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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Countess

  • To E. W.
  • I inscribed this poem to Dr. Elias Weld of Haverhill, Massachusetts, to whose kindness I was much indebted in my boyhood. He was the one cultivated man in the neighborhood. His small but well-chosen library was placed at my disposal. He is the “wise old doctor” of Snow-Bound.
  • Count François de Vipart with his cousin Joseph Rochemont de Poyen came to the United States in the early part of the present century. They took up their residence at Rocks Village on the Merrimac, where they both married. The wife of Count Vipart was Mary Ingalls, who as my father remembered her was a very lovely young girl. Her wedding dress, as described by a lady still living, was “pink satin with an overdress of white lace, and white satin slippers.” She died in less than a year after her marriage. Her husband returned to his native country. He lies buried in the family tomb of the Viparts at Bordeaux.

  • I KNOW not, Time and Space so intervene,

    Whether, still waiting with a trust serene,

    Thou bearest up thy fourscore years and ten,

    Or, called at last, art now Heaven’s citizen;

    But, here or there, a pleasant thought of thee,

    Like an old friend, all day has been with me.

    The shy, still boy, for whom thy kindly hand

    Smoothed his hard pathway to the wonder-land

    Of thought and fancy, in gray manhood yet

    Keeps green the memory of his early debt.

    To-day, when truth and falsehood speak their words

    Through hot-lipped cannon and the teeth of swords,

    Listening with quickened heart and ear intent

    To each sharp clause of that stern argument,

    I still can hear at times a softer note

    Of the old pastoral music round me float,

    While through the hot gleam of our civil strife

    Looms the green mirage of a simpler life.

    As, at his alien post, the sentinel

    Drops the old bucket in the homestead well,

    And hears old voices in the winds that toss

    Above his head the live-oak’s beard of moss,

    So, in our trial-time, and under skies

    Shadowed by swords like Islam’s paradise,

    I wait and watch, and let my fancy stray

    To milder scenes and youth’s Arcadian day;

    And howsoe’er the pencil dipped in dreams

    Shades the brown woods or tints the sunset streams,

    The country doctor in the foreground seems,

    Whose ancient sulky down the village lanes

    Dragged, like a war-car, captive ills and pains.

    I could not paint the scenery of my song,

    Mindless of one who looked thereon so long;

    Who, night and day, on duty’s lonely round,

    Made friends o’ the woods and rocks, and knew the sound

    Of each small brook, and what the hillside trees

    Said to the winds that touched their leafy keys;

    Who saw so keenly and so well could paint

    The village-folk, with all their humors quaint,—

    The parson ambling on his wall-eyed roan.

    Grave and erect, with white hair backward blown;

    The tough old boatman, half amphibious grown;

    The muttering witch-wife of the gossip’s tale,

    And the loud straggler levying his blackmail,—

    Old customs, habits, superstitions, fears,

    All that lies buried under fifty years.

    To thee, as is most fit, I bring my lay,

    And, grateful, own the debt I cannot pay.


    Over the wooded northern ridge,

    Between its houses brown,

    To the dark tunnel of the bridge

    The street comes straggling down.

    You catch a glimpse, through birch and pine,

    Of gable, roof, and porch,

    The tavern with its swinging sign,

    The sharp horn of the church.

    The river’s steel-blue crescent curves

    To meet, in ebb and flow,

    The single broken wharf that serves

    For sloop and gundelow.

    With salt sea-scents along its shores

    The heavy hay-boats crawl,

    The long antennæ of their oars

    In lazy rise and fall.

    Along the gray abutment’s wall

    The idle shad-net dries;

    The toll-man in his cobbler’s stall

    Sits smoking with closed eyes.

    You hear the pier’s low undertone

    Of waves that chafe and gnaw;

    You start,—a skipper’s horn is blown

    To raise the creaking draw.

    At times a blacksmith’s anvil sounds

    With slow and sluggard beat,

    Or stage-coach on its dusty rounds

    Wakes up the staring street.

    A place for idle eyes and ears,

    A cobwebbed nook of dreams;

    Left by the stream whose waves are years

    The stranded village seems.

    And there, like other moss and rust,

    The native dweller clings,

    And keeps, in uninquiring trust,

    The old, dull round of things.

    The fisher drops his patient lines,

    The farmer sows his grain,

    Content to hear the murmuring pines

    Instead of railroad-train.

    Go where, along the tangled steep

    That slopes against the west,

    The hamlet’s buried idlers sleep

    In still profounder rest.

    Throw back the locust’s flowery plume,

    The birch’s pale-green scarf,

    And break the web of brier and bloom

    From name and epitaph.

    A simple muster-roll of death,

    Of pomp and romance shorn,

    The dry, old names that common breath

    Has cheapened and outworn.

    Yet pause by one low mound, and part

    The wild vines o’er it laced,

    And read the words by rustic art

    Upon its headstone traced.

    Haply yon white-haired villager

    Of fourscore years can say

    What means the noble name of her

    Who sleeps with common clay.

    An exile from the Gascon land

    Found refuge here and rest,

    And loved, of all the village band,

    Its fairest and its best.

    He knelt with her on Sabbath morns,

    He worshipped through her eyes,

    And on the pride that doubts and scorns

    Stole in her faith’s surprise.

    Her simple daily life he saw

    By homeliest duties tried,

    In all things by an untaught law

    Of fitness justified.

    For her his rank aside he laid;

    He took the hue and tone

    Of lowly life and toil, and made

    Her simple ways his own.

    Yet still, in gay and careless ease,

    To harvest-field or dance

    He brought the gentle courtesies,

    The nameless grace of France.

    And she who taught him love not less

    From him she loved in turn

    Caught in her sweet unconsciousness

    What love is quick to learn.

    Each grew to each in pleased accord,

    Nor knew the gazing town

    If she looked upward to her lord

    Or he to her looked down.

    How sweet, when summer’s day was o’er,

    His violin’s mirth and wail,

    The walk on pleasant Newbury’s shore,

    The river’s moonlit sail!

    Ah! life is brief, though love be long;

    The altar and the bier,

    The burial hymn and bridal song,

    Were both in one short year!

    Her rest is quiet on the hill,

    Beneath the locust’s bloom:

    Far off her lover sleeps as still

    Within his scutcheoned tomb.

    The Gascon lord, the village maid,

    In death still clasp their hands;

    The love that levels rank and grade

    Unites their severed lands.

    What matter whose the hillside grave,

    Or whose the blazoned stone?

    Forever to her western wave

    Shall whisper blue Garonne!

    O Love!—so hallowing every soil

    That gives thy sweet flower room,

    Wherever, nursed by ease or toil,

    The human heart takes bloom!—

    Plant of lost Eden, from the sod

    Of sinful earth unriven,

    White blossom of the trees of God

    Dropped down to us from heaven!—

    This tangled waste of mound and stone

    Is holy for thy sake;

    A sweetness which is all thy own

    Breathes out from fern and brake.

    And while ancestral pride shall twine

    The Gascon’s tomb with flowers,

    Fall sweetly here, O song of mine,

    With summer’s bloom and showers!

    And let the lines that severed seem

    Unite again in thee,

    As western wave and Gallic stream

    Are mingled in one sea!