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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

Maud Muller

  • The recollection of some descendants of a Hessian deserter in the Revolutionary war bearing the name of Muller doubtless suggested the somewhat infelicitous title of a New England idyl. The poem had no real foundation in fact, though a hint of it may have been found in recalling an incident, trivial in itself, of a journey on the picturesque Maine seaboard with my sister some years before it was written. We had stopped to rest our tired horse under the shade of an apple-tree, and refresh him with water from a little brook which rippled through the stone wall across the road. A very beautiful young girl in scantest summer attire was at work in the hay-field, and as we talked with her we noticed that she strove to hide her bare feet by raking hay over them, blushing as she did so, through the tan of her cheek and neck.

  • MAUD MULLER on a summer’s day,

    Raked the meadow sweet with hay.

    Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth

    Of simple beauty and rustic health.

    Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee

    The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

    But when she glanced to the far-off town,

    White from its hill-slope looking down,

    The sweet song died, and a vague unrest

    And a nameless longing filled her breast,—

    A wish, that she hardly dared to own,

    For something better than she had known.

    The Judge rode slowly down the lane,

    Smoothing his horse’s chestnut mane.

    He drew his bridle in the shade

    Of the apple-trees, to greet the maid,

    And asked a draught from the spring that flowed

    Through the meadow across the road.

    She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,

    And filled for him her small tin cup,

    And blushed as she gave it, looking down

    On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

    “Thanks!” said the Judge; “a sweeter draught

    From a fairer hand was never quaffed.”

    He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,

    Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

    Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether

    The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

    And Maud forgot her brier-torn gown,

    And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

    And listened, while a pleased surprise

    Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

    At last, like one who for delay

    Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away.

    Maud Muller looked and sighed: “Ah me!

    That I the Judge’s bride might be!

    “He would dress me up in silks so fine,

    And praise and toast me at his wine.

    “My father should wear a broadcloth coat;

    My brother should sail a painted boat.

    “I ’d dress my mother so grand and gay,

    And the baby should have a new toy each day.

    “And I ’d feed the hungry and clothe the poor,

    And all should bless me who left our door.”

    The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,

    And saw Maud Muller standing still.

    “A form more fair, a face more sweet,

    Ne’er hath it been my lot to meet.

    “And her modest answer and graceful air

    Show her wise and good as she is fair.

    “Would she were mine, and I to-day,

    Like her, a harvester of hay;

    “No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,

    Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

    “But low of cattle and song of birds,

    And health and quiet and loving words.”

    But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,

    And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

    So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,

    And Maud was left in the field alone.

    But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,

    When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

    And the young girl mused beside the well

    Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

    He wedded a wife of richest dower,

    Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

    Yet oft, in his marble hearth’s bright glow,

    He watched a picture come and go;

    And sweet Maud Muller’s hazel eyes

    Looked out in their innocent surprise.

    Oft, when the wine in his glass was red,

    He longed for the wayside well instead;

    And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms

    To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

    And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,

    “Ah, that I were free again!

    “Free as when I rode that day,

    Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay.”

    She wedded a man unlearned and poor,

    And many children played round her door.

    But care and sorrow, and childbirth pain,

    Left their traces on heart and brain.

    And oft, when the summer sun shone hot

    On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

    And she heard the little spring brook fall

    Over the roadside, through the wall,

    In the shade of the apple-tree again

    She saw a rider draw his rein.

    And, gazing down with timid grace,

    She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

    Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls

    Stretched away into stately halls;

    The weary wheel to a spinnet turned,

    The tallow candle an astral burned,

    And for him who sat by the chimney lug,

    Dozing and grumbling o’er pipe and mug,

    A manly form at her side she saw,

    And joy was duty and love was law.

    Then she took up her burden of life again,

    Saying only, “It might have been.”

    Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,

    For rich repiner and household drudge!

    God pity them both! and pity us all,

    Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

    For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

    The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

    Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies

    Deeply buried from human eyes;

    And, in the hereafter, angels may

    Roll the stone from its grave away!