Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Haverhill (Pentucket), Mass.


By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)


HOW sweetly on the wood-girt town

The mellow light of sunset shone!

Each small, bright lake, whose waters still

Mirror the forest and the hill,

Reflected from its waveless breast

The beauty of a cloudless west,

Glorious as if a glimpse were given

Within the western gates of heaven,

Left, by the spirit of the star

Of sunset’s holy hour, ajar!

Beside the river’s tranquil flood

The dark and low-walled dwellings stood,

Where many a rood of open land

Stretched up and down on either hand,

With corn-leaves waving freshly green

The thick and blackened stumps between.

Behind, unbroken, deep and dread,

The wild, untravelled forest spread,

Back to those mountains, white and cold,

Of which the Indian trapper told,

Upon whose summits never yet

Was mortal foot in safety set.

Quiet and calm, without a fear

Of danger darkly lurking near,

The weary laborer left his plough,—

The milkmaid carolled by her cow,—

From cottage door and household hearth

Rose songs of praise, or tones of mirth.

At length the murmur died away,

And silence on that village lay,—

So slept Pompeii, tower and hall,

Ere the quick earthquake swallowed all,

Undreaming of the fiery fate

Which made its dwellings desolate!

Hours passed away. By moonlight sped

The Merrimac along his bed.

Bathed in the pallid lustre, stood

Dark cottage-wall and rock and wood,

Silent, beneath that tranquil beam,

As the hushed grouping of a dream.

Yet on the still air crept a sound,—

No bark of fox, nor rabbit’s bound,

Nor stir of wings, nor waters flowing,

Nor leaves in midnight breezes blowing.

Was that the tread of many feet,

Which downward from the hillside beat?

What forms were those which darkly stood

Just on the margin of the wood?—

Charred tree-stumps in the moonlight dim,

Or paling rude, or leafless limb?

No,—through the trees fierce eyeballs glowed,

Dark human forms in moonshine showed,

Wild from their native wilderness,

With painted limbs and battle-dress!

A yell the dead might wake to hear

Swelled on the night air, far and clear,—

Then smote the Indian tomahawk

On crashing door and shattering lock,—

Then rang the rifle-shot,—and then

The shrill death-scream of stricken men,—

Sank the red axe in woman’s brain,

And childhood’s cry arose in vain,—

Bursting through roof and window came,

Red, fast, and fierce, the kindled flame;

And blended fire and moonlight glared

On still dead men and weapons bared.

The morning sun looked brightly through

The river willows, wet with dew.

No sound of combat filled the air,—

No shout was heard,—nor gunshot there:

Yet still the thick and sullen smoke

From smouldering ruins slowly broke;

And on the greensward many a stain,

And, here and there, the mangled slain,

Told how that midnight bolt had sped,

Pentucket, on thy fated head!

Even now the villager can tell

Where Rolfe beside his hearthstone fell,

Still show the door of wasting oak,

Through which the fatal death-shot broke,

And point the curious stranger where

De Rouville’s corse lay grim and bare,—

Whose hideous head, in death still feared,

Bore not a trace of hair or beard,—

And still, within the churchyard ground,

Heaves darkly up the ancient mound,

Whose grass-grown surface overlies

The victims of that sacrifice.