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
Among the Hills
 
FOR weeks the clouds had raked the hills
  And vexed the vales with raining,
And all the woods were sad with mist,
  And all the brooks complaining.
 
At last, a sudden night-storm tore        5
  The mountain veils asunder,
And swept the valleys clean before
  The besom of the thunder.
 
Through Sandwich notch the west-wind sang
  Good morrow to the cotter;        10
And once again Chocorua’s horn
  Of shadow pierced the water.
 
Above his broad lake Ossipee,
  Once more the sunshine wearing,
Stooped, tracing on that silver shield        15
  His grim armorial bearing.
 
Clear drawn against the hard blue sky,
  The peaks had winter’s keenness;
And, close on autumn’s frost, the vales
  Had more than June’s fresh greenness.        20
 
Again the sodden forest floors
  With golden lights were checkered,
Once more rejoicing leaves in wind
  And sunshine danced and flickered.
 
It was as if the summer’s late        25
  Atoning for its sadness
Had borrowed every season’s charm
  To end its days in gladness.
 
I call to mind those banded vales
  Of shadow and of shining,        30
Through which, my hostess at my side,
  I drove in day’s declining.
 
We held our sideling way above
  The river’s whitening shallows,
By homesteads old, with wide-flung barns        35
  Swept through and through by swallows;
 
By maple orchards, belts of pine
  And larches climbing darkly
The mountain slopes, and, over all,
  The great peaks rising starkly.        40
 
You should have seen that long hill-range
  With gaps of brightness riven,—
How through each pass and hollow streamed
  The purpling lights of heaven,—
 
Rivers of gold-mist flowing down        45
  From far celestial fountains,—
The great sun flaming through the rifts
  Beyond the wall of mountains!
 
We paused at last where home-bound cows
  Brought down the pasture’s treasure,        50
And in the barn the rhythmic flails
  Beat out a harvest measure.
 
We heard the night-hawk’s sullen plunge,
  The crow his tree-mates calling:
The shadows lengthening down the slopes        55
  About our feet were falling.
 
And through them smote the level sun
  In broken lines of splendor,
Touched the gray rocks and made the green
  Of the shorn grass more tender.        60
 
The maples bending o’er the gate,
  Their arch of leaves just tinted
With yellow warmth, the golden glow
  Of coming autumn hinted.
 
Keen white between the farm-house showed,        65
  And smiled on porch and trellis,
The fair democracy of flowers
  That equals cot and palace.
 
And weaving garlands for her dog,
  ’Twixt chidings and caresses,        70
A human flower of childhood shook
  The sunshine from her tresses.
 
On either hand we saw the signs
  Of fancy and of shrewdness,
Where taste had wound its arms of vines        75
  Round thrift’s uncomely rudeness.
 
The sun-brown farmer in his frock
  Shook hands, and called to Mary:
Bare-armed, as Juno might, she came,
  White-aproned from her dairy.        80
 
Her air, her smile, her motions, told
  Of womanly completeness;
A music as of household songs
  Was in her voice of sweetness.
 
Not fair alone in curve and line,        85
  But something more and better,
The secret charm eluding art,
  Its spirit, not its letter;—
 
An inborn grace that nothing lacked
  Of culture or appliance,—        90
The warmth of genial courtesy,
  The calm of self-reliance.
 
Before her queenly womanhood
  How dared our hostess utter
The paltry errand of her need        95
  To buy her fresh-churned butter?
 
She led the way with housewife pride,
  Her goodly store disclosing,
Full tenderly the golden balls
  With practised hands disposing.        100
 
Then, while along the western hills
  We watched the changeful glory
Of sunset, on our homeward way,
  I heard her simple story.
 
The early crickets sang; the stream        105
  Plashed through my friend’s narration:
Her rustic patois of the hills
  Lost in my free translation.
 
“More wise,” she said, “than those who swarm
  Our hills in middle summer,        110
She came, when June’s first roses blow,
  To greet the early comer.
 
“From school and ball and rout she came,
  The city’s fair, pale daughter,
To drink the wine of mountain air        115
  Beside the Bearcamp Water.
 
