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.
 
Occasional Poems
Our River
 
        
For a Summer Festival at “The Laurels” on the Merrimac
  
  Jean Pierre Brissot, the famous leader of the Girondist party in the French Revolution, when a young man travelled extensively in the United States. He visited the valley of the Merrimac, and speaks in terms of admiration of the view from Moulton’s hill opposite Amesbury. The “Laurel Party” so called, was composed of ladies and gentlemen in the lower valley of the Merrimac, and invited friends and guests in other sections of the country. Its thoroughly enjoyable annual festivals were held in the early summer on the pine-shaded, laurel-blossomed slopes of the Newbury side of the river opposite Pleasant Valley in Amesbury. The several poems called out by these gatherings are here printed in sequence.

ONCE more on yonder laurelled height
  The summer flowers have budded;
Once more with summer’s golden light
  The vales of home are flooded;
And once more, by the grace of Him        5
  Of every good the Giver,
We sing upon its wooded rim
  The praises of our river:
 
Its pines above, its waves below,
  The west-wind down it blowing,        10
As fair as when the young Brissot
  Beheld it seaward flowing,—
And bore its memory o’er the deep,
  To soothe a martyr’s sadness,
And fresco, in his troubled sleep,        15
  His prison-walls with gladness.
 
We know the world is rich with streams
  Renowned in song and story,
Whose music murmurs through our dreams
  Of human love and glory:        20
We know that Arno’s banks are fair,
  And Rhine has castled shadows,
And, poet-tuned, the Doon and Ayr
  Go singing down their meadows.
 
But while, unpictured and unsung        25
  By painter or by poet,
Our river waits the tuneful tongue
  And cunning hand to show it,—
We only know the fond skies lean
  Above it, warm with blessing,        30
And the sweet soul of our Undine
  Awakes to our caressing.
 
No fickle sun-god holds the flocks
  That graze its shores in keeping;
No icy kiss of Dian mocks        35
  The youth beside it sleeping:
Our Christian river loveth most
  The beautiful and human;
The heathen streams of Naiads boast,
  But ours of man and woman.        40
 
The miner in his cabin hears
  The ripple we are hearing;
It whispers soft to homesick ears
  Around the settler’s clearing:
In Sacramento’s vales of corn,        45
  Or Santee’s bloom of cotton,
Our river by its valley-born
  Was never yet forgotten.
 
The drum rolls loud, the bugle fills
  The summer air with clangor;        50
The war-storm shakes the solid hills
  Beneath its tread of anger;
Young eyes that last year smiled in ours
  Now point the rifle’s barrel,
And hands then stained with fruits and flowers        55
  Bear redder stains of quarrel.
 
But blue skies smile, and flowers bloom on,
  And rivers still keep flowing,
The dear God still his rain and sun
  On good and ill bestowing.        60
His pine-trees whisper, “Trust and wait!”
  His flowers are prophesying
That all we dread of change or fate
  His love is underlying.
 
And thou, O Mountain-born!—no more        65
  We ask the wise Allotter
Than for the firmness of thy shore,
  The calmness of thy water,
The cheerful lights that overlay
  Thy rugged slopes with beauty,        70
To match our spirits to our day
  And make a joy of duty.

  1861.
 
 
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