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
Cobbler Keezar’s Vision
          This ballad was written on the occasion of a Horticultural Festival. Cobbler Keezar was a noted character among the first settlers in the valley of the Merrimac.

THE BEAVER cut his timber
  With patient teeth that day,
The minks were fish-wards, and the crows
  Surveyors of highway,—
When Keezar sat on the hillside        5
  Upon his cobbler’s form,
With a pan of coals on either hand
  To keep his waxed-ends warm.
And there, in the golden weather,
  He stitched and hammered and sung;        10
In the brook he moistened his leather,
  In the pewter mug his tongue.
Well knew the tough old Teuton
  Who brewed the stoutest ale,
And he paid the goodwife’s reckoning        15
  In the coin of song and tale.
The songs they still are singing
  Who dress the hills of vine,
The tales that haunt the Brocken
  And whisper down the Rhine.        20
Woodsy and wild and lonesome,
  The swift stream wound away,
Through birches and scarlet maples
  Flashing in foam and spray,—
Down on the sharp-horned ledges        25
  Plunging in steep cascade,
Tossing its white-maned waters
  Against the hemlock’s shade.
Woodsy and wild and lonesome,
  East and west and north and south;        30
Only the village of fishers
  Down at the river’s mouth;
Only here and there a clearing,
  With its farm-house rude and new,
And tree-stumps, swart as Indians,        35
  Where the scanty harvest grew.
No shout of home-bound reapers,
  No vintage-song he heard,
And on the green no dancing feet
  The merry violin stirred.        40
“Why should folk be glum,” said Keezar,
  “When Nature herself is glad,
And the painted woods are laughing
  At the faces so sour and sad?”
Small heed had the careless cobbler        45
  What sorrow of heart was theirs
Who travailed in pain with the births of God,
  And planted a state with prayers,—
Hunting of witches and warlocks,
  Smiting the heathen horde,—        50
One hand on the mason’s trowel,
  And one on the soldier’s sword!
But give him his ale and cider,
  Give him his pipe and song,
Little he cared for Church or State,        55
  Or the balance of right and wrong.
“’T is work, work, work,” he muttered,—
  “And for rest a snuffle of psalms!”
He smote on his leathern apron
  With his brown and waxen palms.        60
“Oh for the purple harvests
  Of the days when I was young!
For the merry grape-stained maidens,
  And the pleasant songs they sung!
“Oh for the breath of vineyards,        65
  Of apples and nuts and wine!
For an oar to row and a breeze to blow
  Down the grand old river Rhine!”
A tear in his blue eye glistened,
  And dropped on his beard so gray.        70
“Old, old am I,” said Keezar,
  “And the Rhine flows far away!”
But a cunning man was the cobbler;
  He could call the birds from the trees,
Charm the black snake out of the ledges,        75
  And bring back the swarming bees.
All the virtues of herbs and metals,
  All the lore of the woods, he knew,
And the arts of the Old World mingled
  With the marvels of the New.        80
Well he knew the tricks of magic,
  And the lapstone on his knee
Had the gift of the Mormon’s goggles
  Or the stone of Doctor Dee. 1
For the mighty master Agrippa        85
  Wrought it with spell and rhyme
From a fragment of mystic moonstone
  In the tower of Nettesheim.
To a cobbler Minnesinger
  The marvellous stone gave he,—        90
And he gave it, in turn, to Keezar,
  Who brought it over the sea.
He held up that mystic lapstone,
  He held it up like a lens,
And he counted the long years coming        95
  By twenties and by tens.
“One hundred years,” quoth Keezar,
  “And fifty have I told:
Now open the new before me,
  And shut me out the old!”        100
Like a cloud of mist, the blackness
  Rolled from the magic stone,
And a marvellous picture mingled
  The unknown and the known.
Still ran the stream to the river,        105
  And river and ocean joined;
And there were the bluffs and the blue sea-line,
  And cold north hills behind.
But the mighty forest was broken
  By many a steepled town,        110
By many a white-walled farm-house,
  And many a garner brown.
Turning a score of mill-wheels,
  The stream no more ran free;
White sails on the winding river,        115
  White sails on the far-off sea.
Below in the noisy village
  The flags were floating gay,
And shone on a thousand faces
  The light of a holiday.        120
Swiftly the rival ploughmen
  Turned the brown earth from their shares;
Here were the farmer’s treasures,
  There were the craftsman’s wares.
Golden the goodwife’s butter,        125
  Ruby her currant-wine;
Grand were the strutting turkeys,
  Fat were the beeves and swine.
Yellow and red were the apples,
  And the ripe pears russet-brown,        130
And the peaches had stolen blushes
  From the girls who shook them down.
And with blooms of hill and wildwood,
  That shame the toil of art,
Mingled the gorgeous blossoms        135
  Of the garden’s tropic heart.
“What is it I see?” said Keezar:
  “Am I here, or am I there?
Is it a fête at Bingen?
  Do I look on Frankfort fair?        140
“But where are the clowns and puppets,
  And imps with horns and tail?
And where are the Rhenish flagons?
  And where is the foaming ale?
“Strange things, I know, will happen,—        145
  Strange things the Lord permits;
But that droughty folk should be jolly
  Puzzles my poor old wits.
“Here are smiling manly faces,
  And the maiden’s step is gay;        150
Nor sad by thinking, nor mad by drinking,
  Nor mopes, nor fools, are they.
“Here ’s pleasure without regretting,
  And good without abuse,
The holiday and the bridal        155
  Of beauty and of use.
“Here ’s a priest and there is a Quaker,
  Do the cat and dog agree?
Have they burned the stocks for ovenwood?
  Have they cut down the gallows-tree?        160
“Would the old folk know their children?
  Would they own the graceless town,
With never a ranter to worry
  And never a witch to drown?”
Loud laughed the cobbler Keezar,        165
  Laughed like a school-boy gay;
Tossing his arms above him,
  The lapstone rolled away.
It rolled down the rugged hillside,
  It spun like a wheel bewitched,        170
It plunged through the leaning willows,
  And into the river pitched.
There, in the deep, dark water,
  The magic stone lies still,
Under the leaning willows        175
  In the shadow of the hill.
But oft the idle fisher
  Sits on the shadowy bank,
And his dreams make marvellous pictures
  Where the wizard’s lapstone sank.        180
And still, in the summer twilights,
  When the river seems to run
Out from the inner glory,
  Warm with the melted sun,
The weary mill-girl lingers        185
  Beside the charmëd stream,
And the sky and the golden water
  Shape and color her dream.
Fair wave the sunset gardens,
  The rosy signals fly;        190
Her homestead beckons from the cloud,
  And love goes sailing by.

Note 1. Dr. John Dee was a man of erudition, who had an extensive museum, library, and apparatus; he claimed to be an astrologer, and had acquired the reputation of having dealings with evil spirits, and a mob was raised which destroyed the greater part of his possessions. He professed to raise the dead and had a magic crystal. He died a pauper in 1608. [back]

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