poem index

About this poet

An American poet and editor, John Greenleaf Whittier was born December 17, 1807, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The son of two devout Quakers, he grew up on the family farm and had little formal schooling. His first published poem, "The Exile's Departure," was published in William Lloyd Garrison's Newburyport Free Press in 1826. He then attended Haverhill Academy from 1827 to 1828, supporting himself as a shoemaker and schoolteacher. By the time he was twenty, he had published enough verse to bring him to the attention of editors and readers in the antislavery cause. A Quaker devoted to social causes and reform, Whittier worked passionately for a series of abolitionist newspapers and magazines. In Boston, he edited American Manufacturer and Essex Gazette before becoming editor of the important New England Weekly Review. Whittier was active in his support of National Republican candidates; he was a delegate in 1831 to the national Republican Convention in support of Henry Clay, and he himself ran unsuccessfully for Congress the following year.

His first book, Legends of New England in Prose and Verse, was published in 1831; from then until the Civil War, he wrote essays and articles as well as poems, almost all of which were concerned with abolition. In 1833 he wrote Justice and Expedience urging immediate abolition. In 1834 he was elected as a Whig for one term to the Massachusetts legislature; mobbed and stoned in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1835. He moved in 1836 to Amesbury, Massachusetts, where he worked for the American Anti-Slavery Society. During his tenure as editor of the Pennsylvania Freeman, in May 1838, the paper's offices burned to the ground and were sacked during the destruction of Pennsylvania Hall by a mob.

Whittier founded the antislavery Liberty party in 1840 and ran for Congress in 1842. In the mid-1850s he began to work for the formation of the Republican party; he supported presidential candidacy of John C. Frémont in 1856. He helped to found Atlantic Monthly in 1857. Although Whittier was close friends with Elizabeth Lloyd Howell and considered marrying her, in 1859 he decided against it.

While Whittier's critics never considered him to be a great poet, they thought him a nobel and kind man whose verse gave unique expression to ideas they valued. The Civil War inspired the famous poem, "Barbara Frietchie," but the important change in his work came after the war. From 1865 until his death in 1892, Whittier wrote of religion, nature, and rural life; he became the most popular Fireside poets.

In 1866 he published his most popular work, Snow-Bound, which sold 20,000 copies. In the early 1880s, he formed close friendships with Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Fields. For his seventieth birthday dinner in 1877, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mark Twain, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and William Dean Howells attended. He died at Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, on September 7, 1892.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Legends of New England in Prose and Verse (1831)
Moll Pitcher (1832)
Justice and Expediency (1833)
Poems (1838)
Lays of My Home (1843)
The Panorama (1846)
Voices of Freedom (1846)
Poems by John G. Whittier (1849)
Songs of Labor (1850)
The Chapel of the Hermits (1853)
Poetical Works (1857)
Home Ballads (1860)
In War Time (1864)
Snow-Bound (1866)
The Tent on the Beach (1867)
Among the Hills (1869)
Miriam and Other Poems (1871)
Hazel-Blossoms (1875)
The Vision of Echard (1878)
St. Gregory's Guest (1886)
At Sundown (1890)
The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier (1894)

Prose

Leaves from Margaret Smith's Journal (1849)
Old Portraits and Modern Sketches (1850)
Literary Recreations and Miscellanies (1854)

Brown of Ossawatomie

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1807 - 1892
John Brown of Ossawatomie spake on his dying day:
'I will not have to shrive my soul a priest in Slavery's pay;
But let some poor slave-mother whom I have striven to free,
With her children, from the gallows-stair put up a prayer for me!'

John Brown of Ossawatomie, they led him out to die;
And lo! a poor slave-mother with her little child pressed nigh:
Then the bold, blue eye grew tender, and the old harsh face grew mild,
As he stooped between the jeering ranks and kissed the negro's child!

The shadows of his stormy life that moment fell apart,
And they who blamed the bloody hand forgave the loving heart;
That kiss from all its guilty means redeemed the good intent,
And round the grisly fighter's hair the martyr's aureole bent!

Perish with him the folly that seeks through evil good!
Long live the generous purpose unstained with human blood!
Not the raid of midnight terror, but the thought which underlies;
Not the borderer's pride of daring, but the Christian's sacrifice.

Nevermore may yon Blue Ridges the Northern rifle hear,
Nor see the light of blazing homes flash on the negro's spear;
But let the free-winged angel Truth their guarded passes scale,
To teach that right is more than might, and justice more than mail!

So vainly shall Virginia set her battle in array;
In vain her trampling squadrons knead the winter snow with clay!
She may strike the pouncing eagle, but she dares not harm the dove;
And every gate she bars to Hate shall open wide to Love!

This poem is in the public domain.

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier

An American poet and editor, John Greenleaf Whittier was born December 17, 1807

by this poet

poem
"All hail!" the bells of Christmas rang,
"All hail!" the monks at Christmas sang,
The merry monks who kept with cheer
The gladdest day of all their year.

But still apart, unmoved thereat,
A pious elder brother sat
Silent, in his accustomed place,
With God's sweet peace upon his face.

"Why sitt'st thou thus?"
poem
In the old days (a custom laid aside
With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent
Their wisest men to make the public laws.
And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound
Drinks the small tribute of the Mianas,
Waved over by the woods of Rippowams,
And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths,
Stamford sent
poem
Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun, 
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run, 
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold, 
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold, 
Like that which o'er Nineveh's prophet once grew, 
While he waited to know that his warning was true, 
And