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.
 
Appendix II. Poems Printed in the ‘Life of Whittier’
A Legend of the Lake
 
          [This poem, originally printed in the Atlantic Monthly, was withheld from publication in his volumes by Mr. Whittier, in deference to living relatives of the hero of the poem. Death finally removed the restriction.]

SHOULD you go to Centre Harbor,
  As haply you sometime may,
Sailing up the Winnepesaukee
  From the hills of Alton Bay,—
 
Into the heart of the highlands,        5
  Into the north wind free,
Through the rising and vanishing islands,
  Over the mountain sea,—
 
To the little hamlet lying
  White in its mountain fold,        10
Asleep by the lake and dreaming
  A dream that is never told,—
 
And in the Red Hill’s shadow
  Your pilgrim home you make,
Where the chambers open to sunrise,        15
  The mountains, and the lake,—
 
If the pleasant picture wearies,
  As the fairest sometimes will,
And the weight of the hills lies on you
  And the water is all too still,—        20
 
If in vain the peaks of Gunstock
  Redden with sunrise fire,
And the sky and the purple mountains
  And the sunset islands tire,—
 
If you turn from in-door thrumming        25
  And the clatter of bowls without,
And the folly that goes on its travels
  Bearing the city about,—
 
And the cares you left behind you
  Come hunting along your track,        30
As Blue-Cap in German fable
  Rode on the traveller’s pack,—
 
Let me tell you a tender story
  Of one who is now no more,
A tale to haunt like a spirit        35
  The Winnepesaukee shore,—
 
Of one who was brave and gentle,
  And strong for manly strife,
Riding with cheering and music
  Into the tourney of life.        40
 
Faltering and failing midway
  In the Tempter’s subtle snare,
The chains of an evil habit
  He bowed himself to bear.
 
Over his fresh young manhood        45
  The bestial veil was flung,—
The curse of the wine of Circe,
  The spell her weavers sung.
 
Yearly did hill and lakeside
  Their summer idyls frame;        50
Alone in his darkened dwelling
  He hid his face for shame.
 
The music of life’s great marches
  Sounded for him in vain;
The voices of human duty        55
  Smote on his ear like pain.
 
In vain over island and water
  The curtains of sunset swung;
In vain on the beautiful mountains
  The pictures of God were hung.        60
 
The wretched years crept onward,
  Each sadder than the last;
All the bloom of life fell from him,
  All the freshness and greenness past.
 
But deep in his heart forever        65
  And unprofaned he kept
The love of his saintly mother,
  Who in the graveyard slept.
 
His house had no pleasant pictures;
  Its comfortless walls were bare:        70
But the riches of earth and ocean
  Could not purchase his mother’s chair.
 
The old chair, quaintly carven,
  With oaken arms outspread,
Whereby, in the long gone twilights,        75
  His childish prayers were said.
 
For thence in his long night watches,
  By moon or starlight dim,
A face full of love and pity
  And tenderness looked on him.        80
 
And oft, as the grieving presence
  Sat in his mother’s chair,
The groan of his self-upbraiding
  Grew into wordless prayer.
 
At last, in the moonless midnight,        85
  The summoning angel came,
Severe in his pity, touching
  The house with fingers of flame.
 
The red light flashed from its windows
  And flared from its sinking roof;        90
And baffled and awed before it
  The villagers stood aloof.
 
They shrank from the falling rafters,
  They turned from the furnace glare;
But its tenant cried, “God help me!        95
  I must save my mother’s chair.”
 
Under the blazing portal,
  Over the floor of fire,
He seemed, in the terrible splendor,
  A martyr on his pyre.        100
 
In his face the mad flames smote him,
  And stung him on either side;
But he clung to the sacred relic,—
  By his mother’s chair he died!
 
O mother, with human yearnings!        105
  O saint, by the altar stairs!
Shall not the dear God give thee
  The child of thy many prayers?
 
O Christ! by whom the loving,
  Though erring, are forgiven,        110
Hast thou for him no refuge,
  No quiet place in heaven?
 
Give palms to thy strong martyrs,
  And crown thy saints with gold,
But let the mother welcome        115
  Her lost one to thy fold!
 
 
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