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

New England: Newburyport, Mass.

The Preacher

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)


ITS windows flashing to the sky,

Beneath a thousand roofs of brown,

Far down the vale, my friend and I

Beheld the old and quiet town:

The ghostly sails that out at sea

Flapped their white wings of mystery,

The beaches glimmering in the sun,

And the low wooded capes that run

Into the sea-mist north and south;

The sand-bluffs at the river’s mouth;

The swinging chain-bridge, and, afar,

The foam-line of the harbor-bar.

Over the woods and meadow-lands

A crimson-tinted shadow lay

Of clouds through which the setting day

Flung a slant glory far away.

It glittered on the wet sea-sands,

It flamed upon the city’s panes,

Smote the white sails of ships that wore

Outward or in, and glided o’er

The steeples with their veering vanes!

Awhile my friend with rapid search

O’erran the landscape. “Yonder spire

Over gray roofs, a shaft of fire;

What is it, pray?” “The Whitefield Church!

Walled about by its basement stones,

There rest the marvellous prophet’s bones.”

Then as our homeward way we walked,

Of the great preacher’s life we talked;

And through the mystery of our theme

The outward glory seemed to stream,

And Nature’s self interpreted

The doubtful record of the dead;

And every level beam that smote

The sails upon the dark afloat,

A symbol of the light became

Which touched the shadows of our blame

With tongues of Pentecostal flame.


Under the church of Federal Street,

Under the tread of its Sabbath feet,

Walled about by its basement stones,

Lie the marvellous preacher’s bones.

No saintly honors to them are shown,

No sign nor miracle have they known;

But he who passes the ancient church

Stops in the shade of its belfry-porch,

And ponders the wonderful life of him

Who lies at rest in that charnel dim.

Long shall the traveller strain his eye

From the railroad car, as it plunges by,

And the vanishing town behind him search

For the slender spire of the Whitefield Church;

And feel for one moment the ghosts of trade

And fashion and folly and pleasure laid,

By the thought of that life of pure intent,

That voice of warning yet eloquent,

Of one on the errands of angels sent.

And if where he labored the flood of sin

Like a tide from the harbor-bar sets in,

And over a life of time and sense

The church-spires lift their vain defence,

As if to scatter the bolts of God

With the points of Calvin’s thunder-rod,—

Still, as the gem of its civic crown,

Precious beyond the world’s renown,

His memory hallows the ancient town!