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
Birchbrook Mill
 
A NOTELESS stream, the Birchbrook runs
  Beneath its leaning trees;
That low, soft ripple is its own,
  That dull roar is the sea’s.
 
Of human signs it sees alone        5
  The distant church spire’s tip,
And, ghost-like, on a blank of gray,
  The white sail of a ship.
 
No more a toiler at the wheel,
  It wanders at its will;        10
Nor dam nor pond is left to tell
  Where once was Birchbrook mill.
 
The timbers of that mill have fed
  Long since a farmer’s fires;
His doorsteps are the stones that ground        15
  The harvest of his sires.
 
Man trespassed here; but Nature lost
  No right of her domain;
She waited, and she brought the old
  Wild beauty back again.        20
 
By day the sunlight through the leaves
  Falls on its moist, green sod,
And wakes the violet bloom of spring
  And autumn’s golden-rod.
 
Its birches whisper to the wind,        25
  The swallow dips her wings
In the cool spray, and on its banks
  The gray song-sparrow sings.
 
But from it, when the dark night falls,
  The school-girl shrinks with dread;        30
The farmer, home-bound from his fields,
  Goes by with quickened tread.
 
They dare not pause to hear the grind
  Of shadowy stone on stone;
The plashing of a water-wheel        35
  Where wheel there now is none.
 
Has not a cry of pain been heard
  Above the clattering mill?
The pawing of an unseen horse,
  Who waits his mistress still?        40
 
Yet never to the listener’s eye
  Has sight confirmed the sound;
A wavering birch line marks alone
  The vacant pasture ground.
 
No ghostly arms fling up to heaven        45
  The agony of prayer;
No spectral steed impatient shakes
  His white mane on the air.
 
The meaning of that common dread
  No tongue has fitly told;        50
The secret of the dark surmise
  The brook and birches hold.
 
What nameless horror of the past
  Broods here forevermore?
What ghost his unforgiven sin        55
  Is grinding o’er and o’er?
 
Does, then, immortal memory play
  The actor’s tragic part,
Rehearsals of a mortal life
  And unveiled human heart?        60
 
God’s pity spare a guilty soul
  That drama of its ill,
And let the scenic curtain fall
  On Birchbrook’s haunted mill!

  1884.
 
 
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