Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
Narrative and Legendary Poems
The Sycamores
          Hugh Tallant was the first Irish resident of Haverhill, Mass. He planted the button-wood trees on the bank of the river below the village in the early part of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately this noble avenue is now nearly destroyed.

IN the outskirts of the village,
  On the river’s winding shores,
Stand the Occidental plane-trees,
  Stand the ancient sycamores.
One long century hath been numbered,        5
  And another half-way told,
Since the rustic Irish gleeman
  Broke for them the virgin mould.
Deftly set to Celtic music,
  At his violin’s sound they grew,        10
Through the moonlit eves of summer,
  Making Amphion’s fable true.
Rise again, thou poor Hugh Tallant!
  Pass in jerkin green along,
With thy eyes brimful of laughter,        15
  And thy mouth as full of song.
Pioneer of Erin’s outcasts,
  With his fiddle and his pack;
Little dreamed the village Saxons
  Of the myriads at his back.        20
How he wrought with spade and fiddle,
  Delved by day and sang by night,
With a hand that never wearied,
  And a heart forever light,—
Still the gay tradition mingles        25
  With a record grave and drear,
Like the rollic air of Cluny,
  With the solemn march of Mear.
When the box-tree, white with blossoms,
  Made the sweet May woodlands glad,        30
And the Aronia by the river
  Lighted up the swarming shad,
And the bulging nets swept shoreward,
  With their silver-sided haul,
Midst the shouts of dripping fishers,        35
  He was merriest of them all.
When, among the jovial huskers,
  Love stole in at Labor’s side,
With the lusty airs of England,
  Soft his Celtic measures vied.        40
Songs of love and wailing lyke-wake,
  And the merry fair’s carouse;
Of the wild Red Fox of Erin
  And the Woman of Three Cows,
By the blazing hearths of winter,        45
  Pleasant seemed his simple tales,
Midst the grimmer Yorkshire legends
  And the mountain myths of Wales.
How the souls in Purgatory
  Scrambled up from fate forlorn,        50
On St. Keven’s sackcloth ladder,
  Slyly hitched to Satan’s horn.
Of the fiddler who at Tara
  Played all night to ghosts of kings;
Of the brown dwarfs, and the fairies        55
  Dancing in their moorland rings!
Jolliest of our birds of singing,
  Best he loved the Bob-o-link.
“Hush!” he ’d say, “the tipsy fairies!
  Hear the little folks in drink!”        60
Merry-faced, with spade and fiddle,
  Singing through the ancient town,
Only this, of poor Hugh Tallant,
  Hath Tradition handed down.
Not a stone his grave discloses;        65
  But if yet his spirit walks,
’T is beneath the trees he planted,
  And when Bob-o-Lincoln talks;
Green memorials of the gleeman!
  Linking still the river-shores,        70
With their shadows cast by sunset,
  Stand Hugh Tallant’s sycamores!
When the Father of his Country
  Through the north-land riding came,
And the roofs were starred with banners,        75
  And the steeples rang acclaim,—
When each war-scarred Continental,
  Leaving smithy, mill, and farm,
Waved his rusted sword in welcome,
  And shot off his old king’s arm,—        80
Slowly passed that august Presence
  Down the thronged and shouting street;
Village girls as white as angels,
  Scattering flowers around his feet.
Midway, where the plane-tree’s shadow        85
  Deepest fell, his rein he drew:
On his stately head, uncovered,
  Cool and soft the west-wind blew.
And he stood up in his stirrups,
  Looking up and looking down        90
On the hills of Gold and Silver
  Rimming round the little town,—
On the river, full of sunshine,
  To the lap of greenest vales
Winding down from wooded headlands,        95
  Willow-skirted, white with sails.
And he said, the landscape sweeping
  Slowly with his ungloved hand,
I have seen no prospect fairer
  In this goodly Eastern land.”        100
Then the bugles of his escort
  Stirred to life the cavalcade:
And that head, so bare and stately,
  Vanished down the depths of shade.
Ever since, in town and farm-house,        105
  Life has had its ebb and flow;
Thrice hath passed the human harvest
  To its garner green and low.
But the trees the gleeman planted,
  Through the changes, changeless stand;        110
As the marble calm of Tadmor
  Mocks the desert’s shifting sand.
Still the level moon at rising
  Silvers o’er each stately shaft;
Still beneath them, half in shadow,        115
  Singing, glides the pleasure craft;
Still beneath them, arm-enfolded,
  Love and Youth together stray;
While, as heart to heart beats faster,
  More and more their feet delay.        120
Where the ancient cobbler, Keezar,
  On the open hillside wrought,
Singing, as he drew his stitches,
  Songs his German masters taught,
Singing, with his gray hair floating        125
  Round his rosy ample face,—
Now a thousand Saxon craftsmen
  Stitch and hammer in his place.
All the pastoral lanes so grassy
  Now are Traffic’s dusty streets;        130
From the village, grown a city,
  Fast the rural grace retreats.
But, still green, and tall, and stately,
  On the river’s winding shores,
Stand the Occidental plane-trees,        135
  Stand Hugh Tallant’s sycamores.


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