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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Exiles

  • The incidents upon which the following ballad has its foundation occurred about the year 1660. Thomas Macy was one of the first, if not the first white settler of Nantucket. The career of Macy is briefly but carefully outlined in James S. Pike’s The New Puritan.

  • THE GOODMAN sat beside his door

    One sultry afternoon,

    With his young wife singing at his side

    An old and goodly tune.

    A glimmer of heat was in the air,—

    The dark green woods were still;

    And the skirts of a heavy thunder-cloud

    Hung over the western hill.

    Black, thick, and vast arose that cloud

    Above the wilderness,

    As some dark world from upper air

    Were stooping over this.

    At times the solemn thunder pealed,

    And all was still again,

    Save a low murmur in the air

    Of coming wind and rain.

    Just as the first big rain-drop fell,

    A weary stranger came,

    And stood before the farmer’s door,

    With travel soiled and lame.

    Sad seemed he, yet sustaining hope

    Was in his quiet glance,

    And peace, like autumn’s moonlight, clothed

    His tranquil countenance,—

    A look, like that his Master wore

    In Pilate’s council-hall:

    It told of wrongs, but of a love

    Meekly forgiving all.

    “Friend! wilt thou give me shelter here?”

    The stranger meekly said;

    And, leaning on his oaken staff,

    The goodman’s features read.

    “My life is hunted,—evil men

    Are following in my track;

    The traces of the torturer’s whip

    Are on my aged back;

    “And much, I fear, ’t will peril thee

    Within thy doors to take

    A hunted seeker of the Truth,

    Oppressed for conscience’ sake.”

    Oh, kindly spoke the goodman’s wife,

    “Come in, old man!” quoth she,

    “We will not leave thee to the storm,

    Whoever thou mayst be.”

    Then came the aged wanderer in,

    And silent sat him down;

    While all within grew dark as night

    Beneath the storm-cloud’s frown.

    But while the sudden lightning’s blaze

    Filled every cottage nook,

    And with the jarring thunder-roll

    The loosened casements shook,

    A heavy tramp of horses’ feet

    Came sounding up the lane,

    And half a score of horse, or more,

    Came plunging through the rain.

    “Now, Goodman Macy, ope thy door,—

    We would not be house-breakers;

    A rueful deed thou ’st done this day,

    In harboring banished Quakers.”

    Out looked the cautious goodman then,

    With much of fear and awe,

    For there, with broad wig drenched with rain,

    The parish priest he saw.

    “Open thy door, thou wicked man,

    And let thy pastor in,

    And give God thanks, if forty stripes

    Repay thy deadly sin.”

    “What seek ye?” quoth the goodman;

    “The stranger is my guest;

    He is worn with toil and grievous wrong,—

    Pray let the old man rest.”

    “Now, out upon thee, canting knave!”

    And strong hands shook the door.

    “Believe me, Macy,” quoth the priest,

    “Thou ’lt rue thy conduct sore.”

    Then kindled Macy’s eye of fire:

    “No priest who walks the earth,

    Shall pluck away the stranger-guest

    Made welcome to my hearth.”

    Down from his cottage wall he caught

    The matchlock, hotly tried

    At Preston-pans and Marston-moor,

    By fiery Ireton’s side;

    Where Puritan, and Cavalier,

    With shout and psalm contended;

    And Rupert’s oath, and Cromwell’s prayer,

    With battle-thunder blended.

    Up rose the ancient stranger then:

    “My spirit is not free

    To bring the wrath and violence

    Of evil men on thee;

    “And for thyself, I pray forbear,

    Bethink thee of thy Lord,

    Who healed again the smitten ear,

    And sheathed His follower’s sword.

    “I go, as to the slaughter led.

    Friends of the poor, farewell!”

    Beneath his hand the oaken door

    Back on its hinges fell.

    “Come forth, old graybeard, yea and nay,”

    The reckless scoffers cried,

    As to a horseman’s saddle-bow

    The old man’s arms were tied.

    And of his bondage hard and long

    In Boston’s crowded jail,

    Where suffering woman’s prayer was heard,

    With sickening childhood’s wail,

    It suits not with our tale to tell;

    Those scenes have passed away;

    Let the dim shadows of the past

    Brood o’er that evil day.

    “Ho, sheriff!” quoth the ardent priest,

    “Take Goodman Macy too;

    The sin of this day’s heresy

    His back or purse shall rue.”

