"When Faith Is Lost, When Honor Dies, The Man Is Dead!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Whittier wrote that this poem was occasioned by his reading of Daniel Webster's famous Seventh of March Speech in support of the Missouri Compromise on slavery in the United States and the Fugitive Slave Act. Although Whittier was ardent for the cause of the Negroes' freedom from slavery, he wrote that "No partisan or personal enmity" dictated his poem. The title of the poem is indicative of its tone, reminding the reader of Ichabod, in I Samuel, "And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel." The reference is to let the reader know that Whittier felt that Webster had lost all the splendid influence he once had, the influence on men's minds that seemingly was destroyed by this new stand on the extension of Negro slavery. The poem is an excellent piece of the propagandist's art: what answer could be given by Webster to the charges when the poem proclaims his death? Whittier professes to mourn for Webster, rather than ridicule him: "Revile him not, the Tempter hath/ A snare for all;/ And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath,/ Befit his fall!" Whittier calls upon all America to make, in sadness, a long lament for the fallen hero, not to "brand with deeper shame his dim,/ Dishonored brow." Although written upon a specific occasion about a specific man, this poem has become a classic expression of aversion for any once-worshiped political leader whose acts and deeds have caused him to seem alien to his followers:

Of all we loved and honored, naught
Save power remains;
A fallen angel's pride of thought,
Still strong in chains.
All else is gone: from those great eyes
The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies,
The man is dead!
Then pay the reverence of old days
To his dead fame;
Walk backward, with averted gaze,
And hide the shame!