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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Banished from Massachusetts

  • 1660
  • On a painting by E. A. Abbey. The General Court of Massachusetts enacted Oct. 19, 1658, that “any person or persons of the cursed sect of Quakers” should, on conviction of the same, be banished, on pain of death, from the jurisdiction of the commonwealth.

  • OVER the threshold of his pleasant home

    Set in green clearings passed the exiled Friend,

    In simple trust, misdoubting not the end.

    “Dear heart of mine!” he said, “the time has come

    To trust the Lord for shelter.” One long gaze

    The goodwife turned on each familiar thing,—

    The lowing kine, the orchard blossoming,

    The open door that showed the hearth-fire’s blaze,—

    And calmly answered, “Yes, He will provide.”

    Silent and slow they crossed the homestead’s bound,

    Lingering the longest by their child’s grave-mound.

    “Move on, or stay and hang!” the sheriff cried.

    They left behind them more than home or land,

    And set sad faces to an alien strand.

    Safer with winds and waves than human wrath,

    With ravening wolves than those whose zeal for God

    Was cruelty to man, the exiles trod

    Drear leagues of forest without guide or path,

    Or launching frail boats on the uncharted sea,

    Round storm-vexed capes, whose teeth of granite ground

    The waves to foam, their perilous way they wound,

    Enduring all things so their souls were free.

    Oh, true confessors, shaming them who did

    Anew the wrong their Pilgrim Fathers bore!

    For you the Mayflower spread her sail once more,

    Freighted with souls, to all that duty bid

    Faithful as they who sought an unknown land,

    O’er wintry seas, from Holland’s Hook of Sand!

    So from his lost home to the darkening main,

    Bodeful of storm, stout Macy held his way,

    And, when the green shore blended with the gray,

    His poor wife moaned: “Let us turn back again.”

    “Nay, woman, weak of faith, kneel down,” said he,

    “And say thy prayers: the Lord himself will steer;

    And led by Him, nor man nor devils I fear!”

    So the gray Southwicks, from a rainy sea,

    Saw, far and faint, the loom of land, and gave

    With feeble voices thanks for friendly ground

    Whereon to rest their weary feet, and found

    A peaceful death-bed and a quiet grave

    Where, ocean-walled, and wiser than his age,

    The lord of Shelter scorned the bigot’s rage.

    Aquidneck’s isle, Nantucket’s lonely shores,

    And Indian-haunted Narragansett saw

    The way-worn travellers round their camp-fire draw,

    Or heard the plashing of their weary oars.

    And every place whereon they rested grew

    Happier for pure and gracious womanhood,

    And men whose names for stainless honor stood,

    Founders of States and rulers wise and true.

    The Muse of history yet shall make amends

    To those who freedom, peace, and justice taught,

    Beyond their dark age led the van of thought,

    And left unforfeited the name of Friends.

    O mother State, how foiled was thy design!

    The gain was theirs, the loss alone was thine.