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
The Ranger
 
          Originally published as Martha Mason; a Song of the Old French War.

ROBERT RAWLIN!—Frosts were falling
When the ranger’s horn was calling
  Through the woods to Canada.
Gone the winter’s sleet and snowing,
Gone the spring-time’s bud and blowing,        5
Gone the summer’s harvest mowing,
  And again the fields are gray.
  Yet away, he ’s away!
Faint and fainter hope is growing
  In the hearts that mourn his stay.        10
 
Where the lion, crouching high on
Abraham’s rock with teeth of iron,
  Glares o’er wood and wave away,
Faintly thence, as pines far sighing,
Or as thunder spent and dying,        15
Come the challenge and replying,
  Come the sounds of flight and fray.
  Well-a-day! Hope and pray!
Some are living, some are lying
  In their red graves far away.        20
 
Straggling rangers, worn with dangers,
Homeward faring, weary strangers
  Pass the farm-gate on their way;
Tidings of the dead and living,
Forest march and ambush, giving,        25
Till the maidens leave their weaving,
  And the lads forget their play.
  “Still away, still away!”
Sighs a sad one, sick with grieving,
  “Why does Robert still delay!”        30
 
Nowhere fairer, sweeter, rarer,
Does the golden-locked fruit bearer
  Through his painted woodlands stray,
Than where hillside oaks and beeches
Overlook the long, blue reaches,        35
Silver coves and pebbled beaches,
  And green isles of Casco Bay;
  Nowhere day, for delay,
With a tenderer look beseeches,
  “Let me with my charmed earth stay.”        40
 
On the grain-lands of the mainlands
Stands the serried corn like train-bands,
  Plume and pennon rustling gay;
Out at sea, the islands wooded,
Silver birches, golden-hooded,        45
Set with maples, crimson-blooded,
  White sea-foam and sand-hills gray,
  Stretch away, far away.
Dim and dreamy, over-brooded
  By the hazy autumn day.        50
 
Gayly chattering to the clattering
Of the brown nuts downward pattering,
  Leap the squirrels, red and gray.
On the grass-land, on the fallow,
Drop the apples, red and yellow;        55
Drop the russet pears and mellow,
  Drop the red leaves all the day.
  And away, swift away,
Sun and cloud, o’er hill and hollow
  Chasing, weave their web of play.        60
 
“Martha Mason, Martha Mason,
Prithee tell us of the reason
  Why you mope at home to-day:
Surely smiling is not sinning;
Leave your quilling, leave your spinning;        65
What is all your store of linen,
  If your heart is never gay?
  Come away, come away!
Never yet did sad beginning
  Make the task of life a play.”        70
 
Overbending, till she ’s blending
With the flaxen skein she ’s tending
  Pale brown tresses smoothed away
From her face of patient sorrow,
Sits she, seeking but to borrow,        75
From the trembling hope of morrow,
  Solace for the weary day.
  “Go your way, laugh and play;
Unto Him who heeds the sparrow
  And the lily, let me pray.”        80
 
“With our rally, rings the valley,—
Join us!” cried the blue-eyed Nelly;
  “Join us!” cried the laughing May,
“To the beach we all are going,
And, to save the task of rowing,        85
West by north the wind is blowing,
  Blowing briskly down the bay!
  Come away, come away!
Time and tide are swiftly flowing,
  Let us take them while we may!        90
 
“Never tell us that you ’ll fail us,
Where the purple beach-plum mellows
  On the bluffs so wild and gray.
Hasten, for the oars are falling;
Hark, our merry mates are calling;        95
Time it is that we were all in,
  Singing tideward down the bay!”
  “Nay, nay, let me stay;
Sore and sad for Robert Rawlin
  Is my heart,” she said, “to-day.”        100
 
“Vain your calling for Rob Rawlin!
Some red squaw his moose-meat ’s broiling,
  Or some French lass, singing gay;
Just forget as he ’s forgetting;
What avails a life of fretting?        105
If some stars must needs be setting,
  Others rise as good as they.”
  “Cease, I pray; go your way!”
Martha cries, her eyelids wetting;
  “Foul and false the words you say!”        110
 
“Martha Mason, hear to reason!
Prithee, put a kinder face on!”
  “Cease to vex me,” did she say;
“Better at his side be lying,
With the mournful pine-trees sighing,        115
And the wild birds o’er us crying,
  Than to doubt like mine a prey;
  While away, far away,
Turns my heart, forever trying
  Some new hope for each new day.        120
 
“When the shadows veil the meadows,
And the sunset’s golden ladders
  Sink from twilight’s walls of gray,—
From the window of my dreaming,
I can see his sickle gleaming,        125
Cheery-voiced, can hear him teaming
  Down the locust-shaded way;
  But away, swift away,
Fades the fond, delusive seeming,
  And I kneel again to pray.        130
 
“When the growing dawn is showing,
And the barn-yard cock is crowing,
  And the horned moon pales away:
From a dream of him awaking,
Every sound my heart is making        135
Seems a footstep of his taking;
  Then I hush the thought, and say,
  ‘Nay, nay, he ’s away!’
Ah! my heart, my heart is breaking
  For the dear one far away.”        140
 
Look up, Martha! worn and swarthy,
Glows a face of manhood worthy:
  “Robert!” “Martha!” all they say.
O’er went wheel and reel together,
Little cared the owner whither;        145
Heart of lead is heart of feather,
  Noon of night is noon of day!
  Come away, come away!
When such lovers meet each other,
  Why should prying idlers stay?        150
 
Quench the timber’s fallen embers,
Quench the red leaves in December’s
  Hoary rime and chilly spray.
But the hearth shall kindle clearer,
Household welcomes sound sincerer,        155
Heart to loving heart draw nearer,
  When the bridal bells shall say:
  “Hope and pray, trust alway;
Life is sweeter, love is dearer,
  For the trial and delay!”

  1856.
        160
 
 
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