In School Days

In School Days
—–
BY J.G. WHITTIER.
—–

Still is the school house by the road,
A ragged beggar sunning;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
And blackberry vines are running.

Within, the master’s desk is seen,
Deep scarred by raps official;
The warping floor, the battered seats,
The Jackknife’s carved initial.

The charcoal frescoes on its walls;
Its door’s worn sill betraying
The feet, that creeping slow to school,
Went storming out to playing!

Long years ago a winter’s sun
Shone over it at setting;
Lit up its western window panes
And low eaves’ icy fretting.

It touched the tangled, golden curls,
And brown eyes full of grieving,
Of one who still her steps delayed
When all the school were leaving.

For near her stood the little boy
Her childish favor singled,
His cap pulled low upon a face
Where pride and shame were mingled.

Pushing with restless feet the snow
To right and left, he lingered,
As restlessly her tiny hands
The blue-checked apron fingered.

He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
The soft hand’s light caressing,
And heard the trembling of her voice
As if a fault confessing;

“I am sorry that I spelt the word;
I hate to go above you,
Because” — the brown eyes lower fell —
“Because, you see, I love you!”

Still memory to a gray-haired man
That sweet child-face is showing.
Dear girl! the grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn in life’s hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her — because they love him.

Indiana Progress (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Oct 20, 1870

A Poet’s Birthday.

Our boys and girls will see in their column this week the portrait of a very good and famous man, John Greenleaf Whittier. He was born Dec. 19, 1807, so that this month he is 78 years old. He is called the Quaker poet, because he belongs to the Society of Friends. His father and mother were Friends, too.

He wears the plain dress and uses the pleasant old “thee” and “thou” speech of his Quaker ancestors.

When a boy Whittier worked on a farm. Then he learned the shoemaker’s trade. The man who makes the sweetest, strongest verses of any American poet made shoes in his boyhood. No doubt they were good shoes, too, for geniuses do their best at everything.

Image from the Migration Heritage Center website

But a little bird began to sing in the boy’s soul. It sang more and more loudly till at last young Whittier dropped last and awl, and began to write. From his Quaker mother and father he inherited a passionate love of liberty. It was in the days of slavery and he began to work in his way for breaking the bondman’s chains. He wrote lyrics of freedom that will live forever. During the war one of his strongest Union poems was “Barbara Frietchie,” which so many of you know by heart. In the last fifty years he has written many poems. They are full of strength and fire and music. The names of some of his books are: “Voices of Freedom,” “Home Ballads,” “Snow Bound,” “Maud Muller,” and “Ballads of New England.” There are many others.Mr. Whittier is a fine example for all boys and girls to imitate. He has proved that people can rise from the poorest station to be honored and famous. He is not a rich man, but he is something far better. His poems have given peace to the troubled and hope to the despairing. They have been recited and sung around the world. Boys and girls commit them to memory, and it does them good all their lives. This is better, far better, than to be rich. In schools all over America Whittier’s birthday is celebrated every year by bright-eyed children. In some schools the pupils have had real letters from the grand old poet, which are treasured and shown to visitors year after year.

Mr. Whittier, old as he is, still writes and gives the world from time to time beautiful poems.

He lives very quietly at Amesbury, Mass. He is a modest man and shy of meeting strangers.

The poet is a bachelor. Many of you have, no doubt, read his poem, “In School Days.” It is about a little girl that spelled a word that a boy missed, and went above him in the class. The boy and girl were particular friends, and the girl was sorry that she had gone above him. In the poem, she creeps softly up to him after school and says:

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word,
I hate to go above you,
Because — the brown eyes lower fell —
Because, you see, I love you.”

They say this little girl was a real one, and that the boy was Whittier himself. They were dear friends and child playmates. But the sweet little girl died, and the poet has remembered her and mourned for her all his life. The poem says:

“Still memory to a gray-haired man
That sweet child-face is showing;
Dear girl! The grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing.

“He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss
Like her — because they love him!”

Davenport Daily Gazette (Davenport, Iowa) Dec 19, 1885

Image from Find-A-Grave

Whittier’s School Friend Is Honored

HAVERHILL (Mass.), Oct. 28. — (INS) — Undying tribute of John Greenleaf Whittier to Lydia A. Ayer, his childhood sweetheart, a six foot stone memorial bearing an inscription depicting the schoolhouse they both attended, stood in Walnut Cemetery today.

The memorial was erected as a result of several months’ research by Fred L. Noyes of the Haverhill Whittier Associates, who learned Miss Ayres was buried in the cemetery.

In his poem, School Days, Whittier quoted her as saying after she had spelled him down in a spelling bee:

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word;
“I hate to go above you,
“Because” — The brown eyes lower fell —
“Because, you see I love you.”

Fresno Bee Republican (Fresno, California) Oct 28, 1937

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2 Responses to “In School Days”

  1. David Ross Says:

    This is very beautiful and I am so happy to have read it and to say that it inspires me. Thank you. David Russo, Dallas

  2. Ray Warnock Says:

    Quickly put to memory, this little treasure has, as oft as it’s thought, brought smiles and a tear. Such comfort from one old guy to another.

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