, perchance, has trembled on the brink
In doubt and hesitation; but the sneer,
Which scorn'd his scruples and allay'd his fears,
Has caused a soul to fall. Think well on this!
The Rubicon of guilt but once o'erstepp'd,
Few e'er retrace the downward path again;
That path—so smooth, so tempting in its course,
That all forget how fast the time has sped—
Is, in returning, spread with thorns and snares,
Fatal to many a pilgrim. Few have grace
And courage the triumphant goal to win:
And from an idle word may spring such woe;
To such, a perish'd soul has owed its doom.
Mere idle words! Who bath not felt their force?
Who but remembers some unguarded speech,
Utter'd as thought, ne'er pausing to reflect?
But those light words have been repented long,
With no light sorrow; for that careless speech
Has made a brother stranger from that hour,
The bosom-friend a stern, relentless foe.
Trifles have power to wound the strongest heart:
For there are depths in every human soul
That none may know or fathom; but a touch
May trouble those calm waters, and reveal
Long-hidden secrets to the outward ken.
Few in this weary world but have some grief,
To none confided, screen'd from every eye:
The sting of fierce remorse, rejected love;
Affection which has reap'd ingratitude;
Or blighted hopes, long turn'd to bitterness.
That bosom beats not but hath felt some pang
Which scarcely brooks self-knowledge; and a word—
A little word, forgot as soon as said—
May break the slumber of an aching heart,
And rouse it into anguish: yet no scar
To outward eyes denotes the rankling wound,
Which festers—long, and deep, and silently.
Mere idle words! Have we not often join'd
In thoughtless strictures on an absent friend
In sneers or condemnation? yet, in truth,
Scarce meaning what we unreflecting said—
Borne unresisting on the rapid stream
Of social converse. But those passing words
May work deep mischief: they may add a stone
To scandal's groundless fabric—swiftly raised,
But not so easily destroy'd again.
Or they may wither fondly-cherish'd hopes,
As yet unspoken, now for ever hush'd.
An idle word deep prejudice has caused
Against another; and long years have pass'd
Ere the ill-grounded judgment yield to truth,
And we lament our error. Never more
Say that thy speech was idle; for the proof
Of its importance is too clearly shewn
For any doubt to linger in thy mind.
Nay, let us rather strive to mark it well,
And he our spirit's master, not its slave—
"Watching our speech, that no unguarded word
May cause regret to others or ourselves.
Then will sweet peace our guardian-angel prove,
Nor sad repentance Hast our future hours
With mournful memories, then all in vain;
For as the tree hath fallen, it must lie.

M.


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