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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Among the Hills

FOR weeks the clouds had raked the hills

And vexed the vales with raining,

And all the woods were sad with mist,

And all the brooks complaining.

At last, a sudden night-storm tore

The mountain veils asunder,

And swept the valleys clean before

The besom of the thunder.

Through Sandwich notch the west-wind sang

Good morrow to the cotter;

And once again Chocorua’s horn

Of shadow pierced the water.

Above his broad lake Ossipee,

Once more the sunshine wearing,

Stooped, tracing on that silver shield

His grim armorial bearing.

Clear drawn against the hard blue sky,

The peaks had winter’s keenness;

And, close on autumn’s frost, the vales

Had more than June’s fresh greenness.

Again the sodden forest floors

With golden lights were checkered,

Once more rejoicing leaves in wind

And sunshine danced and flickered.

It was as if the summer’s late

Atoning for its sadness

Had borrowed every season’s charm

To end its days in gladness.

I call to mind those banded vales

Of shadow and of shining,

Through which, my hostess at my side,

I drove in day’s declining.

We held our sideling way above

The river’s whitening shallows,

By homesteads old, with wide-flung barns

Swept through and through by swallows;

By maple orchards, belts of pine

And larches climbing darkly

The mountain slopes, and, over all,

The great peaks rising starkly.

You should have seen that long hill-range

With gaps of brightness riven,—

How through each pass and hollow streamed

The purpling lights of heaven,—

Rivers of gold-mist flowing down

From far celestial fountains,—

The great sun flaming through the rifts

Beyond the wall of mountains!

We paused at last where home-bound cows

Brought down the pasture’s treasure,

And in the barn the rhythmic flails

Beat out a harvest measure.

We heard the night-hawk’s sullen plunge,

The crow his tree-mates calling:

The shadows lengthening down the slopes

About our feet were falling.

And through them smote the level sun

In broken lines of splendor,

Touched the gray rocks and made the green

Of the shorn grass more tender.

The maples bending o’er the gate,

Their arch of leaves just tinted

With yellow warmth, the golden glow

Of coming autumn hinted.

Keen white between the farm-house showed,

And smiled on porch and trellis,

The fair democracy of flowers

That equals cot and palace.

And weaving garlands for her dog,

’Twixt chidings and caresses,

A human flower of childhood shook

The sunshine from her tresses.

On either hand we saw the signs

Of fancy and of shrewdness,

Where taste had wound its arms of vines

Round thrift’s uncomely rudeness.

The sun-brown farmer in his frock

Shook hands, and called to Mary:

Bare-armed, as Juno might, she came,

White-aproned from her dairy.

Her air, her smile, her motions, told

Of womanly completeness;

A music as of household songs

Was in her voice of sweetness.

Not fair alone in curve and line,

But something more and better,

The secret charm eluding art,

Its spirit, not its letter;—

An inborn grace that nothing lacked

Of culture or appliance,—

The warmth of genial courtesy,

The calm of self-reliance.

Before her queenly womanhood

How dared our hostess utter

The paltry errand of her need

To buy her fresh-churned butter?

She led the way with housewife pride,

Her goodly store disclosing,

Full tenderly the golden balls

With practised hands disposing.

Then, while along the western hills

We watched the changeful glory

Of sunset, on our homeward way,

I heard her simple story.

The early crickets sang; the stream

Plashed through my friend’s narration:

Her rustic patois of the hills

Lost in my free translation.

“More wise,” she said, “than those who swarm

Our hills in middle summer,

She came, when June’s first roses blow,

To greet the early comer.

“From school and ball and rout she came,

The city’s fair, pale daughter,

To drink the wine of mountain air

Beside the Bearcamp Water.

“Her step grew firmer on the hills

That watch our homesteads over;

On cheek and lip, from summer fields,

She caught the bloom of clover.

“For health comes sparkling in the streams

From cool Chocorua stealing:

There ’s iron in our Northern winds;

Our pines are trees of healing.

“She sat beneath the broad-armed elms

That skirt the mowing-meadow,

And watched the gentle west-wind weave

The grass with shine and shadow.

“Beside her, from the summer heat

To share her grateful screening,

With forehead bared, the farmer stood,

Upon his pitchfork leaning.

“Framed in its damp, dark locks, his face

Had nothing mean or common,—

Strong, manly, true, the tenderness

And pride beloved of woman.

“She looked up, glowing with the health

The country air had brought her,

And, laughing, said: ‘You lack a wife,

Your mother lacks a daughter.

“‘To mend your frock and bake your bread

You do not need a lady:

Be sure among these brown old homes

Is some one waiting ready,—

“‘Some fair, sweet girl with skilful hand

And cheerful heart for treasure,

Who never played with ivory keys,

Or danced the polka’s measure.’

“He bent his black brows to a frown,

He set his white teeth tightly.

‘’T is well,’ he said, ‘for one like you

To choose for me so lightly.

“‘You think, because my life is rude

I take no note of sweetness:

I tell you love has naught to do

With meetness or unmeetness.

“‘Itself its best excuse, it asks

No leave of pride or fashion

When silken zone or homespun frock

It stirs with throbs of passion.

“‘You think me deaf and blind: you bring

Your winning graces hither

As free as if from cradle-time

We two had played together.

“‘You tempt me with your laughing eyes,

Your cheek of sundown’s blushes,

A motion as of waving grain,

A music as of thrushes.

