"The Choir Invisible"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Known primarily as a great novelist, George Eliot was also a poet; although it is true that most of her poems are highly personal, she at times touches upon themes and sentiments that are universal. Like many of her more intellectual contemporaries, George Eliot quite early faced the dilemma of Christianity's confrontation with skeptical science. Not only did she radically disagree with the traditional interpretation of Christ, she also translated and made accessible to the English, Straus's Leben Jesu, a liberal version of the life of Jesus. But George Eliot was not content to rest with skepticism. Torn by the desire to find a meaningful faith, she came more and more to exalt the basic goodness of man, a humanism that transcended individuals. In this brief poem, she tells of her desire to be a part of the company of men who have made earthly life better; hers was no fuzzy otherworldliness–she searched for a community in which the best of human endeavor formed the highest religion.

O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence: live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man's search
To vaster issues. . . .