Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall

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

New England: Newbury, Mass.

The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)


UP and down the village streets

Strange are the forms my fancy meets,

For the thoughts and things of to-day are hid,

And through the veil of a closéd lid

The ancient worthies I see again:

I hear the tap of the elder’s cane,

And his awful periwig I see,

And the silver buckles of shoe and knee.

Stately and slow, with thoughtful air,

His black cap hiding his whitened hair,

Walks the Judge of the great Assize,

Samuel Sewall the good and wise,

His face with lines of firmness wrought,

He wears the look of a man unbought,

Who swears to his hurt and changes not;

Yet, touched and softened nevertheless

With the grace of Christian gentleness,

The face that a child would climb to kiss!

True and tender and brave and just,

That man might honor and woman trust.


I see, far southward, this quiet day,

The hills of Newbury rolling away,

With the many tints of the season gay,

Dreamily blending in autumn mist

Crimson and gold and amethyst.

Long and low, with dwarf trees crowned,

Plum Island lies, like a whale aground,

A stone’s toss over the narrow sound.

Inland, as far as the eye can go,

The hills curve round like a bended bow;

A silver arrow from out them sprung,

I see the shine of the Quasycung;

And, round and round, over valley and hill,

Old roads winding, as old roads will,

Here to a ferry, and there to a mill;

And glimpses of chimneys and gabled eaves,

Through green elm arches and maple leaves,—

Old homesteads sacred to all that can

Gladden or sadden the heart of man,—

Over whose thresholds of oak and stone

Life and Death have come and gone!

There pictured tiles in the fireplace show,

Great beams sag from the ceiling low,

The dresser glitters with polished wares,

The long clock ticks on the foot-worn stairs,

And the low, broad chimney shows the crack

By the earthquake made a century back.

Up from their midst springs the village spire

With the crest of its cock in the sun afire;

Beyond are orchards and planting lands,

And great salt marshes and glimmering sands,

And, where north and south the coast-lines run,

The blink of the sea in breeze and sun!

I see it all like a chart unrolled,

But my thoughts are full of the past and old;

I hear the tales of my boyhood told,

And the shadows and shapes of early days

Flit dimly by in the veiling haze,

With measured movement and rhythmic chime

Weaving like shuttles my web of rhyme.

I think of the old man wise and good

Who once on yon misty hillsides stood,

(A poet who never measured rhyme,

A seer unknown to his dull-eared time,)

And, propped on his staff of age, looked down,

With his boyhood’s love, on his native town,

Where, written, as if on its hills and plains,

His burden of prophecy yet remains,

For the voices of wood and wave and wind

To read in the ear of the musing mind:—

“As long as Plum Island, to guard the coast

As God appointed, shall keep its post;

As long as a salmon shall haunt the deep

Of Merrimac River, or sturgeon leap;

As long as pickerel swift and slim,

Or red-backed perch, in Crane Pond swim;

As long as the annual sea-fowl know

Their time to come and their time to go;

As long as cattle shall roam at will

The green, grass meadows by Turkey Hill;

As long as sheep shall look from the side

Of Oldtown Hill on marishes wide,

And Parker River, and salt-sea tide;

As long as a wandering pigeon shall search

The fields below from his white-oak perch,

When the barley-harvest is ripe and shorn,

And the dry husks fall from the standing corn;

As long as Nature shall not grow old,

Nor drop her work from her doting hold,

And her care for the Indian corn forget,

And the yellow rows in pairs to set;—

So long shall Christians here be born,

Grow up and ripen as God’s sweet corn!—

By the beak of bird, by the breath of frost,

Shall never a holy ear be lost,

But, husked by Death in the Planter’s sight,

Be sown again in the fields of light!”

The Island still is purple with plums,

Up the river the salmon comes,

The sturgeon leaps, and the wild-fowl feeds

On hillside berries and marish seeds,—

All the beautiful signs remain,

From spring-time sowing to autumn rain

The good man’s vision returns again!

And let us hope, as well we can,

That the Silent Angel who garners man

May find some grain as of old he found

In the human cornfield ripe and sound,

And the Lord of the Harvest deign to own

The precious seed by the fathers sown!