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[p. 55]

Story of Songs from the Medford Woods.

by Maria W. Wait.
AS many of Medford's old-time landmarks and people have interested its citizens of today, it seems as though another memory may well hold our attention, and we may be glad to listen to this lay of Medford woodlands, ‘Jack-in-the-pulpit.’

These enchanting verses of nature's beauty were written by one of our own townspeople, Caroline Smith, a daughter of Horatio Austin and Elizabeth (Learoyd) Smith, who was born November 12, 1840, at Symmes' Corner, Winchester, said corner at that time being a part of Medford. Always a quiet and thoughtful girl, it was not surprising that some of her thoughts should seek expression even at sixteen years, at which age this poem was written.

The verses were read one day by a friend, Mrs. E. P. Marvin, the wife of the Orthodox minister in Medford, who asked the privilege of showing them to her husband. He also admired them, and after some persuasion Miss Smith allowed him to publish the poem anonymously in the Boston Recorder. This was in 1856. Later they were printed in Gleason's Monthly Companion, a magazine published during the years between 1850 and the ‘60s. As Carrie Smith was very retiring in nature, the poem appeared always without her signature.

Other papers copied the verses, and the poem became almost a household friend.

Some years after, the poem, greatly changed, appeared in the little volume named ‘Child Life,’ edited by the poet, John G. Whittier. Friends immediately recognized it, however, as the thoughts of ‘CarrieSmith, as she was familiarly known, and wrote Whittier concerning it. Some correspondence followed, and the poet wrote Miss Smith, saying the poem had been sent in manuscript form to him by a friend, and at the end of the letter presented this respects and assurances of regret in not having [p. 56] been able to consult with her at the time of the first publication.

Relative to the explanation the following is quoted from a correspondent:—

‘The idea was fine and some of the verses remarkably excellent, but it seemed not complete and some of the lines defective, and supposing it to be his friend's, he (Whittier) re-wrote and amplified it and signed it as anonymous. Only after printing it had he learned it was not his friend's.’

‘He was very glad to hear of the true author and as he was to issue a new edition of “Child life” he would give the credit of the poem to Miss Smith if she would accept the additions and alterations.’

The second edition was printed, but by some typographical error the author's name was given as ‘Clara’ instead of Carrie Smith. Here is her poem, and beside it is the poem as accredited to Whittier, appearing in 1871.


Jack, in his pulpit,
     Preaches today,
Under the green trees,
     Just over the way,
Close by the mossy
     Stone wall; on the air
Ringeth the Lily-bells
     Calling us there.
Come—hear what his reverence
     Will have to say
To his audience, this sweet,
     Calm, Sabbath-day.
Out in the free, pure air,
     As, we've been told,
The Puritans preached—
     Our fathers of old-00
Thus Jack discourses
     'Neath the blue skies;
As theirs—perhaps his words
     May prove as wise.
Lovely the canopy
     O'er his head seen,
Penciled by Nature's hand
     Black, brown and green;
Jack in the pulpit
     Preaches today,
Under the green trees
     Just over the way.
Squirrel and song-sparrow
     High on their perch,
Hear the sweet lily-bells
     Ringing to church.
Come, hear what his reverence
     Rises to say
In his low painted pulpit
     This calm Sabbath-day.

Fair is the canopy
     Over him seen,
Penciled by Nature's hand,
     Black, brown and green. [p. 57]
With the same, sombre hue
     Painted, I see
The little pulpit
     In which standeth he.
The surplice he wears
     Is all palely green;
Priest was never before
     In such a dress seen.

In court-robes of velvet
     Black and gold, see,
Cometh with deep, bass voice,
     Lord Bumble-bee;
And unseen spirits that
     Play the wind-lyres,
Bird voices, soft and sweet—
     These form his choirs;

And the brave Columbines
     As sentinels stand
On the lookout, with their
     Red trumpets in hand.

Meek, frail Anemones,
     Drooping and sad,
In robes all fragile
     And delicate—clad;
Buttercups—their faces
     Beaming with sunlight;
Clovers, with bonnets,
     Some red and some white;
Daisies,—their white fingers
     Half clasped, as in prayer;
Dandelions—with their
     Bright, golden hair;
Innocents—like children
     Guileless and frail,
Their little faces
     Upturned and pale;
Wild-wood Geraniums,
     All in their best
Robes of soft, lovely,
     Purple gauze, dressed;

Green is his surplice,
     Green are his bands;
In his queer little pulpit
     The little priest stands.

In black and gold velvet,
     So gorgeous to see,
Comes with his bass voice
     The chorister bee.
Green fingers playing
     Unseen on wind-lyres,—
Low singing bird voices—
     These are his choirs.
The violets are deacons
     I know by the sign
That the cups which they carry
     Are purple with wine.
And the columbines bravely
     As sentinels stand
On the look-out with all their
     Red trumpets in hand.

Meek-faced anemones
     Drooping and sad;
Great yellow violets,
     Smiling out glad;
Buttercups' faces
     Beaming and bright;
Clovers, with bonnets—
     Some red and some white;
Daisies, their white fingers
     Half-clasped in prayer;

Innocents, children
     Guileless and frail,
Meek little faces
     Upturned and pale;
Wild-wood geraniums,
     All in their best,
Languidly leaning
     In purple gauze dressed:— [p. 58]
These, all, are assembled
     This sweet Sabbath-day
To hear what Jack
     In his pulpit will say.

