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To H. P. S.

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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Bay of Seven Islands
To H. P. S.

  • The volume in which The Bay of Seven Islands was published was dedicated to the late Edwin Percy Whipple, to whom more than to any other person I was indebted for public recognition as one worthy of a place in American literature, at a time when it required a great degree of courage to urge such a claim for a proscribed abolitionist. Although younger than I, he had gained the reputation of a brilliant essayist, and was regarded as the highest American authority in criticism. His wit and wisdom enlivened a small literary circle of young men including Thomas Starr King, the eloquent preacher, and Daniel N. Haskell of the Daily Transcript, who gathered about our common friend James T. Fields at the Old Corner Bookstore. The poem which gave title to the volume I inscribed to my friend and neighbor Harriet Prescott Spofford, whose poems have lent a new interest to our beautiful river-valley.

  • FROM the green Amesbury hill which bears the name

    Of that half mythic ancestor of mine

    Who trod its slopes two hundred years ago,

    Down the long valley of the Merrimac,

    Midway between me and the river’s mouth,

    I see thy home, set like an eagle’s nest

    Among Deer Island’s immemorial pines,

    Crowning the crag on which the sunset breaks

    Its last red arrow. Many a tale and song,

    Which thou hast told or sung, I call to mind,

    Softening with silvery mist the woods and hills,

    The out-thrust headlands and inreaching bays

    Of our northeastern coast-line, trending where

    The Gulf, midsummer, feels the chill blockade

    Of icebergs stranded at its northern gate.

    To thee the echoes of the Island Sound

    Answer not vainly, nor in vain the moan

    Of the South Breaker prophesying storm.

    And thou hast listened, like myself, to men

    Sea-periled oft where Anticosti lies

    Like a fell spider in its web of fog,

    Or where the Grand Bank shallows with the wrecks

    Of sunken fishers, and to whom strange isles

    And frost-rimmed bays and trading stations seem

    Familiar as Great Neck and Kettle Cove,

    Nubble and Boon, the common names of home.

    So let me offer thee this lay of mine,

    Simple and homely, lacking much thy play

    Of color and of fancy. If its theme

    And treatment seem to thee befitting youth

    Rather than age, let this be my excuse:

    It has beguiled some heavy hours and called

    Some pleasant memories up; and, better still,

    Occasion lent me for a kindly word

    To one who is my neighbor and my friend.