“Her step grew firmer on the hills
  That watch our homesteads over;
On cheek and lip, from summer fields,
  She caught the bloom of clover.        120
 
“For health comes sparkling in the streams
  From cool Chocorua stealing:
There ’s iron in our Northern winds;
  Our pines are trees of healing.
 
“She sat beneath the broad-armed elms        125
  That skirt the mowing-meadow,
And watched the gentle west-wind weave
  The grass with shine and shadow.
 
“Beside her, from the summer heat
  To share her grateful screening,        130
With forehead bared, the farmer stood,
  Upon his pitchfork leaning.
 
“Framed in its damp, dark locks, his face
  Had nothing mean or common,—
Strong, manly, true, the tenderness        135
  And pride beloved of woman.
 
“She looked up, glowing with the health
  The country air had brought her,
And, laughing, said: ‘You lack a wife,
  Your mother lacks a daughter.        140
 
“‘To mend your frock and bake your bread
  You do not need a lady:
Be sure among these brown old homes
  Is some one waiting ready,—
 
“‘Some fair, sweet girl with skilful hand        145
  And cheerful heart for treasure,
Who never played with ivory keys,
  Or danced the polka’s measure.’
 
“He bent his black brows to a frown,
  He set his white teeth tightly.        150
‘’T is well,’ he said, ‘for one like you
  To choose for me so lightly.
 
“‘You think, because my life is rude
  I take no note of sweetness:
I tell you love has naught to do        155
  With meetness or unmeetness.
 
“‘Itself its best excuse, it asks
  No leave of pride or fashion
When silken zone or homespun frock
  It stirs with throbs of passion.        160
 
“‘You think me deaf and blind: you bring
  Your winning graces hither
As free as if from cradle-time
  We two had played together.
 
“‘You tempt me with your laughing eyes,        165
  Your cheek of sundown’s blushes,
A motion as of waving grain,
  A music as of thrushes.
 
“‘The plaything of your summer sport,
  The spells you weave around me        170
You cannot at your will undo,
  Nor leave me as you found me.
 
“‘You go as lightly as you came,
  Your life is well without me;
What care you that these hills will close        175
  Like prison-walls about me?
 
“‘No mood is mine to seek a wife,
  Or daughter for my mother:
Who loves you loses in that love
  All power to love another!        180
 
“‘I dare your pity or your scorn,
  With pride your own exceeding;
I fling my heart into your lap
  Without a word of pleading.’
 
“She looked up in his face of pain        185
  So archly, yet so tender:
‘And if I lend you mine,’ she said,
  ‘Will you forgive the lender?
 
“‘Nor frock nor tan can hide the man;
  And see you not, my farmer,        190
How weak and fond a woman waits
  Behind this silken armor?
 
“‘I love you: on that love alone,
  And not my worth, presuming,
Will you not trust for summer fruit        195
  The tree in May-day blooming?’
 
“Alone the hangbird overhead,
  His hair-swung cradle straining,
Looked down to see love’s miracle,—
  The giving that is gaining.        200
 
“And so the farmer found a wife,
  His mother found a daughter:
There looks no happier home than hers
  On pleasant Bearcamp Water.
 
“Flowers spring to blossom where she walks        205
  The careful ways of duty;
Our hard, stiff lines of life with her
  Are flowing curves of beauty.
 
“Our homes are cheerier for her sake,
  Our door-yards brighter blooming,        210
And all about the social air
  Is sweeter for her coming.
 
“Unspoken homilies of peace
  Her daily life is preaching;
The still refreshment of the dew        215
  Is her unconscious teaching.
 
“And never tenderer hand than hers
  Unknits the brow of ailing;
Her garments to the sick man’s ear
  Have music in their trailing.        220
 
“And when, in pleasant harvest moons,
  The youthful huskers gather,
Or sleigh-drives on the mountain ways
  Defy the winter weather,—
 
“In sugar-camps, when south and warm        225
  The winds of March are blowing,
And sweetly from its thawing veins
  The maple’s blood is flowing,—
 
“In summer, where some lilied pond
  Its virgin zone is baring,        230
Or where the ruddy autumn fire
  Lights up the apple-paring,—
 
“The coarseness of a ruder time
  Her finer mirth displaces,
A subtler sense of pleasure fills        235
  Each rustic sport she graces.
 
