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

New England: Newbury, Mass.

The Old Elm of Newbury

By Hannah Flagg Gould (1789–1865)


DID ever it come in your way to pass

The silvery pond, with its fringe of grass;

And, threading the lane hard by, to see

The veteran elm of Newbury?

You saw how its roots had grasped the ground,

As if it had felt that the earth went round,

And fastened them down with determined will

To keep it steady, and hold it still.

Its aged trunk, so stately and strong,

Has braved the blasts, as they ’ve rushed along;

Its head has towered, and its arms have spread,

While more than a hundred years have fled!

Well, that old elm, that is now so grand,

Was once a twig in the rustic hand

Of a youthful peasant, who went one night

To visit his love, by the tender light

Of the modest moon and her twinkling host,

While the star that lighted his bosom most,

And gave to his lonely feet their speed,

Abode in a cottage beyond the mead!


It is not recorded how long he stayed

In the cheerful home of the smiling maid;

But when he came out, it was late and dark,

And silent,—not even a dog would bark,

To take from his feeling of loneliness,

And make the length of his way seem less.

He thought it was strange, that the treacherous moon

Should have given the world the slip so soon;

And, whether the eyes of the girl had made

The stars of the sky in his own to fade,

Or not, it certainly seemed to him

That each grew distant and small and dim;

And he shuddered to think he now was about

To take a long and a lonely route;

For he did not know what fearful sight

Might come to him through the shadows of night!

An elm grew close by the cottage’s eaves;

So he plucked him a twig well clothed with leaves,

And sallying forth with the supple arm,

To serve as a talisman parrying harm,

He felt that, though his heart was so big,

’T was even the stouter for having the twig.

For this, he thought, would answer to switch

The horrors away, as he crossed the ditch,

The meadow and copse, wherein, perchance,

Will-o’-the-wisp might wickedly dance;

And, wielding it, keep him from having a chill

At the menacing sound of “Whip-poor-will!”

And his flesh from creeping beside the bog

At the harsh, bass voice of the viewless frog:

In short, he felt that the switch would be

Guard, plaything, business, and company.

When he got safe home, and joyfully found

He still was himself! and living! and sound!

He planted the twig by his family cot,

To stand as a monument, marking the spot

It helped him to reach; and, what was still more,

Because it had grown by his fair one’s door.

The twig took root; and as time flew by,

Its boughs spread wide, and its head grew high;

While the priest’s good service had long been done,

Which made the youth and the maiden one;

And their young scions arose and played

Around the tree, in its leafy shade.

But many and many a year has fled

Since they were gathered among the dead;

And now their names, with the moss o’ergrown,

Are veiled from sight on the churchyard stone

That leans away, in a lingering fall,

And owns the power that shall level all

The works that the hand of man hath wrought;

Bring him to dust, and his name to naught.

While, near in view, and just beyond

The grassy skirts of the silver pond,

In its “green old age,” stands the noble tree,

The veteran elm of Newbury.