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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Cobbler Keezar’s Vision

  • This ballad was written on the occasion of a Horticultural Festival. Cobbler Keezar was a noted character among the first settlers in the valley of the Merrimac.

  • THE BEAVER cut his timber

    With patient teeth that day,

    The minks were fish-wards, and the crows

    Surveyors of highway,—

    When Keezar sat on the hillside

    Upon his cobbler’s form,

    With a pan of coals on either hand

    To keep his waxed-ends warm.

    And there, in the golden weather,

    He stitched and hammered and sung;

    In the brook he moistened his leather,

    In the pewter mug his tongue.

    Well knew the tough old Teuton

    Who brewed the stoutest ale,

    And he paid the goodwife’s reckoning

    In the coin of song and tale.

    The songs they still are singing

    Who dress the hills of vine,

    The tales that haunt the Brocken

    And whisper down the Rhine.

    Woodsy and wild and lonesome,

    The swift stream wound away,

    Through birches and scarlet maples

    Flashing in foam and spray,—

    Down on the sharp-horned ledges

    Plunging in steep cascade,

    Tossing its white-maned waters

    Against the hemlock’s shade.

    Woodsy and wild and lonesome,

    East and west and north and south;

    Only the village of fishers

    Down at the river’s mouth;

    Only here and there a clearing,

    With its farm-house rude and new,

    And tree-stumps, swart as Indians,

    Where the scanty harvest grew.

    No shout of home-bound reapers,

    No vintage-song he heard,

    And on the green no dancing feet

    The merry violin stirred.

    “Why should folk be glum,” said Keezar,

    “When Nature herself is glad,

    And the painted woods are laughing

    At the faces so sour and sad?”

    Small heed had the careless cobbler

    What sorrow of heart was theirs

    Who travailed in pain with the births of God,

    And planted a state with prayers,—

    Hunting of witches and warlocks,

    Smiting the heathen horde,—

    One hand on the mason’s trowel,

    And one on the soldier’s sword!

    But give him his ale and cider,

    Give him his pipe and song,

    Little he cared for Church or State,

    Or the balance of right and wrong.

    “’T is work, work, work,” he muttered,—

    “And for rest a snuffle of psalms!”

    He smote on his leathern apron

    With his brown and waxen palms.

    “Oh for the purple harvests

    Of the days when I was young!

    For the merry grape-stained maidens,

    And the pleasant songs they sung!

    “Oh for the breath of vineyards,

    Of apples and nuts and wine!

    For an oar to row and a breeze to blow

    Down the grand old river Rhine!”

    A tear in his blue eye glistened,

    And dropped on his beard so gray.

    “Old, old am I,” said Keezar,

    “And the Rhine flows far away!”

    But a cunning man was the cobbler;

    He could call the birds from the trees,

    Charm the black snake out of the ledges,

    And bring back the swarming bees.

    All the virtues of herbs and metals,

    All the lore of the woods, he knew,

    And the arts of the Old World mingled

    With the marvels of the New.

    Well he knew the tricks of magic,

    And the lapstone on his knee

    Had the gift of the Mormon’s goggles

    Or the stone of Doctor Dee.

    For the mighty master Agrippa

    Wrought it with spell and rhyme

    From a fragment of mystic moonstone

    In the tower of Nettesheim.

    To a cobbler Minnesinger

    The marvellous stone gave he,—

    And he gave it, in turn, to Keezar,

    Who brought it over the sea.

    He held up that mystic lapstone,

    He held it up like a lens,

    And he counted the long years coming

    By twenties and by tens.

    “One hundred years,” quoth Keezar,

    “And fifty have I told:

    Now open the new before me,

    And shut me out the old!”

    Like a cloud of mist, the blackness

    Rolled from the magic stone,

    And a marvellous picture mingled

    The unknown and the known.

    Still ran the stream to the river,

    And river and ocean joined;

    And there were the bluffs and the blue sea-line,

    And cold north hills behind.

    But the mighty forest was broken

    By many a steepled town,

    By many a white-walled farm-house,

    And many a garner brown.

    Turning a score of mill-wheels,

    The stream no more ran free;

    White sails on the winding river,

    White sails on the far-off sea.

    Below in the noisy village

    The flags were floating gay,

    And shone on a thousand faces

    The light of a holiday.

    Swiftly the rival ploughmen

    Turned the brown earth from their shares;

    Here were the farmer’s treasures,

    There were the craftsman’s wares.

    Golden the goodwife’s butter,

    Ruby her currant-wine;

    Grand were the strutting turkeys,

    Fat were the beeves and swine.

    Yellow and red were the apples,

    And the ripe pears russet-brown,

    And the peaches had stolen blushes

    From the girls who shook them down.

    And with blooms of hill and wildwood,

    That shame the toil of art,

    Mingled the gorgeous blossoms

    Of the garden’s tropic heart.

    “What is it I see?” said Keezar:

    “Am I here, or am I there?

    Is it a fête at Bingen?

    Do I look on Frankfort fair?

    “But where are the clowns and puppets,

    And imps with horns and tail?

    And where are the Rhenish flagons?

    And where is the foaming ale?

    “Strange things, I know, will happen,—

    Strange things the Lord permits;

    But that droughty folk should be jolly

    Puzzles my poor old wits.

    “Here are smiling manly faces,

    And the maiden’s step is gay;

    Nor sad by thinking, nor mad by drinking,

    Nor mopes, nor fools, are they.

    “Here ’s pleasure without regretting,

    And good without abuse,

    The holiday and the bridal

    Of beauty and of use.

    “Here ’s a priest and there is a Quaker,

    Do the cat and dog agree?

    Have they burned the stocks for ovenwood?

    Have they cut down the gallows-tree?

    “Would the old folk know their children?

    Would they own the graceless town,

    With never a ranter to worry

    And never a witch to drown?”

    Loud laughed the cobbler Keezar,

    Laughed like a school-boy gay;

    Tossing his arms above him,

    The lapstone rolled away.

    It rolled down the rugged hillside,

    It spun like a wheel bewitched,

    It plunged through the leaning willows,

    And into the river pitched.

    There, in the deep, dark water,

    The magic stone lies still,

    Under the leaning willows

    In the shadow of the hill.

    But oft the idle fisher

    Sits on the shadowy bank,

    And his dreams make marvellous pictures

    Where the wizard’s lapstone sank.

    And still, in the summer twilights,

    When the river seems to run

    Out from the inner glory,

    Warm with the melted sun,

    The weary mill-girl lingers

    Beside the charmëd stream,

    And the sky and the golden water

    Shape and color her dream.

    Fair wave the sunset gardens,

    The rosy signals fly;

    Her homestead beckons from the cloud,

    And love goes sailing by.