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 Countess
 
        
To E. W.
  
  I inscribed this poem to Dr. Elias Weld of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to whose kindness I was much indebted in my boyhood. He was the one cultivated man in the neighborhood. His small but well-chosen library was placed at my disposal. He is the “wise old doctor” of Snow-Bound.
  Count François de Vipart with his cousin Joseph Rochemont de Poyen came to the United States in the early part of the present century. They took up their residence at Rocks Village on the Merrimac, where they both married. The wife of Count Vipart was Mary Ingalls, who as my father remembered her was a very lovely young girl. Her wedding dress, as described by a lady still living, was “pink satin with an overdress of white lace, and white satin slippers.” She died in less than a year after her marriage. Her husband returned to his native country. He lies buried in the family tomb of the Viparts at Bordeaux.

I KNOW not, Time and Space so intervene,
Whether, still waiting with a trust serene,
Thou bearest up thy fourscore years and ten,
Or, called at last, art now Heaven’s citizen;
But, here or there, a pleasant thought of thee,        5
Like an old friend, all day has been with me.
The shy, still boy, for whom thy kindly hand
Smoothed his hard pathway to the wonder-land
Of thought and fancy, in gray manhood yet
Keeps green the memory of his early debt.        10
To-day, when truth and falsehood speak their words
Through hot-lipped cannon and the teeth of swords,
Listening with quickened heart and ear intent
To each sharp clause of that stern argument,
I still can hear at times a softer note        15
Of the old pastoral music round me float,
While through the hot gleam of our civil strife
Looms the green mirage of a simpler life.
As, at his alien post, the sentinel
Drops the old bucket in the homestead well,        20
And hears old voices in the winds that toss
Above his head the live-oak’s beard of moss,
So, in our trial-time, and under skies
Shadowed by swords like Islam’s paradise,
I wait and watch, and let my fancy stray        25
To milder scenes and youth’s Arcadian day;
And howsoe’er the pencil dipped in dreams
Shades the brown woods or tints the sunset streams,
The country doctor in the foreground seems,
Whose ancient sulky down the village lanes        30
Dragged, like a war-car, captive ills and pains.
I could not paint the scenery of my song,
Mindless of one who looked thereon so long;
Who, night and day, on duty’s lonely round,
Made friends o’ the woods and rocks, and knew the sound        35
Of each small brook, and what the hillside trees
Said to the winds that touched their leafy keys;
Who saw so keenly and so well could paint
The village-folk, with all their humors quaint,—
The parson ambling on his wall-eyed roan.        40
Grave and erect, with white hair backward blown;
The tough old boatman, half amphibious grown;
The muttering witch-wife of the gossip’s tale,
And the loud straggler levying his blackmail,—
Old customs, habits, superstitions, fears,        45
All that lies buried under fifty years.
To thee, as is most fit, I bring my lay,
And, grateful, own the debt I cannot pay.
*        *        *        *        *
    Over the wooded northern ridge,
      Between its houses brown,        50
    To the dark tunnel of the bridge
      The street comes straggling down.
 
    You catch a glimpse, through birch and pine,
      Of gable, roof, and porch,
    The tavern with its swinging sign,        55
      The sharp horn of the church.
 
    The river’s steel-blue crescent curves
      To meet, in ebb and flow,
    The single broken wharf that serves
      For sloop and gundelow.        60
 
    With salt sea-scents along its shores
      The heavy hay-boats crawl,
    The long antennæ of their oars
      In lazy rise and fall.
 
    Along the gray abutment’s wall        65
      The idle shad-net dries;
    The toll-man in his cobbler’s stall
      Sits smoking with closed eyes.
 
    You hear the pier’s low undertone
      Of waves that chafe and gnaw;        70
    You start,—a skipper’s horn is blown
      To raise the creaking draw.
 
    At times a blacksmith’s anvil sounds
      With slow and sluggard beat,
    Or stage-coach on its dusty rounds        75
      Wakes up the staring street.
 
    A place for idle eyes and ears,
      A cobwebbed nook of dreams;
    Left by the stream whose waves are years
      The stranded village seems.        80
 
    And there, like other moss and rust,
      The native dweller clings,
    And keeps, in uninquiring trust,
      The old, dull round of things.
 
    The fisher drops his patient lines,        85
      The farmer sows his grain,
    Content to hear the murmuring pines
      Instead of railroad-train.
 
    Go where, along the tangled steep
      That slopes against the west,        90
    The hamlet’s buried idlers sleep
      In still profounder rest.
 
    Throw back the locust’s flowery plume,
      The birch’s pale-green scarf,
    And break the web of brier and bloom        95
      From name and epitaph.
 
    A simple muster-roll of death,
      Of pomp and romance shorn,
    The dry, old names that common breath
      Has cheapened and outworn.        100
 
    Yet pause by one low mound, and part
      The wild vines o’er it laced,
    And read the words by rustic art
      Upon its headstone traced.
 
    Haply yon white-haired villager        105
      Of fourscore years can say
    What means the noble name of her
      Who sleeps with common clay.
 
    An exile from the Gascon land
      Found refuge here and rest,        110
    And loved, of all the village band,
      Its fairest and its best.
 
    He knelt with her on Sabbath morns,
      He worshipped through her eyes,
    And on the pride that doubts and scorns        115
      Stole in her faith’s surprise.
 
    Her simple daily life he saw
      By homeliest duties tried,
    In all things by an untaught law
      Of fitness justified.        120
 
    For her his rank aside he laid;
      He took the hue and tone
    Of lowly life and toil, and made
      Her simple ways his own.
 
    Yet still, in gay and careless ease,        125
      To harvest-field or dance
    He brought the gentle courtesies,
      The nameless grace of France.
 
    And she who taught him love not less
      From him she loved in turn        130
    Caught in her sweet unconsciousness
      What love is quick to learn.
 
    Each grew to each in pleased accord,
      Nor knew the gazing town
    If she looked upward to her lord        135
      Or he to her looked down.
 
    How sweet, when summer’s day was o’er,
      His violin’s mirth and wail,
    The walk on pleasant Newbury’s shore,
      The river’s moonlit sail!        140
 
    Ah! life is brief, though love be long;
      The altar and the bier,
    The burial hymn and bridal song,
      Were both in one short year!
 
    Her rest is quiet on the hill,        145
      Beneath the locust’s bloom:
    Far off her lover sleeps as still
      Within his scutcheoned tomb.
 
    The Gascon lord, the village maid,
      In death still clasp their hands;        150
    The love that levels rank and grade
      Unites their severed lands.
 
    What matter whose the hillside grave,
      Or whose the blazoned stone?
    Forever to her western wave        155
      Shall whisper blue Garonne!
 
    O Love!—so hallowing every soil
      That gives thy sweet flower room,
    Wherever, nursed by ease or toil,
      The human heart takes bloom!—        160
 
    Plant of lost Eden, from the sod
      Of sinful earth unriven,
    White blossom of the trees of God
      Dropped down to us from heaven!—
 
    This tangled waste of mound and stone        165
      Is holy for thy sake;
    A sweetness which is all thy own
      Breathes out from fern and brake.
 
    And while ancestral pride shall twine
      The Gascon’s tomb with flowers,        170
    Fall sweetly here, O song of mine,
      With summer’s bloom and showers!
 
    And let the lines that severed seem
      Unite again in thee,
    As western wave and Gallic stream        175
      Are mingled in one sea!

  1863.
 
 
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