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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Fountain

  • On the declivity of a hill in Salisbury, Essex County, is a fountain of clear water, gushing from the very roots of a venerable oak. It is about two miles from the junction of the Powow River with the Merrimac.

  • TRAVELLER! on thy journey toiling

    By the swift Powow,

    With the summer sunshine falling

    On thy heated brow,

    Listen, while all else is still,

    To the brooklet from the hill.

    Wild and sweet the flowers are blowing

    By that streamlet’s side,

    And a greener verdure showing

    Where its waters glide,

    Down the hill-slope murmuring on,

    Over root and mossy stone.

    Where yon oak his broad arms flingeth

    O’er the sloping hill,

    Beautiful and freshly springeth

    That soft-flowing rill,

    Through its dark roots wreathed and bare,

    Gushing up to sun and air.

    Brighter waters sparkled never

    In that magic well,

    Of whose gift of life forever

    Ancient legends tell,

    In the lonely desert wasted,

    And by mortal lip untasted.

    Waters which the proud Castilian

    Sought with longing eyes,

    Underneath the bright pavilion

    Of the Indian skies,

    Where his forest pathway lay

    Through the blooms of Florida.

    Years ago a lonely stranger,

    With the dusky brow

    Of the outcast forest-ranger,

    Crossed the swift Powow,

    And betook him to the rill

    And the oak upon the hill.

    O’er his face of moody sadness

    For an instant shone

    Something like a gleam of gladness,

    As he stooped him down

    To the fountain’s grassy side,

    And his eager thirst supplied.

    With the oak its shadow throwing

    O’er his mossy seat,

    And the cool, sweet waters flowing

    Softly at his feet,

    Closely by the fountain’s rim

    That lone Indian seated him.

    Autumn’s earliest frost had given

    To the woods below

    Hues of beauty, such as heaven

    Lendeth to its bow;

    And the soft breeze from the west

    Scarcely broke their dreamy rest.

    Far behind was Ocean striving

    With his chains of sand;

    Southward, sunny glimpses giving,

    ’Twixt the swells of land,

    Of its calm and silvery track,

    Rolled the tranquil Merrimac.

    Over village, wood, and meadow

    Gazed that stranger man,

    Sadly, till the twilight shadow

    Over all things ran,

    Save where spire and westward pane

    Flashed the sunset back again.

    Gazing thus upon the dwelling

    Of his warrior sires,

    Where no lingering trace was telling

    Of their wigwam fires,

    Who the gloomy thoughts might know

    Of that wandering child of woe?

    Naked lay, in sunshine glowing,

    Hills that once had stood

    Down their sides the shadows throwing

    Of a mighty wood,

    Where the deer his covert kept,

    And the eagle’s pinion swept!

    Where the birch canoe had glided

    Down the swift Powow,

    Dark and gloomy bridges strided

    Those clear waters now;

    And where once the beaver swam,

    Jarred the wheel and frowned the dam.

    For the wood-bird’s merry singing,

    And the hunter’s cheer,

    Iron clang and hammer’s ringing

    Smote upon his ear;

    And the thick and sullen smoke

    From the blackened forges broke.

    Could it be his fathers ever

    Loved to linger here?

    These bare hills, this conquered river,—

    Could they hold them dear,

    With their native loveliness

    Tamed and tortured into this?

    Sadly, as the shades of even

    Gathered o’er the hill,

    While the western half of heaven

    Blushed with sunset still,

    From the fountain’s mossy seat

    Turned the Indian’s weary feet.

    Year on year hath flown forever,

    But he came no more

    To the hillside on the river

    Where he came before.

    But the villager can tell

    Of that strange man’s visit well.

    And the merry children, laden

    With their fruits or flowers,—

    Roving boy and laughing maiden,

    In their school-day hours,

    Love the simple tale to tell

    Of the Indian and his well.