The Sycamores

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

In the outskirts of the village
On the river's winding shores
Stand the Occidental plane-trees,
Stand the ancient sycamores.

One long century hath been numbered,
And another half-way told
Since the rustic Irish gleeman
Broke for them the virgin mould.

Deftly set to Celtic music
At his violin's sound they grew,
Through the moonlit eves of summer,
Making Amphion's fable true.

Rise again, thou poor Hugh Tallant!
Pass in erkin green along
With thy eyes brim full of laughter,
And thy mouth as full of song.

Pioneer of Erin's outcasts
With his fiddle and his pack-
Little dreamed the village Saxons
Of the myriads at his back.

How he wrought with spade and fiddle,
Delved by day and sang by night,
With a hand that never wearied
And a heart forever light,

Still the gay tradition mingles
With a record grave and drear
Like the rollic air of Cluny
With the solemn march of Mear.

When the box-tree, white with blossoms,
Made the sweet May woodlands glad,
And the Aronia by the river
Lighted up the swarming shad,

And the bulging nets swept shoreward
With their silver-sided haul,
Midst the shouts of dripping fishers,
He was merriest of them all.

When, among the jovial huskers
Love stole in at Labor's side
With the lusty airs of England
Soft his Celtic measures vied.

Songs of love and wailing lyke-wake
And the merry fair's carouse;
Of the wild Red Fox of Erin
And the Woman of Three Cows,

By the blazing hearths of winter
Pleasant seemed his simple tales,
Midst the grimmer Yorkshire legends
And the mountain myths of Wales.

How the souls in Purgatory
Scrambled up from fate forlorn
On St. Keven's sackcloth ladder
Slyly hitched to Satan's horn.

Of the fiddler who at Tara
Played all night to ghosts of kings;
Of the brown dwarfs, and the fairies
Dancing in their moorland rings!

Jolliest of our birds of singing
Best he loved the Bob-o-link.
"Hush!" he'd say, "the tipsy fairies!
Hear the little folks in drink!"

Merry-faced, with spade and fiddle,
Singing through the ancient town,
Only this, of poor Hugh Tallant
Hath Tradition handed down.

Not a stone his grave discloses;
But if yet his spirit walks
Tis beneath the trees he planted
And when Bob-o-Lincoln talks.

Green memorials of the gleeman!
Linking still the river-shores,
With their shadows cast by sunset
Stand Hugh Tallant's sycamores!

When the Father of his Country
Through the north-land riding came
And the roofs were starred with banners,
And the steeples rang acclaim,

When each war-scarred Continental
Leaving smithy, mill,.and farm,
Waved his rusted sword in welcome,
And shot off his old king's-arm,

Slowly passed that august Presence
Down the thronged and shouting street;
Village girls as white as angels
Scattering flowers around his feet.

Midway, where the plane-tree's shadow
Deepest fell, his rein he drew:
On his stately head, uncovered,
Cool and soft the west-wind blew.

And he stood up in his stirrups,
Looking up and looking down
On the hills of Gold and Silver
Rimming round the little town,

On the river, full of sunshine,
To the lap of greenest vales
Winding down from wooded headlands,
Willow-skirted, white with sails.

And he said, the landscape sweeping
Slowly with his ungloved hand
"I have seen no prospect fairer
In this goodly Eastern land."

Then the bugles of his escort
Stirred to life the cavalcade:
And that head, so bare and stately
Vanished down the depths of shade.

Ever since, in town and farm-house,
Life has had its ebb and flow;
Thrice hath passed the human harvest
To its garner green and low.

But the trees the gleeman planted,
Through the changes, changeless stand;
As the marble calm of Tadmor
Mocks the deserts shifting sand.

Still the level moon at rising
Silvers o'er each stately shaft;
Still beneath them, half in shadow,
Singing, glides the pleasure craft;

Still beneath them, arm-enfolded,
Love and Youth together stray;
While, as heart to heart beats faster,
More and more their feet delay.

Where the ancient cobbler, Keezar,
On the open hillside justice wrought,
Singing, as he drew his stitches,
Songs his German masters taught.

Singing, with his gray hair floating
Round a rosy ample face,
Now a thousand Saxon craftsmen
Stitch and hammer in his place.

All the pastoral lanes so grassy
Now are Traffic's dusty streets;
From the village, grown a city,
Fast the rural grace retreats.

But, still green and tall and stately,
On the river's winding shores,
Stand the occidental plane-trees,
Stand Hugh Tallant's sycamores

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