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

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Witch of Wenham

  • The house is still standing in Danvers, Mass., where, it is said, a suspected witch was confined overnight in the attic, which was bolted fast. In the morning when the constable came to take her to Salem for trial she was missing, although the door was still bolted. Her escape was doubtless aided by her friends, but at the time it was attributed to Satanic interference.

  • I.
    ALONG Crane River’s sunny slopes

    Blew warm the winds of May,

    And over Naumkeag’s ancient oaks

    The green outgrew the gray.

    The grass was green on Rial-side,

    The early birds at will

    Waked up the violet in its dell,

    The wind-flower on its hill.

    “Where go you, in your Sunday coat,

    Son Andrew, tell me, pray.”

    “For stripëd perch in Wenham Lake

    I go to fish to-day.”

    “Unharmed of thee in Wenham Lake

    The mottled perch shall be:

    A blue-eyed witch sits on the bank

    And weaves her net for thee.

    “She weaves her golden hair; she sings

    Her spell-song low and faint;

    The wickedest witch in Salem jail

    Is to that girl a saint.”

    “Nay, mother, hold thy cruel tongue;

    God knows,” the young man cried,

    “He never made a whiter soul

    Than hers by Wenham side.

    “She tends her mother sick and blind,

    And every want supplies;

    To her above the blessed Book

    She lends her soft blue eyes.

    “Her voice is glad with holy songs,

    Her lips are sweet with prayer;

    Go where you will, in ten miles round

    Is none more good and fair.”

    “Son Andrew, for the love of God

    And of thy mother, stay!”

    She clasped her hands, she wept aloud,

    But Andrew rode away.

    “O reverend sir, my Andrew’s soul

    The Wenham witch has caught;

    She holds him with the curlëd gold

    Whereof her snare is wrought.

    “She charms him with her great blue eyes,

    She binds him with her hair;

    Oh, break the spell with holy words,

    Unbind him with a prayer!”

    “Take heart,” the painful preacher said,

    “This mischief shall not be;

    The witch shall perish in her sins

    And Andrew shall go free.

    “Our poor Ann Putnam testifies

    She saw her weave a spell,

    Bare-armed, loose-haired, at full of moon,

    Around a dried-up well.

    “‘Spring up, O well!’ she softly sang

    The Hebrew’s old refrain

    (For Satan uses Bible words),

    Till water flowed amain.

    “And many a goodwife heard her speak

    By Wenham water words

    That made the buttercups take wings

    And turn to yellow birds.

    “They say that swarming wild bees seek

    The hive at her command;

    And fishes swim to take their food

    From out her dainty hand.

    “Meek as she sits in meeting-time,

    The godly minister

    Notes well the spell that doth compel

    The young men’s eyes to her.

    “The mole upon her dimpled chin

    Is Satan’s seal and sign;

    Her lips are red with evil bread

    And stain of unblest wine.

    “For Tituba, my Indian, saith

    At Quasycung she took

    The Black Man’s godless sacrament

    And signed his dreadful book.

    “Last night my sore-afflicted child

    Against the young witch cried.

    To take her Marshal Herrick rides

    Even now to Wenham side.”

    The marshal in his saddle sat,

    His daughter at his knee;

    “I go to fetch that arrant witch,

    Thy fair playmate,” quoth he.

    “Her spectre walks the parsonage,

    And haunts both hall and stair;

    They know her by the great blue eyes

    And floating gold of hair.”

    “They lie, they lie, my father dear!

    No foul old witch is she,

    But sweet and good and crystal-pure

    As Wenham waters be.”

    “I tell thee, child, the Lord hath set

    Before us good and ill,

    And woe to all whose carnal loves

    Oppose His righteous will.

    “Between Him and the powers of hell

    Choose thou, my child, to-day:

    No sparing hand, no pitying eye,

    When God commands to slay!”

    He went his way; the old wives shook

    With fear as he drew nigh;

    The children in the dooryards held

    Their breath as he passed by.

    Too well they knew the gaunt gray horse

    The grim witch-hunter rode

    The pale Apocalyptic beast

    By grisly Death bestrode.

    Oh, fair the face of Wenham Lake

    Upon the young girl’s shone,

    Her tender mouth, her dreaming eyes,

    Her yellow hair outblown.