See those Indian pipes,
     That mossy bank near;
I wonder what rude sprites
     Have been smoking here!
Jack saw the intruders'
     Ill manners, I guess,
And gave a rebuke
     For their bold rudeness,
So stern, that, affrighted,
     No longer they stopped,
But fled—and in their haste
     Their tiny pipes dropped.

Now what of the sermon
     That Jack hath preached?
Our wandering thoughts have
     Not that subject yet reached.
Ah me! like too many
     That go forth to pray
In temples and churches,
     This calm, holy day—
Just as many of those
     Worshippers, I ween,
We've spent our time watching
     The audience here seen;
We can tell just what
     Their dresses have been,
Criticized their bonnets,
     Their looks and their mien,
Have gazed at the preacher,
     The choir have heard,
But of the sermon
     We know not one word.

All are assembled
     This sweet Sabbath-day
To hear what the priest
     In his pulpit will say.

Look! white Indian pipes
     On the green mosses lie!
Who has been smoking
     Profanely so nigh?
Rebuked by the preacher
     The mischief is stopped,

But the sinners, in haste,
     Have their little pipes dropped.
Let the wind with the fragrance
     Of fern and black birch
Blow the smell of the smoking
     Clean out of our church!

So much for the preacher:
     The sermon comes next,—
Shall we tell how he preached it,
     And where was his text?
Alas! like too many
     Grown — up folks who play
At worship in churches
     Man-builded today,—
We heard not the preacher
     Expound or discuss;
But we looked at the people,
     And they looked at us.
We saw all their dresses,
     Their colors and shapes;
The trim of their bonnets,
     The cut of their capes.
We heard the wind-organ,
     The bee and the bird,
But of Jack in the Pulpit
     We heard not a word!

In 1884 the poem was put into booklet form beautifully illustrated in color, and attached was a copy of a letter [p. 59] giving credit to Carrie Smith, as Whittier did not wish to claim the originality of the idea.

A book of the poem, with the flowers printed in outline, was published for the use of classes in painting. It was one of a series compiled by Marion Kemble, and printed by S. W. Tilton & Co. of Boston, making a very artistic and attractive volume.

Miss Smith's poems also appeared in the Portland Transcript, Somerville Citizen, and other papers of note. These attracted much attention and gained her many friends and admirers, and many felt a great loss when Carrie Smith died in 1889. Nevertheless she is not forgotten, especially when each spring ‘Jack’ preaches again in our midst.

Among the poems written, one is quite appropriate here, as it seems a fitting requiem to ‘Jack’ as he steps out of ‘his pulpit.’

Autumn's children.

The little gypsy wild-flowers, that so fearlessly were seen
Uplifting brilliant banners from their grassy tents and green,
Have perished in their loveliness, 'neath the destroying blast,
As the first born of Egypt when Death's chilling angel passed.
Autumn is mourning—mourning for her beauteous children dead;
With wailing, sobbing voice of grief laments her darlings fled.
Stained crimson by the tears of blood her smitten heart hath shed,
All slowly fell the maple-leaves upon their humble bed;
And where, in constellations bright, star-flowers upraised their eyes
Unto their sister-stars that smiled upon them from the skies,
Autumn hath wreathed a blue mist-veil above her joys that died,
To sadly hide their sepulchre — the barren, bleak hillside.

Twining white, waxen bells around their hair—a numerous band,
No longer in the meadow-grass the lady's tresses stand;
And at her mirror-brook no more, like a bright, brilliant queen,
Gazing at her rich, crimson robe, the cardinal flower is seen.
The golden-rod no longer flings its yellow plumes on high;
From the clover's nodding globe no more is fragrance wafted by;
No more the lady's-slippers call unto their neighbor-flowers;
‘Come, buy these shoes the fairies made—these golden shoes of ours!’

No longer, armed with sharpest thorns, the royal thistle stands,
As if to say: ‘Who dares touch me with rude and careless hands?’ [p. 60]
No more in vibrant, fragile grace, in beauty frail and fair,
The pendant harebell rings its note of music on the air;
The gentian doth its blue-fringed lids o'er its deep casket close
No longer, as it were to hide some treasure from its foes;
No more do constancy's bright flowers, in some secluded spot,
Lift up their eyes of Heaven's own blue, and breathe ‘Forget me not.’

The crickets, in their dusky robes, around their humble bed
Are piping melancholy dirge for Autumn's children dead.
How lonely and how desolate appears sad Nature's face!
Where—as gray age is often seen in rosy youth's embrace—
The ivy 'round the hoar old trees their blushing beauty flung,
And round their rough and knotted arms their scarlet festoons hung;

Where the barberry's coral clusters gleamed, and where the sumac showed
Its gorgeous velvet cones, that 'mid its leaves, wild fires glowed;
Where the vine its purple treasures hung; where lithe birch tree was seen
In its silver coat, and the elm tree in its leafy dress of green;
Now all is sadly desolate; and where was softly shed
O'er hill and dale a rose-hued haze, a tear-like mist is spread.
The sorrowing skies weep oa er the earth, as o'er a blighted child,
And Autumn like a Niobe, with wailing voice, and wild,
With voice of grief and fitful tears, laments her darlings fled,—
Her bright and beauteous children, faded, numbered with the dead.

But faith a glorious promise weaves that from this rustling dust,
His hand who crushed the Autumn leaves has drawn a sacred trust;
A trust that lives forever-aye, a trust of life divine
That yet shall bid the springtide bowers with vernal radiance shine!
So, when in Time's drear autumn we bend in sad'ning prayer
And all the cherished hopes of years strew Grief's bleak hillside bare,
Our Father's hand hath only ta'en the key of joy's attune
Which he shall give us back again in Heaven's eternal June!

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