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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Homestead

AGAINST the wooded hills it stands,

Ghost of a dead home, staring through

Its broken lights on wasted lands

Where old-time harvests grew.

Unploughed, unsown, by scythe unshorn,

The poor, forsaken farm-fields lie,

Once rich and rife with golden corn

And pale green breadths of rye.

Of healthful herb and flower bereft,

The garden plot no housewife keeps;

Through weeds and tangle only left,

The snake, its tenant, creeps.

A lilac spray, still blossom-clad,

Sways slow before the empty rooms;

Beside the roofless porch a sad

Pathetic red rose blooms.

His track, in mould and dust of drouth,

On floor and hearth the squirrel leaves,

And in the fireless chimney’s mouth

His web the spider weaves.

The leaning barn, about to fall,

Resounds no more on husking eves;

No cattle low in yard or stall,

No thresher beats his sheaves.

So sad, so drear! It seems almost

Some haunting Presence makes its sign;

That down yon shadowy lane some ghost

Might drive his spectral kine!

O home so desolate and lorn!

Did all thy memories die with thee?

Were any wed, were any born,

Beneath this low roof-tree?

Whose axe the wall of forest broke,

And let the waiting sunshine through?

What goodwife sent the earliest smoke

Up the great chimney flue?

Did rustic lovers hither come?

Did maidens, swaying back and forth

In rhythmic grace, at wheel and loom,

Make light their toil with mirth?

Did child feet patter on the stair?

Did boyhood frolic in the snow?

Did gray age, in her elbow chair,

Knit, rocking to and fro?

The murmuring brook, the sighing breeze,

The pine’s slow whisper, cannot tell;

Low mounds beneath the hemlock-trees

Keep the home secrets well.

Cease, mother-land, to fondly boast

Of sons far off who strive and thrive,

Forgetful that each swarming host

Must leave an emptier hive!

O wanderers from ancestral soil,

Leave noisome mill and chaffering store:

Gird up your loins for sturdier toil,

And build the home once more!

Come back to bayberry-scented slopes,

And fragrant fern, and ground-nut vine;

Breathe airs blown over holt and copse

Sweet with black birch and pine.

What matter if the gains are small

That life’s essential wants supply?

Your homestead’s title gives you all

That idle wealth can buy.

All that the many-dollared crave,

The brick-walled slaves of ’Change and mart,

Lawns, trees, fresh air, and flowers, you have,

More dear for lack of art.

Your own sole masters, freedom-willed,

With none to bid you go or stay,

Till the old fields your fathers tilled,

As manly men as they!

With skill that spares your toiling hands,

And chemic aid that science brings,

Reclaim the waste and outworn lands,

And reign thereon as kings!