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.
 
At Sundown
Haverhill. 1640–1890
 
          Read at the Celebration of the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the City, July 2, 1890.

O RIVER winding to the sea!
We call the old time back to thee;
From forest paths and water-ways
The century-woven veil we raise.
 
The voices of to-day are dumb,        5
Unheard its sounds that go and come;
We listen, through long-lapsing years,
To footsteps of the pioneers.
 
Gone steepled town and cultured plain,
The wilderness returns again,        10
The drear, untrodden solitude,
The gloom and mystery of the wood!
 
Once more the bear and panther prowl,
The wolf repeats his hungry howl,
And, peering through his leafy screen,        15
The Indian’s copper face is seen.
 
We see, their rude-built huts beside,
Grave men and women anxious-eyed,
And wistful youth remembering still
Dear homes in England’s Haverhill.        20
 
We summon forth to mortal view
Dark Passaquo and Saggahew,—
Wild chiefs, who owned the mighty sway
Of wizard Passaconaway.
 
Weird memories of the border town,        25
By old tradition handed down,
In chance and change before us pass
Like pictures in a magic glass,—
 
The terrors of the midnight raid,
The death-concealing ambuscade,        30
The winter march, through deserts wild,
Of captive mother, wife, and child.
 
Ah! bleeding hands alone subdued
And tamed the savage habitude
Of forests hiding beasts of prey,        35
And human shapes as fierce as they.
 
Slow from the plough the woods withdrew,
Slowly each year the corn-lands grew;
Nor fire, nor frost, nor foe could kill
The Saxon energy of will.        40
 
And never in the hamlet’s bound
Was lack of sturdy manhood found,
And never failed the kindred good
Of brave and helpful womanhood.
 
That hamlet now a city is,        45
Its log-built huts are palaces;
The wood-path of the settler’s cow
Is Traffic’s crowded highway now.
 
And far and wide it stretches still,
Along its southward sloping hill,        50
And overlooks on either hand
A rich and many-watered land.
 
And, gladdening all the landscape, fair
As Pison was to Eden’s pair,
Our river to its valley brings        55
The blessing of its mountain springs.
 
And Nature holds with narrowing space,
From mart and crowd, her old-time grace,
And guards with fondly jealous arms
The wild growths of outlying farms.        60
 
Her sunsets on Kenoza fall,
Her autumn leaves by Saltonstall;
No lavished gold can richer make
Her opulence of hill and lake.
 
Wise was the choice which led out sires        65
To kindle here their household fires,
And share the large content of all
Whose lines in pleasant places fall.
 
More dear, as years on years advance,
We prize the old inheritance,        70
And feel, as far and wide we roam,
That all we seek we leave at home.
 
Our palms are pines, our oranges
Are apples on our orchard trees;
Our thrushes are our nightingales,        75
Our larks the blackbirds of our vales.
 
No incense which the Orient burns
Is sweeter than our hillside ferns;
What tropic splendor can outvie
Our autumn woods, our sunset sky?        80
 
If, where the slow years came and went,
And left not affluence, but content,
Now flashes in our dazzled eyes
The electric light of enterprise;
 
And if the old idyllic ease        85
Seems lost in keen activities,
And crowded workshops now replace
The hearth’s and farm-field’s rustic grace;
 
No dull, mechanic round of toil
Life’s morning charm can quite despoil;        90
And youth and beauty, hand in hand,
Will always find enchanted land.
 
No task is ill where hand and brain
And skill and strength have equal gain,
And each shall each in honor hold,        95
And simple manhood outweigh gold.
 
Earth shall be near to Heaven when all
That severs man from man shall fall,
For, here or there, salvation’s plan
Alone is love of God and man.        100
 
O dwellers by the Merrimac,
The heirs of centuries at your back,
Still reaping where you have not sown,
A broader field is now your own.
 
Hold fast your Puritan heritage,        105
But let the free thought of the age
Its light and hope and sweetness add
To the stern faith the fathers had.
 
Adrift on Time’s returnless tide,
As waves that follow waves, we glide.        110
God grant we leave upon the shore
Some waif of good it lacked before;
 
Some seed, or flower, or plant of worth,
Some added beauty to the earth;
Some larger hope, some thought to make        115
The sad world happier for its sake.
 
As tenants of uncertain stay,
So may we live our little day
That only grateful hearts shall fill
The homes we leave in Haverhill.        120
 
The singer of a farewell rhyme,
Upon whose outmost verge of time
The shades of night are falling down,
I pray, God bless the good old town!
 
 
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