    By happy youth and love attuned

    To natural harmonies,

    The singing birds, the whispering wind,

    She sat beneath the trees.

    Sat shaping for her bridal dress

    Her mother’s wedding gown,

    When lo! the marshal, writ in hand,

    From Alford hill rode down.

    His face was hard with cruel fear,

    He grasped the maiden’s hands:

    “Come with me unto Salem town,

    For so the law commands!”

    “Oh, let me to my mother say

    Farewell before I go!”

    He closer tied her little hands

    Unto his saddle bow.

    “Unhand me,” cried she piteously,

    “For thy sweet daughter’s sake.”

    “I ’ll keep my daughter safe,” he said,

    “From the witch of Wenham Lake.”

    “Oh, leave me for my mother’s sake,

    She needs my eyes to see.”

    “Those eyes, young witch, the crows shall peck

    From off the gallows-tree.”

    He bore her to a farm-house old,

    And up its stairway long,

    And closed on her the garret-door

    With iron bolted strong.

    The day died out, the night came down:

    Her evening prayer she said,

    While, through the dark, strange faces seemed

    To mock her as she prayed.

    The present horror deepened all

    The fears her childhood knew;

    The awe wherewith the air was filled

    With every breath she drew.

    And could it be, she trembling asked,

    Some secret thought or sin

    Had shut good angels from her heart

    And let the bad ones in?

    Had she in some forgotten dream

    Let go her hold on Heaven,

    And sold herself unwittingly

    To spirits unforgiven?

    Oh, weird and still the dark hours passed,

    No human sound she heard,

    But up and down the chimney stack

    The swallows moaned and stirred.

    And o’er her, with a dread surmise

    Of evil sight and sound,

    The blind bats on their leathern wings

    Went wheeling round and round.

    Low hanging in the midnight sky

    Looked in a half-faced moon.

    Was it a dream, or did she hear

    Her lover’s whistled tune?

    She forced the oaken scuttle back;

    A whisper reached her ear:

    “Slide down the roof to me,” it said,

    “So softly none may hear.”

    She slid along the sloping roof

    Till from its eaves she hung,

    And felt the loosened shingles yield

    To which her fingers clung.

    Below, her lover stretched his hands

    And touched her feet so small;

    “Drop down to me, dear heart,” he said,

    “My arms shall break the fall.”

    He set her on his pillion soft,

    Her arms about him twined;

    And, noiseless as if velvet-shod,

    They left the house behind.

    But when they reached the open way,

    Full free the rein he cast;

    Oh, never through the mirk midnight

    Rode man and maid more fast.

    Along the wild wood-paths they sped,

    The bridgeless streams they swam;

    At set of moon they passed the Bass,

    At sunrise Agawam.

    At high noon on the Merrimac

    The ancient ferryman

    Forgot, at times, his idle oars,

    So fair a freight to scan.

    And when from off his grounded boat

    He saw them mount and ride,

    “God keep her from the evil eye,

    And harm of witch!” he cried.

    The maiden laughed, as youth will laugh

    At all its fears gone by;

    “He does not know,” she whispered low,

    “A little witch am I.”

    All day he urged his weary horse,

    And, in the red sundown,

    Drew rein before a friendly door

    In distant Berwick town.

    A fellow-feeling for the wronged

    The Quaker people felt;

    And safe beside their kindly hearths

    The hunted maiden dwelt,

    Until from off its breast the land

    The haunting horror threw,

    And hatred, born of ghastly dreams,

    To shame and pity grew.

    Sad were the year’s spring morns, and sad

    Its golden summer day,

    But blithe and glad its withered fields,

    And skies of ashen gray;

    For spell and charm had power no more,

    The spectres ceased to roam,

    And scattered households knelt again

    Around the hearths of home.

    And when once more by Beaver Dam

    The meadow-lark outsang,

    And once again on all the hills

    The early violets sprang,

    And all the windy pasture slopes

    Lay green within the arms

    Of creeks that bore the salted sea

    To pleasant inland farms,

    The smith filed off the chains he forged,

    The jail-bolts backward fell;

    And youth and hoary age came forth

    Like souls escaped from hell.