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

Narrative and Legendary Poems


  • The village of Haverhill, on the Merrimac, called by the Indians Pentucket, was for nearly seventeen years a frontier town, and during thirty years endured all the horrors of savage warfare. In the year 1708, a combined body of French and Indians, under the command of De Chaillons, and Hertel de Rouville, the infamous and bloody sacker of Deerfield, made an attack upon the village, which at that time contained only thirty houses. Sixteen of the villagers were massacred, and a still larger number made prisoners. About thirty of the enemy also fell, and among them Hertel de Rouville. The minister of the place, Benjamin Rolfe, was killed by a shot through his own door. In a paper entitled The Border War of 1708, published in my collection of Recreations and Miscellanies, I have given a prose narrative of the surprise of Haverhill.

  • HOW sweetly on the wood-girt town

    The mellow light of sunset shone!

    Each small, bright lake, whose waters still

    Mirror the forest and the hill,

    Reflected from its waveless breast

    The beauty of a cloudless west,

    Glorious as if a glimpse were given

    Within the western gates of heaven,

    Left, by the spirit of the star

    Of sunset’s holy hour, ajar!

    Beside the river’s tranquil flood

    The dark and low-walled dwellings stood,

    Where many a rood of open land

    Stretched up and down on either hand,

    With corn-leaves waving freshly green

    The thick and blackened stumps between.

    Behind, unbroken, deep and dread,

    The wild, untravelled forest spread,

    Back to those mountains, white and cold,

    Of which the Indian trapper told,

    Upon whose summits never yet

    Was mortal foot in safety set.

    Quiet and calm without a fear

    Of danger darkly lurking near,

    The weary laborer left his plough,

    The milkmaid carolled by her cow;

    From cottage door and household hearth

    Rose songs of praise, or tones of mirth.

    At length the murmur died away,

    And silence on that village lay.

    —So slept Pompeii, tower and hall,

    Ere the quick earthquake swallowed all,

    Undreaming of the fiery fate

    Which made its dwellings desolate!

    Hours passed away. By moonlight sped

    The Merrimac along his bed.

    Bathed in the pallid lustre, stood

    Dark cottage-wall and rock and wood,

    Silent, beneath that tranquil beam,

    As the hushed grouping of a dream.

    Yet on the still air crept a sound,

    No bark of fox, nor rabbit’s bound,

    Nor stir of wings, nor waters flowing,

    Nor leaves in midnight breezes blowing.

    Was that the tread of many feet,

    Which downward from the hillside beat?

    What forms were those which darkly stood

    Just on the margin of the wood?—

    Charred tree-stumps in the moonlight dim,

    Or paling rude, or leafless limb?

    No,—through the trees fierce eyeballs glowed,

    Dark human forms in moonshine showed,

    Wild from their native wilderness,

    With painted limbs and battle-dress!

    A yell the dead might wake to hear

    Swelled on the night air, far and clear;

    Then smote the Indian tomahawk

    On crashing door and shattering lock;

    Then rang the rifle-shot, and then

    The shrill death-scream of stricken men,—

    Sank the red axe in woman’s brain,

    And childhood’s cry arose in vain.

    Bursting through roof and window came,

    Red, fast, and fierce, the kindled flame,

    And blended fire and moonlight glared

    On still dead men and scalp-knives bared.

    The morning sun looked brightly through

    The river willows, wet with dew.

    No sound of combat filled the air,

    No shout was heard, nor gunshot there;

    Yet still the thick and sullen smoke

    From smouldering ruins slowly broke;

    And on the greensward many a stain,

    And, here and there, the mangled slain,

    Told how that midnight bolt had sped

    Pentucket, on thy fated head!

    Even now the villager can tell

    Where Rolfe beside his hearthstone fell,

    Still show the door of wasting oak,

    Through which the fatal death-shot broke,

    And point the curious stranger where

    De Rouville’s corse lay grim and bare;

    Whose hideous head, in death still feared,

    Bore not a trace of hair or beard;

    And still, within the churchyard ground,

    Heaves darkly up the ancient mound,

    Whose grass-grown surface overlies

    The victims of that sacrifice.