“Her presence lends its warmth and health
  To all who come before it.
If woman lost us Eden, such
  As she alone restore it.        240
 
“For larger life and wiser aims
  The farmer is her debtor;
Who holds to his another’s heart
  Must needs be worse or better.
 
“Through her his civic service shows        245
  A purer-toned ambition;
No double consciousness divides
  The man and politician.
 
“In party’s doubtful ways he trusts
  Her instincts to determine;        250
At the loud polls, the thought of her
  Recalls Christ’s Mountain Sermon.
 
“He owns her logic of the heart,
  And wisdom of unreason,
Supplying, while he doubts and weighs,        255
  The needed word in season.
 
“He sees with pride her richer thought,
  Her fancy’s freer ranges;
And love thus deepened to respect
  Is proof against all changes.        260
 
“And if she walks at ease in ways
  His feet are slow to travel,
And if she reads with cultured eyes
  What his may scarce unravel,
 
“Still clearer, for her keener sight        265
  Of beauty and of wonder,
He learns the meaning of the hills
  He dwelt from childhood under.
 
“And higher, warmed with summer lights,
  Or winter-crowned and hoary,        270
The ridged horizon lifts for him
  Its inner veils of glory.
 
“He has his own free, bookless lore,
  The lessons nature taught him,
The wisdom which the woods and hills        275
  And toiling men have brought him:
 
“The steady force of will whereby
  Her flexile grace seems sweeter;
The sturdy counterpoise which makes
  Her woman’s life completer;        280
 
“A latent fire of soul which lacks
  No breath of love to fan it;
And wit, that, like his native brooks,
  Plays over solid granite.
 
“How dwarfed against his manliness        285
  She sees the poor pretension,
The wants, the aims, the follies, born
  Of fashion and convention!
 
“How life behind its accidents
  Stands strong and self-sustaining,        290
The human fact transcending all
  The losing and the gaining.
 
“And so in grateful interchange
  Of teacher and of hearer,
Their lives their true distinctness keep        295
  While daily drawing nearer.
 
“And if the husband or the wife
  In home’s strong light discovers
Such slight defaults as failed to meet
  The blinded eyes of lovers,        300
 
“Why need we care to ask?—who dreams
  Without their thorns of roses,
Or wonders that the truest steel
  The readiest spark discloses?
 
“For still in mutual sufferance lies        305
  The secret of true living;
Love scarce is love that never knows
  The sweetness of forgiving.
 
“We send the Squire to General Court,
  He takes his young wife thither;        310
No prouder man election day
  Rides through the sweet June weather.
 
“He sees with eyes of manly trust
  All hearts to her inclining;
Not less for him his household light        315
  That others share its shining.”
 
Thus, while my hostess spake, there grew
  Before me, warmer tinted
And outlined with a tenderer grace,
  The picture that she hinted.        320
 
The sunset smouldered as we drove
  Beneath the deep hill-shadows.
Below us wreaths of white fog walked
  Like ghosts the haunted meadows.
 
Sounding the summer night, the stars        325
  Dropped down their golden plummets;
The pale arc of the Northern lights
  Rose o’er the mountain summits,
 
Until, at last, beneath its bridge,
  We heard the Bearcamp flowing,        330
And saw across the mapled lawn
  The welcome home-lights glowing.
 
And, musing on the tale I heard,
  ’T were well, thought I, if often
To rugged farm-life came the gift        335
  To harmonize and soften;
 
If more and more we found the troth
  Of fact and fancy plighted,
And culture’s charm and labor’s strength
  In rural homes united,—        340
 
The simple life, the homely hearth,
  With beauty’s sphere surrounding,
And blessing toil where toil abounds
  With graces more abounding.

  1868.
 
 
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