Manual Narrative and Legendary Poems, Complete Volume I., the Works of Whittier (TREDITION CLASSICS)

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And, in your tasselled pulpits, thank the Lord That, from the toiling bondman's utter need, Ye pile your own full board. In such poems as "Stanzas" later called "Expostulation" Whittier contrasted the apparent commitment of the United States to slavery with its historic dedication to freedom. He appealed to the regional pride of New England in "The Yankee Girl" and "Stanzas for the Times," but in these poems, as in most of the antislavery poems of the period, Whittier's anger swept everything before it, often including artistic control.

The poems were meant to be, and indeed were, effective propaganda. During the late s a split developed within the ranks of the abolitionists: some, such as Whittier, preferred to work through the political system for change and hoped to preserve the Union; others, such as Garrison, were less concerned with the Union and believed that slavery could not be abolished without also destroying the U.

While Garrison, working with the extreme "nonresistants," placed his reliance on moral suasion, Whittier was busy helping to organize the Liberty Party. He retired to Amesbury in but continued to work actively for Liberty Party candidates and for the election of others, regardless of party, who favored emancipation. Included in this collection are poems such as "The Merrimack," treating the local scenery with the touch of the pastoral landscape artist; poems such as "The Ballad of Cassandra Southwick," exploring New England history; and poems such as "The Funeral Tree of the Sokokis," based on Indian lore.

The near relation of Whittier's regional and abolitionist poetry is indicated not only in the consistent advocacy of tolerance and brotherhood in the regional poems but also in the appeal to New England pride that so often forms the basis for his antislavery discourse. The finest poem of this sort, "Massachusetts to Virginia," was first published in this volume. After the overwhelming enthusiasm of the s had dissipated in division and recrimination within the antislavery ranks, Whittier was able, during the next two decades, to maintain a healthier, maturer balance between his twin commitments to poetry and reform.

In Whittier published his last collection of antislavery poems, Voices of Freedom , and in brought out a collection of prose sketches titled The Supernaturalism of New England. A caustic review of the latter volume by Hawthorne, who pointed out its author's fundamental lack of sympathy with Gothic themes, may have contributed to Whittier's decision to suppress the book. In the same year he became a contributing editor with The National Era , a Washington-based antislavery journal that, until the founding of The Atlantic Monthly ten years later, served as his main publishing outlet.

The story is sprightly and realistic, and the character of Margaret-- "among the first of our native heroines," as Lewis Leary has observed--is carefully and sensitively portrayed. On 7 March Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster affirmed his support of compromise with the Southern slave power. Shocked and saddened by this unexpected defection, Whittier responded with his powerful protest " Ichabod.

So fallen! The glory from his gray hairs gone Forevermore! Revile him not, the Tempter hath A snare for all; And pitying tears, not scorn and wrath, Befit his fall! Then, pay the reverence of old days To his dead fame; Walk backward, with averted gaze, And hi. Meanwhile, Whittier was busy trying to get a reluctant Charles Sumner to run for the other senatorial position of Massachusetts. Whittier's maneuvers were successful and Sumner, with Whittier's advice and encouragement, became perhaps the most outspoken abolitionist in Washington.

Sales, however, continued to be moderate at best. The popular "Barefoot Boy," a sentimental tribute to the naturally free and unspoiled life of poor New England children, was collected in the latter volume together with a fine antislavery poem, "The Haschich. The founding of The Atlantic Monthly in that year gave him a regular forum with all the most prominent writers of New England. His contributions to the earliest issues--including "Skipper Ireson's Ride" and " Telling the Bees "--were better poems than he had ever written.

Symbolic of Whittier's entry into the literary establishment of Boston was the publication, also in , of the "Blue and Gold Edition" of his poetry in a format to match Longfellow's. Toward the end of the year, Whittier's mother died and the poet himself turned fifty. His attention was turning more and more to his own personal past, as shown in the nostalgic, quasi-autobiographical poems "Telling the Bees" and "My Playmate"; he was also increasingly drawn to the larger but still personal past of New England history, as shown in the many fine ballads that he wrote at this time, such as "Skipper Ireson's Ride," "The Garrison of Cape Ann," "The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall," "The Double-Headed Snake of Newbury," and "The Swan Song of Parson Avery.

