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A Legend of the Lake.

[This poem, originally printed in the Atlantic Monthly was withheld from publication in his volumes by Mr. Whittier, in deference to living relatives of the hero of the poem. Death finally removed the restriction.]

Should you go to Centre Harbor,
     As haply you sometime may,
Sailing up the Winnepesaukee
     From the hills of Alton Bay,—

Into the heart of the highlands,
     Into the north wind free,
Through the rising and vanishing islands,
     Over the mountain sea,—

To the little hamlet lying
     White in its mountain fold,
Asleep by the lake and dreaming
     A dream that is never told,—

And in the Red Hill's shadow
     Your pilgrim home you make,
Where the chambers open to sunrise,
     The mountains, and the lake,—

If the pleasant picture wearies,
     As the fairest sometimes will,
And the weight of the hills lies on you
     And the water is all too still,—

If in vain the peaks of Gunstock
     Redden with sunrise fire,
And the sky and the purple mountains
     And the sunset islands tire,—

If you turn from in-door thrumming
     And the clatter of bowls without,
And the folly that goes on its travels
     Bearing the city about,—

And the cares you left behind you
     Come hunting along your track, [403]
As Blue-Cap in German fable
     Rode on the traveller's pack,—

Let me tell you a tender story
     Of one who is now no more,
A tale to haunt like a spirit
     The Winnepesaukee shore,—

Of one who was brave and gentle,
     And strong for manly strife,
Riding with cheering and music
     Into the tourney of life.

Faltering and failing midway
     In the Tempter's subtle snare,
The chains of an evil habit
     He bowed himself to bear.

Over his fresh young manhood
     The bestial veil was flung,—
The curse of the wine of Circe,
     The spell her weavers sung.

Yearly did hill and lakeside
     Their summer idyls frame;
Alone in his darkened dwelling
     He hid his face for shame.

The music of life's great marches
     Sounded for him in vain;
The voices of human duty
     Smete on his ear like pain.

In vain over island and water
     The curtains of sunset swung;
In vain on the beautiful mountains
     The pictures of God were hung.

The wretched years crept onward,
     Each sadder than the last;
All the bloom of life fell from him,
     All the freshness and greenness past.

But deep in his heart forever
     And unprofaned he kept
The love of his saintly mother,
     Who in the graveyard slept.

[404] His house had no pleasant pictures;
     Its comfortless walls were bare:
But the riches of earth and ocean
     Could not purchase his mother's chair.

The old chair, quaintly carven,
     With oaken arms outspread,
Whereby, in the long gone twilights,
     His childish prayers were said.

For thence in his long night watches,
     By moon or starlight dim,
A face full of love and pity
     And tenderness looked on him.

And oft, as the grieving presence
     Sat in his mother's chair,
The groan of his self-upbraiding
     Grew into wordless prayer.

At last, in the moonless midnight,
     The summoning angel came,
Severe in his pity, touching
     The house with fingers of flame.

The red light flashed from its windows
     And flared from its sinking roof;
And baffled and awed before it
     The villagers stood aloof.

They shrank from the falling rafters,
     They turned from the furnace glare;
But its tenant cried, “God help me!
     I must save my mother's chair.”

Under the blazing portal,
     Over the floor of fire,
He seemed, in the terrible splendor,
     A martyr on his pyre.

In his face the mad flames smote him,
     And stung him on either side;
But he clung to the sacred relic,—
     By his mother's chair he died!

O mother, with human yearnings!
     O saint, by the altar stairs! [405]
Shall not the dear God give thee
     The child of thy many prayers?

O Christ! by whom the loving,
     Though erring, are forgiven,
Hast thou for him no refuge,
     No quiet place in heaven?

Give palms to thy strong martyrs,
     And crown thy saints with gold,
But let the mother welcome
     Her lost one to thy fold!

Letter to Lucy Larcom.

25th 3d mo., 1866.
Believe me, Lucy Larcom, it gives me real sorrow
That I cannot take my carpet-bag and go to town to-morrow;
But I'm ‘snow-bound,’ and cold on cold, like layers of an onion,
Have piled my back and weighed me down as with the pack of Bunyan.
The north-east wind is damper and the north-west wind is colder,
Or else the matter simply is that I am growing older.
And then I dare not trust a moon seen over one's left shoulder,
As I saw this with slender horns caught in a west hill pine,
As on a Stamboul minaret curves the arch-impostor's sign,—
So I must stay in Amesbury, and let you go your way,
And guess what colors greet your eyes, what shapes your steps delay;
What pictured forms of heathen lore, of god and goddess please you,
What idol graven images you bend your wicked knees to.
But why should I of evil dream, well knowing at your head goes
That flower of Christian womanhood, our dear good Anna Meadows,
She'll be discreet, I'm sure, although once, in a freak romantic,
She flung the Doge's bridal ring, and married ‘The Atlantic’!
And spite of all appearances, like the woman in a shoe,
She's got so many ‘Young Folks’ now, she don't know what to do.
But I must say I think it strange that thee and Mrs. Spaulding,
Whose lives with Calvin's five-railed creed have been so tightly walled in,
Should quit your Puritan homes, and take the pains to go
So far, with malice aforethought, to ‘walk in a vain show’
Did Emmons hunt for pictures? Was Jonathan Edwards peeping
Into the chambers of imagery, with maids for Tammuz weeping?
Ah well! the times are sadly changed, and I myself am feeling
The wicked world my Quaker coat from off my shoulders peeling.
God grant that in the strange new sea of change wherein we swim,
We still may keep the good old plank, of simple faith in Him!

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