    “Now, goodwife, haste thee!” Macy cried.

    She caught his manly arm;

    Behind, the parson urged pursuit,

    With outcry and alarm.

    Ho! speed the Macys, neck or naught,—

    The river-course was near;

    The plashing on its pebbled shore

    Was music to their ear.

    A gray rock, tasselled o’er with birch,

    Above the waters hung,

    And at its base, with every wave,

    A small light wherry swung.

    A leap—they gain the boat—and there

    The goodman wields his oar;

    “Ill luck betide them all,” he cried,

    “The laggards on the shore.”

    Down through the crashing underwood,

    The burly sheriff came:—

    “Stand, Goodman Macy, yield thyself;

    Yield in the King’s own name.”

    “Now out upon thy hangman’s face!”

    Bold Macy answered then,—

    “Whip women, on the village green,

    But meddle not with men.”

    The priest came panting to the shore,

    His grave cocked hat was gone;

    Behind him, like some owl’s nest, hung

    His wig upon a thorn.

    “Come back,—come back!” the parson cried,

    “The church’s curse beware.”

    “Curse, an’ thou wilt,” said Macy, “but

    Thy blessing prithee spare.”

    “Vile scoffer!” cried the baffled priest,

    “Thou ’lt yet the gallows see.”

    “Who ’s born to be hanged will not be drowned,”

    Quoth Macy, merrily;

    “And so, sir sheriff and priest, good-by!”

    He bent him to his oar,

    And the small boat glided quietly

    From the twain upon the shore.

    Now in the west, the heavy clouds

    Scattered and fell asunder,

    While feebler came the rush of rain,

    And fainter growled the thunder.

    And through the broken clouds, the sun

    Looked out serene and warm,

    Painting its holy symbol-light

    Upon the passing storm.

    Oh, beautiful! that rainbow span,

    O’er dim Crane-neck was bended;

    One bright foot touched the eastern hills,

    And one with ocean blended.

    By green Pentucket’s southern slope

    The small boat glided fast;

    The watchers of the Block-house saw

    The strangers as they passed.

    That night a stalwart garrison

    Sat shaking in their shoes,

    To hear the dip of Indian oars,

    The glide of birch canoes.

    The fisher-wives of Salisbury—

    The men were all away—

    Looked out to see the stranger oar

    Upon their waters play.

    Deer-Island’s rocks and fir-trees threw

    Their sunset-shadows o’er them,

    And Newbury’s spire and weathercock

    Peered o’er the pines before them.

    Around the Black Rocks, on their left,

    The marsh lay broad and green;

    And on their right, with dwarf shrubs crowned,

    Plum Island’s hills were seen.

    With skilful hand and wary eye

    The harbor-bar was crossed;

    A plaything of the restless wave,

    The boat on ocean tossed.

    The glory of the sunset heaven

    On land and water lay;

    On the steep hills of Agawam,

    On cape, and bluff, and bay.

    They passed the gray rocks of Cape Ann,

    And Gloucester’s harbor-bar;

    The watch-fire of the garrison

    Shone like a setting star.

    How brightly broke the morning

    On Massachusetts Bay!

    Blue wave, and bright green island,

    Rejoicing in the day.

    On passed the bark in safety

    Round isle and headland steep;

    No tempest broke above them,

    No fog-cloud veiled the deep.

    Far round the bleak and stormy Cape

    The venturous Macy passed,

    And on Nantucket’s naked isle

    Drew up his boat at last.

    And how, in log-built cabin,

    They braved the rough sea-weather;

    And there, in peace and quietness,

    Went down life’s vale together;

    How others drew around them,

    And how their fishing sped,

    Until to every wind of heaven

    Nantucket’s sails were spread;

    How pale Want alternated

    With Plenty’s golden smile;

    Behold, is it not written

    In the annals of the isle?

    And yet that isle remaineth

    A refuge of the free,

    As when true-hearted Macy

    Beheld it from the sea.

    Free as the winds that winnow

    Her shrubless hills of sand,

    Free as the waves that batter

    Along her yielding land.

    Than hers, at duty’s summons,

    No loftier spirit stirs,

    Nor falls o’er human suffering

    A readier tear than hers.

    God bless the sea-beat island!

    And grant forevermore,

    That charity and freedom dwell

    As now upon her shore!