Our River

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

For a summer festival at “The Laurels” on the Merrimac.


Once more on yonder laurelled height
The summer flowers have budded;
Once more with summer’s golden light
The vales of home are flooded;
And once more, by the grace of Him
Of every good the Giver,
We sing upon its wooded rim
The praises of our river,

Its pines above, its waves below,
The west-wind down it blowing,
As fair as when the young Brissot
Beheld it seaward flowing,
And bore its memory o’er the deep,
To soothe a martyr’s sadness,
And fresco, in his troubled sleep,
His prison-walls with gladness.

We know the world is rich with streams
Renowned in song and story,
Whose music murmurs through our dreams
Of human love and glory
We know that Arno’s banks are fair,
And Rhine has castled shadows,
And, poet-tuned, the Doon and Ayr
Go singing down their meadows.

But while, unpictured and unsung
By painter or by poet,
Our river waits the tuneful tongue
And cunning hand to show it,
We only know the fond skies lean
Above it, warm with blessing,
And the sweet soul of our Undine
Awakes to our caressing.

No fickle sun-god holds the flocks
That graze its shores in keeping;
No icy kiss of Dian mocks
The youth beside it sleeping
Our Christian river loveth most
The beautiful and human;
The heathen streams of Naiads boast,
But ours of man and woman.

The miner in his cabin hears
The ripple we are hearing;
It whispers soft to homesick ears
Around the settler’s clearing
In Sacramento’s vales of corn,
Or Santee’s bloom of cotton,
Our river by its valley-born
Was never yet forgotten.

The drum rolls loud, the bugle fills
The summer air with clangor;
The war-storm shakes the solid hills
Beneath its tread of anger;
Young eyes that last year smiled in ours
Now point the rifle’s barrel,
And hands then stained with fruits and flowers
Bear redder stains of quarrel.

But blue skies smile, and flowers bloom on,
And rivers still keep flowing,
The dear God still his rain and sun
On good and ill bestowing.
His pine-trees whisper, “Trust and wait!”
His flowers are prophesying
That all we dread of change or fate
His love is underlying.

And thou, O Mountain-born! no more
We ask the wise Allotter
Than for the firmness of thy shore,
The calmness of thy water,
The cheerful lights that overlay,
Thy rugged slopes with beauty,
To match our spirits to our day
And make a joy of duty.

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