The River Path
No bird-song floated down the hill,
The tangled bank below was still;
No rustle from the birchen stem,
No ripple from the water’s hem.
The dusk of twilight round us grew,
We felt the falling of the dew;
For, from us, ere the day was done,
The wooded hills shut out the sun.
But on the river’s farther side
We saw the hill-tops glorified,—
A tender glow, exceeding fair,
A dream of day without its glare.
With us the damp, the chill, the gloom
With them the sunset’s rosy bloom;
While dark, through willowy vistas seen,
The river rolled in shade between.
From out the darkness where we trod,
We gazed upon those hills of God,
Whose light seemed not of moon or sun.
We spake not, but our thought was one.
We paused, as if from that bright shore
Beckoned our dear ones gone before;
And stilled our beating hearts to hear
The voices lost to mortal ear!
Sudden our pathway turned from night;
The hills swung open to the light;
Through their green gates the sunshine showed,
A long, slant splendor downward flowed.
Down glade and glen and bank it rolled;
It bridged the shaded stream with gold;
And, borne on piers of mist, allied
The shadowy with the sunlit side!
'So,' prayed we, 'when our feet draw near
The river dark, with mortal fear,
'And the night cometh chill with dew,
O Father! let Thy light break through!
'So let the hills of doubt divide,
So bridge with faith the sunless tide!
'So let the eyes that fail on earth
On Thy eternal hills look forth;
'In Thy beckoning angels know
The dear ones whom we loved below!'
'The River Path'
artist: Dale Rogers
sponsored by: Team Haverhill
unveiled: August 14, 2010
inspired by: John Greenleaf Whittiers [sic]
'The Rivers [sic] Path'
The Whittier Birthplace, at 305 Whittier Road to the east of the town, once a farm, was built by John Greenleaf Whittier's great-great-grandfather, and remained in the Whittier family until 1836. James Carleton, former mayor of Haverhill and friend of Whittier's, later purchased the property, gave it to the Haverhill Whittier Club, and the museum was opened in 1893, the year after Whittier's death. It has remained much the same as when John Greenleaf Whittier lived in it.
'IN THIS HOUSE
BUILT BY THOMAS WHITTIER
JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER
DECEMBER 17, 1807
HERE AND ABOUT THE SURROUNDING
COUNTRYSIDE LAY THE SCENES
OF HIS POEM
'The oaken log, green, huge and thick,
And on its top the stout back-stick;
The knotty forestick laid apart,
And filled between with curious art
The ragged brush; then, hovering near,
We watched the first red blaze appear,
Heard the sharp crackle, caught the gleam
On whitewashed wall and sagging beam,
Until the old, rude-furnished room
Burst, flower-like, into rosy bloom.'
To the left of the photo above is a curious log device with five prongs: this is for roasting apples, and recalls the evocative line 'And apples sputtered in a row'.
Snow Bound is a long narrative poem in iambic tetrameter that was originally published as a full book. It goes back to the narrator's childhood, and is autobiographical throughout. The poem covers several days in December 1822, when snow held the family indoors, and gives descriptions of all the people present on that occasion. The poem makes clear at times that these are memories, and says that only the poet and his brother Flanklin Whittier are still alive.
John Whittier was John Greenleaf's father, but the father in the poem is just called 'A prompt, decisive man', who got the boys to clear a path through the snow and reach the animals.
Abigail Hussey was John Greenleaf's mother, of whom Whittier says:
'Our mother, while she turned her wheel
Or run the new-knit stocking wheel'.
And certainly Abigail used this spinning wheel to the right of the photo to make the Whittier garments.
John Greenleaf's bachelor uncle Moses is also part of the family:
'Our uncle, innocent of books,
Was rich in lore of fields and brooks.
The ancient teachers never dumb
Of Nature's unhoused lyceum'
As is his maiden aunt, Mercy Evans:
'The sweetest woman ever Fate
Peverse denied a household mate.'
Of his elder sister Mary he says:
'A rich, full nature, free to trust,
Truthful and almost sternly just,
Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act,
And make her generous thought a fact.'
Of his beloved sister Elizabeth he says:
'Our youngest and our dearest sat,
Lifting her large sweet asking eyes,'
and immediately adds:
'Now bathed in the unfading green
And holy peace of Paradise.'
One of John Greenleaf's teachers is also present - George Haskell, of whom the narrator says:
'Brisk wielder of the birch and rule,
The master of the local school
Held at the fire his favorite place,
Its warm glow hit the laughing face',
And though the teacher's more playful as opposed educational side is seen here - playing with the cat with a mitten on its head - the narrator takes the opportunity of Haskell's learned presence to launch into a kind of digressive rant about ignorance and stupidity as opposed to their perceived adversary - education. Slavery - once Whittier's bête noire - is only briefly mentioned as the book was published after the Civil War had (very recently) ended.
The final person present is Harriet Livermore (1788-1868) - the 'not unfeared, half-welcome guest'. Livermore was a well-known preacher who traveled throughout the US.
The only other person mentioned in the poem is the 'wise old Doctor', this being Dr Elias Weld, an early benefactor of Whittier's, to whom the poem 'The Countess' is dedicated.
In Pickard's words:
'The little room at the western end of the kitchen was "mother's room," its floor two steps higher than that of the larger room, for a singular reason. In digging the cellar the pioneer found here a large boulder it was inconvenient to remove, and wishing a milk room at this corner, he was obliged to make its floor two steps higher than the rest of the cellar.'
'The door at the southwestern corner of the kitchen opens into the room in which the poet was born. This was the parlor, but as the Friends were much given to hospitality, it was often needed as a bedroom, and there was in it a bedstead that could be lifted from the floor and supported by a hook in the ceiling when not in use. [...] The inlaid mahogany card-table between the front windows was brought to this house just a century ago (1804) by Abigail Hussey, the bride of John Whittier, and placed where it now stands.'
And a sketch of Joshua Coffin.
Whittier's sister Mary discovered a poem he'd written and sent it to the Newburyport Free Press, which was edited by William Lloyd Garrison who printed the poem, 'The Exile's Departure'. Shortly after the publication, Garrison went to Haverhill to see Whittier, and urged him to get an education. By making shoes the first year and teaching the next, Whittier managed to spend two six-month terms at the Haverhill Academy.
Addendum: The Whittier Home have just (17 December 2011) published a video on their website of Gus Reusch reading Snow-Bound and answering questions. It lasts for 108 minutes and is here.