Almost the only hint of the impending Civil War that the volume included was the poem Whittier wrote in response to the raid on Harpers Ferry, "Brown of Ossawatomie. He admired President Abraham Lincoln and was particularly proud of having voted for him four times, as a citizen and as an elector in and Whittier wrote many patriotic poems during the war, of which " Barbara Frietchie " is the most famous.

Whittier's whole mood was retrospective and memorial as he set to work on the "Yankee pastoral" that he had promised The Atlantic Monthly editor James Russell Lowell he would write. The result was Snow-Bound , his masterpiece. The poem recalls a winter storm at the old Whittier homestead when the poet was a child. A day and a night of driving snow had transformed everything: We looked upon a world unknown, On nothing we could call our own, Around the glistening wonder bent The blue walls of the firmament, No cloud above, no earth below-- A universe of sky and snow!

The threat of isolation, of freezing or starving, is countered by the family at the wood fire on the hearth, the warmth of which is a symbol of life and family affection. The physical and spiritual sufficiency of this besieged family circle is the subject of Whittier's reminiscence precisely because most of those who were then present were now dead.

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By recalling each of them in turn, Whittier substitutes the light of affectionate memory for the light of the burning oaken log by which that night they gathered together. In the kind of life that Snow-Bound describes was as surely departed in fact as it was present to the mellowed childhood memory of thousands of readers. The poem was Whittier's first genuine commercial success as well as his most complete artistic success. If, after the Civil War, anything may be said to have taken on the personal importance that Whittier had before attached to the fight against slavery, it was his desire to see religion in America liberalized and the last vestiges of repressive Puritanism swept away.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, who shared this hope, maintained that Whittier had done as much in America as Robert Burns had done in Scotland toward "humanizing" the hard theology of Calvinism. Whittier's edition of The Journal of John Woolman , published in , gave new currency to that classic work of Quaker spiritual autobiography. He continued to write almost up to the time of his death. Among the Hills and Other Poems is evidence that he knew of the darker and more solitary side of rural life in New England and can sustain comparison to some of the local-color realism then being written by female authors.

The title poem in The Pennsylvania Pilgrim, and Other Poems , one of Whittier's more successful long narratives, concerns the seventeenth-century German Pietist, Francis Daniel Pastorius, who founded Germantown near Philadelphia and who, after formally joining the Quakers, drafted one of the earliest American antislavery statements. The last poem that Whittier wrote was a tribute to his friend Oliver Wendell Holmes on the occasion of Holmes's eighty-third birthday. They had outlived all their generation. For years his birthdays had virtually been public holidays and were marked by celebrations throughout New England and the West.

Whittier was essentially a public poet, a poet speaking to a large segment of the American people, including many who were not otherwise readers of poetry. They often came to his work to bask in the poet's moral tone, to attend to the heroic or prophetic voice in his poems, or to receive comfort from his characteristic optimism.


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Whittier, for better or worse, rarely challenged his audience. The popularity he enjoyed among his contemporaries seems to have been based largely on just those poems " The Barefoot Boy " and " Barbara Frietchie ," for example that modern readers have rejected as sentimental. A reaction against the kind of soft-focus vision of the world that Whittier too often invoked set in during the early years of the twentieth century when a new, more astringent style of poetry was being established, in part by overturning the Victorian canons of taste that had elevated the work of Whittier's generation.

Some of his antislavery poems, such as "A Sabbath Scene," are especially conscious of gender issues and deploy an aesthetic rather similar to that found in Harriet Beecher Stowe 's Uncle Tom's Cabin , to which, indeed, the poem may be responding. The personal and professional admiration that all of these authors expressed for Whittier and his poetry suggests that they may not, after all, have been working in dissimilar ways.

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John Greenleaf Whittier-EDITOR POLITICIAN ABOLITIONIST POET

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Narrative Legendary Poems

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