Poetry amid the jarring notes of day
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – September 7, 1892) was an American Quaker poet and Abolitionist. One of the “Fireside Poets” of the 19th century, he is hardly read anymore, of course. Whittier, California is named after him and also Whittier College. (Please note: The school mascot is “The Poet.”)
A number of his poems have been turned into hymns, including Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, taken from his poem “The Brewing Soma”. You may recall that Whittier was also one of the founding contributors of the magazine Atlantic Monthly and was supportive of women writers, including Sarah Orne Jewett, who dedicated one of her books to him.
You probably know more of his poems than you think. Remember–“Blessings on thee, little man, Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!”
And how about Barbara Frietchie?
“Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.”
Here is a favorite of mine; read the entire thing and enjoy.
I mourn no more my vanished years
Beneath a tender rain,
An April rain of smiles and tears,
My heart is young again.
The west-winds blow, and, singing low,
I hear the glad streams run;
The windows of my soul I throw
Wide open to the sun.
No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.
I plough no more a desert land,
To harvest weed and tare;
The manna dropping from God’s hand
Rebukes my painful care.
I break my pilgrim staff, I lay
Aside the toiling oar;
The angel sought so far away
I welcome at my door.
The airs of spring may never play
Among the ripening corn,
Nor freshness of the flowers of May
Blow through the autumn morn.
Yet shall the blue-eyed gentian look
Through fringed lids to heaven,
And the pale aster in the brook
Shall see its image given;–
The woods shall wear their robes of praise,
The south-wind softly sigh,
And sweet, calm days in golden haze
Melt down the amber sky.
Not less shall manly deed and word
Rebuke an age of wrong;
The graven flowers that wreathe the sword
Make not the blade less strong.
But smiting hands shall learn to heal,–
To build as to destroy;
Nor less my heart for others feel
That I the more enjoy.
All as God wills, who wisely heeds
To give or to withhold,
And knoweth more of all my needs
Than all my prayers have told.
Enough that blessings undeserved
Have marked my erring track;
That wheresoe’er my feet have swerved,
His chastening turned me back;
That more and more a Providence
Of love is understood,
Making the springs of time and sense
Sweet with eternal good;–
That death seems but a covered way
Which opens into light,
Wherein no blinded child can stray
Beyond the Father’s sight;
That care and trial seem at last,
Through Memory’s sunset air,
Like mountain-ranges overpast,
In purple distance fair;
That all the jarring notes of life
Seem blending in a psalm,
And all the angles of its strife
Slow rounding into calm.
And so the shadows fall apart,
And so the west-winds play;
And all the windows of my heart
I open to the day.
Lovely, lovely, lovely. Also lovely is the Amesbury, MA Friends Meeting House. The simple 1.5 story wood frame building was constructed in 1850, with our poet Whittier serving on the building committee. We are told it is currently a thriving congregation, with Meeting for Worship every Sunday at 10 a.m. The facing bench displays a small plaque that reads, “Whittier’s Bench.”
I have never been to Amesbury, but it appears to be a nice place.
Besides Whittier, our ancestor Josiah Bartlett lived there,
as did Mary Baker Eddy and Robert Frost. And there is this:
I need to check this place out. Have a good Thursday.