The Maids Of Attitash

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

In sky and wave the white clouds swam,
And the blue hills of Nottingham
Through gaps of leafy green
Across the lake were seen,

When, in the shadow of the ash
That dreams its dream in Attitash,
In the warm summer weather,
Two maidens sat together.

They sat and watched in idle mood
The gleam and shade of lake and wood;
The beach the keen light smote,
The white sail of a boat;

Swan flocks of lilies shoreward lying,
In sweetness, not in music, dying;
Hardback, and virgin's-bower,
And white-spiked clethra-flower.

With careless ears they heard the plash
And breezy wash of Attitash,
The wood-bird's plaintive cry,
The locust's sharp reply.

And teased the while, with playful band,
The shaggy dog of Newfoundland,
Whose uncouth frolic spilled
Their baskets berry-filled.

Then one, the beauty of whose eyes
Was evermore a great surprise,
Tossed back her queenly head,
And, lightly laughing, said:

"No bridegroom's hand be mine to hold
That is not lined with yellow gold;
I tread no cottage-floor;
I own no lover poor.

"My love must come on silken wings,
With bridal lights of diamond rings,
Not foul with kitchen smirch,
With tallow-dip for torch."

The other, on whose modest head
Was lesser dower of beauty shed,
With look for home-hearths meet,
And voice exceeding sweet,

Answered, "We will not rivals be;
Take thou the gold, leave love to me;
Mine be the cottage small,
And thine the rich man's hall.

"I know, indeed, that wealth is good;
But lowly roof and simple food,
With love that hath no doubt,
Are more than gold without."

Hard by a farmer hale and young
His cradle in the rye-field swung,
Tracking the yellow plain
With windrows of ripe grain.

And still, whene'er he paused to whet
His scythe, the sidelong glance he met
Of large dark eyes, where strove
False pride and secret love.

Be strong, young mower of the-grain;
That love shall overmatch disdain,
Its instincts soon or late
The heart shall vindicate.

In blouse of gray, with fishing-rod,
Half screened by leaves, a stranger trod
The margin of the pond,
Watching the group beyond.

The supreme hours unnoted come;
Unfelt the turning tides of doom;
And so the maids laughed on,
Nor dreamed what Fate had done,

Nor knew the step was Destiny's
That rustled in the birchen trees,
As, with their lives forecast,
Fisher and mower passed.

Erelong by lake and rivulet side
The summer roses paled and died,
And Autumn's fingers shed
The maple's leaves of red.

Through the long gold-hazed afternoon,
Alone, but for the diving loon,
The partridge in the brake,
The black duck on the lake,

Beneath the shadow of the ash
Sat man and maid by Attitash;
And earth and air made room
For human hearts to bloom.

Soft spread the carpets of the sod,
And scarlet-oak and golden-rod
With blushes and with smiles
Lit up the forest aisles.

The mellow light the lake aslant,
The pebbled margin's ripple-chant
Attempered and low-toned,
The tender mystery owned.

And through the dream the lovers dreamed
Sweet sounds stole in and soft lights streamed;
The sunshine seemed to bless,
The air was a caress.

Not she who lightly laughed is there,
With scornful toss of midnight hair,
Her dark, disdainful eyes,
And proud lip worldly-wise.

Her haughty vow is still unsaid,
But all she dreamed and coveted
Wears, half to her surprise,
The youthful farmer's guise!

With more than all her old-time pride
She walks the rye-field at his side,
Careless of cot or hall,
Since love transfigures all.

Rich beyond dreams, the vantage-ground
Of life is gained; her hands have found
The talisman of old
That changes all to gold.

While she who could for love dispense
With all its glittering accidents,
And trust her heart alone,
Finds love and gold her own.

What wealth can buy or art can build
Awaits her; but her cup is filled
Even now unto the brim;
Her world is love and him!

. . . . .

The while he heard, the Book-man drew
A length of make-believing face,
With smothered mischief laughing through
"Why, you shall sit in Ramsay's place,
And, with his Gentle Shepherd, keep
On Yankee hills immortal sheep,
While love-lorn swains and maids the seas beyond
Hold dreamy tryst around your huckleberry-pond."

The Traveller laughed: "Sir Galahad
Singing of love the Trouvere's lay!
How should he know the blindfold lad
From one of Vulcan's forge-boys?" "Nay,
He better sees who stands outside
Than they who in procession ride,"
The Reader answered: "selectmen and squire
Miss, while they make, the show that wayside folks admire.

"Here is a wild tale of the North,
Our travelled friend will own as one
Fit for a Norland Christmas hearth
And lips of Christian Andersen.
They tell it in the valleys green
Of the fair island he has seen,
Low lying off the pleasant Swedish shore,
Washed by the Baltic Sea, and watched by Elsinore.

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