The Old Oaken Bucket: Revised by the Sanitarian

The Old Oaken Bucket, Currier & Ives, 1872

The Old Oaken Bucket, Currier & Ives, 1872

The original poem is posted below the “revised” version.



With what anguish of mind I remember my childhood,
Recalled in the light of a knowledge since gained;
The malarious farm, the wet, fungus-grown wildwood,
The chills then contracted that since have remained;
The scum-covered duck pond, the pig-sty close by it,
The ditch where the sour-smelling house drainage fell,
The damp shaded dwelling, the foul barn-yard nigh it,
But worse than all else was that terrible well,
And old oaken bucket, the mould crusted bucket,
The moss-covered bucket that hung in the well.

Just think of it! Moss on the vessel that lifted
The water I drank in those days called to mind,
Ere I know what professors and scientists gifted
In the water of wells by analysis find.
The rotting wood fibre, the oxide of iron,
The algae, the frog of unusual size,
The water, impure as the verses of Byron,
Are things I remember with tears in my eyes.

And to tell the sad truth, though I shudder to think it,
I considered that water uncommonly clear,
And oft at noon when I went to drink it,
I enjoyed it as much as I now enjoy beer.
How ardent I seized it with hands that were grimy!
And quick to the mud-covered bottom it fell;
Then soon with its nitrates and nitrites, and slimy
With matter organic, it rose from the well.

Oh! had I but realized, in time to avoid them,
The dangers that lurked in that pestilent draught,
I’d have tested for organic germs, and destroyed them
With potass permangante ere I had quaffed;
Or perchance I’d have boiled it, and afterward strained it
Through filters of charcoal and gravel combined;
Or, after distilling, condensed and regained it
In potable form, with its filth left behind.

How little I knew of the dread typhoid fever
Which lurked in the water I ventured to drink!
But since I’ve become a devoted believer
In the teachings of science, I shudder to think.
And now, far removed from the scenes I’m describing;
The story for warning to others I tell,
As memory reverts to my youthful imbibing,
And I gag at the thought of that horrible well,
And the old oaken bucket, that fungus-grown bucket,
In fact, the slop bucket that hung in the well.
The Sanitarian.

The Bucks County Gazette (Bristol, Pennsylvania) Aug 12, 1880


From Redbook Online:

Title:     The Old Oaken Bucket
Author: Samuel Woodworth
How dear to this heart are the scenes of my childhood,
When fond recollection presents them to view!
The orchard, the meadow, the deep-tangled wild-wood,
And every loved spot which my infancy knew!
The wide-spreading pond, and the mill that stood by it,
The bridge, and the rock where the cataract fell,
The cot of my father, the dairy-house nigh it,
And e’en the rude bucket that hung in the well-
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-covered bucket which hung in the well.

That moss-covered vessel I hailed as a treasure,
For often at noon, when returned from the field,
I found it the source of an exquisite pleasure,
The purest and sweetest that nature can yield.
How ardent I seized it, with hands that were glowing,
And quick to the white-pebbled bottom it fell;
Then soon, with the emblem of truth overflowing,
And dripping with coolness, it rose from the well
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-covered bucket arose from the well.

How sweet from the green mossy brim to receive it,
As poised on the curb it inclined to my lips!
Not a full blushing goblet could tempt me to leave it,
The brightest that beauty or revelry sips.
And now, far removed from the loved habitation,
The tear of regret will intrusively swell,
As fancy reverts to my father’s plantation,
And sighs for the bucket that hangs in the well
The old oaken bucket, the iron-bound bucket,
The moss-covered bucket that hangs in the well!

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