Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
Mary Garvin
 
FROM the heart of Waumbek Methna, from the lake that never fails,
Falls the Saco in the green lap of Conway’s intervales;
There, in wild and virgin freshness, its waters foam and flow,
As when Darby Field first saw them, two hundred years ago.
 
But, vexed in all its seaward course with bridges, dams, and mills,        5
How changed is Saco’s stream, how lost its freedom of the hills,
Since travelled Jocelyn, factor Vines, and stately Champernoon
Heard on its banks the gray wolf’s howl, the trumpet of the loon!
 
With smoking axle hot with speed, with steeds of fire and steam,
Wide-waked To-day leaves Yesterday behind him like a dream.        10
Still, from the hurrying train of Life, fly backward far and fast
The milestones of the fathers, the landmarks of the past.
 
But human hearts remain unchanged: the sorrow and the sin,
The loves and hopes and fears of old, are to our own akin;
And if, in tales our fathers told, the songs our mothers sung,        15
Tradition wears a snowy beard, Romance is always young.
 
O sharp-lined man of traffic, on Saco’s banks to-day!
O mill-girl watching late and long the shuttle’s restless play!
Let, for the once, a listening ear the working hand beguile,
And lend my old Provincial tale, as suits, a tear or smile!
*        *        *        *        *
        20
The evening gun had sounded from gray Fort Mary’s walls;
Through the forest, like a wild beast, roared and plunged the Saco’s falls.
 
And westward on the sea-wind, that damp and gusty grew,
Over cedars darkening inland the smokes of Spurwink blew.
 
On the hearth of Farmer Garvin, blazed the crackling walnut log;        25
Right and left sat dame and goodman, and between them lay the dog,
 
Head on paws, and tail slow wagging, and beside him on her mat,
Sitting drowsy in the firelight, winked and purred the mottled cat.
 
“Twenty years!” said Goodman Garvin, speaking sadly, under breath,
And his gray head slowly shaking, as one who speaks of death.        30
 
The goodwife dropped her needles: “It is twenty years to-day,
Since the Indians fell on Saco, and stole our child away.”
 
Then they sank into the silence, for each knew the other’s thought,
Of a great and common sorrow, and words were needed not.
 
“Who knocks?” cried Goodman Garvin. The door was open thrown;        35
On two strangers, man and maiden, cloaked and furred, the fire-light shone.
 
One with courteous gesture lifted the bear-skin from his head;
“Lives here Elkanah Garvin?” “I am he,” the goodman said.
 
“Sit ye down, and dry and warm ye, for the night is chill with rain.”
And the goodwife drew the settle, and stirred the fire amain.        40
 
The maid unclasped her cloak-hood, the firelight glistened fair
In her large, moist eyes, and over soft folds of dark brown hair.
 
Dame Garvin looked upon her: “It is Mary’s self I see!
Dear heart!” she cried, “now tell me, has my child come back to me?”
 
“My name indeed is Mary,” said the stranger sobbing wild;        45
“Will you be to me a mother? I am Mary Garvin’s child!
 
“She sleeps by wooded Simcoe, but on her dying day
She bade my father take me to her kinsfolk far away.
 
“And when the priest besought her to do me no such wrong,
She said, ‘May God forgive me! I have closed my heart too long.        50
 
“‘When I hid me from my father, and shut out my mother’s call,
I sinned against those dear ones, and the Father of us all.
 
“‘Christ’s love rebukes no home-love, breaks no tie of kin apart;
Better heresy in doctrine, than heresy of heart.
 
“‘Tell me not the Church must censure: she who wept the Cross beside        55
Never made her own flesh strangers, nor the claims of blood denied;
 
“‘And if she who wronged her parents, with her child atones to them,
Earthly daughter, Heavenly Mother! thou at least wilt not condemn!’
 
“So, upon her death-bed lying, my blessed mother spake;
As we come to do her bidding, so receive us for her sake.”        60
 
“God be praised!” said Goodwife Garvin, “He taketh, and He gives;
He woundeth, but He healeth; in her child our daughter lives!”
 
“Amen!” the old man answered, as he brushed a tear away,
And, kneeling by his hearthstone, said, with reverence, “Let us pray.”
 
All its Oriental symbols, and its Hebrew paraphrase,        65
Warm with earnest life and feeling, rose his prayer of love and praise.
 
But he started at beholding, as he rose from off his knee,
The stranger cross his forehead with the sign of Papistrie.
 
“What is this?” cried Farmer Garvin. “Is an English Christian’s home
A chapel or a mass-house, that you make the sign of Rome?”        70
 
Then the young girl knelt beside him, kissed his trembling hand, and cried:
“Oh, forbear to chide my father; in that faith my mother died!
 
“On her wooden cross at Simcoe the dews and sunshine fall,
As they fall on Spurwink’s graveyard; and the dear God watches all!”
 
The old man stroked the fair head that rested on his knee;        75
“Your words, dear child,” he answered, “are God’s rebuke to me.
 
“Creed and rite perchance may differ, yet our faith and hope be one.
Let me be your father’s father, let him be to me a son.”
 
When the horn, on Sabbath morning, through the still and frosty air,
From Spurwink, Pool, and Black Point, called to sermon and to prayer,        80
 
To the goodly house of worship, where, in order due and fit,
As by public vote directed, classed and ranked the people sit;
 
Mistress first and goodwife after, clerkly squire before the clown,
From the brave coat, lace-embroidered, to the gray frock, shading down;
 
From the pulpit read the preacher, “Goodman Garvin and his wife        85
Fain would thank the Lord, whose kindness has followed them through life,
 
“For the great and crowning mercy, that their daughter, from the wild,
Where she rests (they hope in God’s peace), has sent to them her child;
 
“And the prayers of all God’s people they ask, that they may prove
Not unworthy, through their weakness, of such special proof of love.”        90
 
As the preacher prayed, uprising, the aged couple stood,
And the fair Canadian also, in her modest maidenhood.
 
Thought the elders, grave and doubting, “She is Papist born and bred;”
Thought the young men, “’T is an angel in Mary Garvin’s stead!”

  1856.
 
 
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