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I. The River Valley

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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Mabel Martin
I. The River Valley

ACROSS the level tableland,

A grassy, rarely trodden way,

With thinnest skirt of birchen spray

And stunted growth of cedar, leads

To where you see the dull plain fall

Sheer off, steep-slanted, ploughed by all

The seasons’ rainfalls. On its brink

The over-leaning harebells swing,

With roots half bare the pine-trees cling;

And, through the shadow looking west,

You see the wavering river flow

Along a vale, that far below

Holds to the sun, the sheltering hills

And glimmering water-line between,

Broad fields of corn and meadows green,

And fruit-bent orchards grouped around

The low brown roofs and painted eaves,

And chimney-tops half hid in leaves.

No warmer valley hides behind

Yon wind-scourged sand-dunes, cold and bleak;

No fairer river comes to seek

The wave-sung welcome of the sea,

Or mark the northmost border line

Of sun-loved growths of nut and vine.

Here, ground-fast in their native fields,

Untempted by the city’s gain,

The quiet farmer folk remain

Who bear the pleasant name of Friends,

And keep their fathers’ gentle ways

And simple speech of Bible days;

In whose neat homesteads woman holds

With modest ease her equal place,

And wears upon her tranquil face

The look of one who, merging not

Her self-hood in another’s will,

Is love’s and duty’s handmaid still.

Pass with me down the path that winds

Through birches to the open land,

Where, close upon the river strand

You mark a cellar, vine o’errun,

Above whose wall of loosened stones

The sumach lifts its reddening cones,

And the black nightshade’s berries shine,

And broad, unsightly burdocks fold

The household ruin, century-old.

Here, in the dim colonial time

Of sterner lives and gloomier faith,

A woman lived, tradition saith,

Who wrought her neighbors foul annoy,

And witched and plagued the country-side,

Till at the hangman’s hand she died.

Sit with me while the westering day

Falls slantwise down the quiet vale,

And, haply ere yon loitering sail,

That rounds the upper headland, falls

Below Deer Island’s pines, or sees

Behind it Hawkswood’s belt of trees

Rise black against the sinking sun,

My idyl of its days of old,

The valley’s legend, shall be told.