September 24, 2012

I love learning about my relatives and finding out new stories about our collective past.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that a poet and ardent Quaker abolitionist that I have admired all my life, John Greenleaf Whittier, and I are some sort of cousins!  Turns out we are connected through Elizabeth Greenleaf, wife of Giles Badger, my maternal great (times 8) grandmother, who were both original settlers in Newburyport, MA, in the 1630s.  I remember studying some of his poems in a college lit class, so you can imagine my delight when I discovered the family connection!  Last year when my husband and I were vacationing in New Hampshire, we came across the Whittier Covered Bridge, which is a New Hampshire historic property currently under renovation. Built in 1870, the Whittier Bridge is named in honor of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who spent summers in Ossipee in the late 1800s.  Here is one of his fall poems, appropriate as he is usually listed as one of the Fireside Poets (along with my perennial favorite, Longfellow).

Whittier Covered Bridge, Lisa Greenleaf Design Studio

For An Autumn festival

The Persian's flowery gifts, the shrine
Of fruitful Ceres, charm no more;
The woven wreaths of oak and pine
Are dust along the Isthmian shore.

But beauty hath its homage still,
And nature holds us still in debt;
And woman's grace and household skill,
And manhood's toil, are honored yet.

And we, to-day, amidst our flowers
And fruits, have come to own again
The blessings of the summer hours,
The early and the latter rain;

To see our Father's hand once more
Reverse for us the plenteous horn
Of autumn, filled and running o'er
With fruit, and flower, and golden corn!

Once more the liberal year laughs out
O'er richer stores than gems or gold;
Once more with harvest-song and shout
Is Nature's bloodless triumph told.

Our common mother rests and sings,
Like Ruth, among her garnered sheaves;
Her lap is full of goodly things,
Her brow is bright with autumn leaves.

Oh, favors every year made new!
Oh, gifts with rain and sunshine sent
The bounty overruns our due,
The fulness shames our discontent.

We shut our eyes, the flowers bloom on;
We murmur, but the corn-ears fill,
We choose the shadow, but the sun
That casts it shines behind us still.

God gives us with our rugged soil
The power to make it Eden-fair,
And richer fruits to crown our toil
Than summer-wedded islands bear.

Who murmurs at his lot to-day?
Who scorns his native fruit and bloom?
Or sighs for dainties far away,
Beside the bounteous board of home?

Thank Heaven, instead, that Freedom's arm
Can change a rocky soil to gold,--
That brave and generous lives can warm
A clime with northern ices cold.

And let these altars, wreathed with flowers
And piled with fruits, awake again
Thanksgivings for the golden hours,
The early and the latter rain!

Whittier Bridge, Ossipee, New Hampshire, September 2012

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