“‘The plaything of your summer sport,

The spells you weave around me

You cannot at your will undo,

Nor leave me as you found me.

“‘You go as lightly as you came,

Your life is well without me;

What care you that these hills will close

Like prison-walls about me?

“‘No mood is mine to seek a wife,

Or daughter for my mother:

Who loves you loses in that love

All power to love another!

“‘I dare your pity or your scorn,

With pride your own exceeding;

I fling my heart into your lap

Without a word of pleading.’

“She looked up in his face of pain

So archly, yet so tender:

‘And if I lend you mine,’ she said,

‘Will you forgive the lender?

“‘Nor frock nor tan can hide the man;

And see you not, my farmer,

How weak and fond a woman waits

Behind this silken armor?

“‘I love you: on that love alone,

And not my worth, presuming,

Will you not trust for summer fruit

The tree in May-day blooming?’

“Alone the hangbird overhead,

His hair-swung cradle straining,

Looked down to see love’s miracle,—

The giving that is gaining.

“And so the farmer found a wife,

His mother found a daughter:

There looks no happier home than hers

On pleasant Bearcamp Water.

“Flowers spring to blossom where she walks

The careful ways of duty;

Our hard, stiff lines of life with her

Are flowing curves of beauty.

“Our homes are cheerier for her sake,

Our door-yards brighter blooming,

And all about the social air

Is sweeter for her coming.

“Unspoken homilies of peace

Her daily life is preaching;

The still refreshment of the dew

Is her unconscious teaching.

“And never tenderer hand than hers

Unknits the brow of ailing;

Her garments to the sick man’s ear

Have music in their trailing.

“And when, in pleasant harvest moons,

The youthful huskers gather,

Or sleigh-drives on the mountain ways

Defy the winter weather,—

“In sugar-camps, when south and warm

The winds of March are blowing,

And sweetly from its thawing veins

The maple’s blood is flowing,—

“In summer, where some lilied pond

Its virgin zone is baring,

Or where the ruddy autumn fire

Lights up the apple-paring,—

“The coarseness of a ruder time

Her finer mirth displaces,

A subtler sense of pleasure fills

Each rustic sport she graces.

“Her presence lends its warmth and health

To all who come before it.

If woman lost us Eden, such

As she alone restore it.

“For larger life and wiser aims

The farmer is her debtor;

Who holds to his another’s heart

Must needs be worse or better.

“Through her his civic service shows

A purer-toned ambition;

No double consciousness divides

The man and politician.

“In party’s doubtful ways he trusts

Her instincts to determine;

At the loud polls, the thought of her

Recalls Christ’s Mountain Sermon.

“He owns her logic of the heart,

And wisdom of unreason,

Supplying, while he doubts and weighs,

The needed word in season.

“He sees with pride her richer thought,

Her fancy’s freer ranges;

And love thus deepened to respect

Is proof against all changes.

“And if she walks at ease in ways

His feet are slow to travel,

And if she reads with cultured eyes

What his may scarce unravel,

“Still clearer, for her keener sight

Of beauty and of wonder,

He learns the meaning of the hills

He dwelt from childhood under.

“And higher, warmed with summer lights,

Or winter-crowned and hoary,

The ridged horizon lifts for him

Its inner veils of glory.

“He has his own free, bookless lore,

The lessons nature taught him,

The wisdom which the woods and hills

And toiling men have brought him:

“The steady force of will whereby

Her flexile grace seems sweeter;

The sturdy counterpoise which makes

Her woman’s life completer;

“A latent fire of soul which lacks

No breath of love to fan it;

And wit, that, like his native brooks,

Plays over solid granite.

“How dwarfed against his manliness

She sees the poor pretension,

The wants, the aims, the follies, born

Of fashion and convention!

“How life behind its accidents

Stands strong and self-sustaining,

The human fact transcending all

The losing and the gaining.

“And so in grateful interchange

Of teacher and of hearer,

Their lives their true distinctness keep

While daily drawing nearer.

“And if the husband or the wife

In home’s strong light discovers

Such slight defaults as failed to meet

The blinded eyes of lovers,

“Why need we care to ask?—who dreams

Without their thorns of roses,

Or wonders that the truest steel

The readiest spark discloses?

“For still in mutual sufferance lies

The secret of true living;

Love scarce is love that never knows

The sweetness of forgiving.

“We send the Squire to General Court,

He takes his young wife thither;

No prouder man election day

Rides through the sweet June weather.

“He sees with eyes of manly trust

All hearts to her inclining;

Not less for him his household light

That others share its shining.”

Thus, while my hostess spake, there grew

Before me, warmer tinted

And outlined with a tenderer grace,

The picture that she hinted.

The sunset smouldered as we drove

Beneath the deep hill-shadows.

Below us wreaths of white fog walked

Like ghosts the haunted meadows.

Sounding the summer night, the stars

Dropped down their golden plummets;

The pale arc of the Northern lights

Rose o’er the mountain summits,

Until, at last, beneath its bridge,

We heard the Bearcamp flowing,

And saw across the mapled lawn

The welcome home-lights glowing.

And, musing on the tale I heard,

’T were well, thought I, if often

To rugged farm-life came the gift

To harmonize and soften;

If more and more we found the troth

Of fact and fancy plighted,

And culture’s charm and labor’s strength

In rural homes united,—

The simple life, the homely hearth,

With beauty’s sphere surrounding,

And blessing toil where toil abounds

With graces more abounding.