Voyage Of The Jettie

A poem by John Greenleaf Whittier

A shallow stream, from fountains
Deep in the Sandwich mountains,
Ran lake ward Bearcamp River;
And, between its flood-torn shores,
Sped by sail or urged by oars
No keel had vexed it ever.

Alone the dead trees yielding
To the dull axe Time is wielding,
The shy mink and the otter,
And golden leaves and red,
By countless autumns shed,
Had floated down its water.

From the gray rocks of Cape Ann,
Came a skilled seafaring man,
With his dory, to the right place;
Over hill and plain he brought her,
Where the boatless Beareamp water
Comes winding down from White-Face.

Quoth the skipper: “Ere she floats forth;
I’m sure my pretty boat’s worth,
At least, a name as pretty.”
On her painted side he wrote it,
And the flag that o’er her floated
Bore aloft the name of Jettie.

On a radiant morn of summer,
Elder guest and latest comer
Saw her wed the Bearcamp water;
Heard the name the skipper gave her,
And the answer to the favor
From the Bay State’s graceful daughter.

Then, a singer, richly gifted,
Her charmed voice uplifted;
And the wood-thrush and song-sparrow
Listened, dumb with envious pain,
To the clear and sweet refrain
Whose notes they could not borrow.

Then the skipper plied his oar,
And from off the shelving shore,
Glided out the strange explorer;
Floating on, she knew not whither,
The tawny sands beneath her,
The great hills watching o’er her.

On, where the stream flows quiet
As the meadows’ margins by it,
Or widens out to borrow a
New life from that wild water,
The mountain giant’s daughter,
The pine-besung Chocorua.

Or, mid the tangling cumber
And pack of mountain lumber
That spring floods downward force,
Over sunken snag, and bar
Where the grating shallows are,
The good boat held her course.

Under the pine-dark highlands,
Around the vine-hung islands,
She ploughed her crooked furrow
And her rippling and her lurches
Scared the river eels and perches,
And the musk-rat in his burrow.

Every sober clam below her,
Every sage and grave pearl-grower,
Shut his rusty valves the tighter;
Crow called to crow complaining,
And old tortoises sat craning
Their leathern necks to sight her.

So, to where the still lake glasses
The misty mountain masses
Rising dim and distant northward,
And, with faint-drawn shadow pictures,
Low shores, and dead pine spectres,
Blends the skyward and the earthward,

On she glided, overladen,
With merry man and maiden
Sending back their song and laughter,
While, perchance, a phantom crew,
In a ghostly birch canoe,
Paddled dumb and swiftly after!

And the bear on Ossipee
Climbed the topmost crag to see
The strange thing drifting under;
And, through the haze of August,
Passaconaway and Paugus
Looked down in sleepy wonder.

All the pines that o’er her hung
In mimic sea-tones sung
The song familiar to her;
And the maples leaned to screen her,
And the meadow-grass seemed greener,
And the breeze more soft to woo her.

The lone stream mystery-haunted,
To her the freedom granted
To scan its every feature,
Till new and old were blended,
And round them both extended
The loving arms of Nature.

Of these hills the little vessel
Henceforth is part and parcel;
And on Bearcamp shall her log
Be kept, as if by George’s
Or Grand Menan, the surges
Tossed her skipper through the fog.

And I, who, half in sadness,
Recall the morning gladness
Of life, at evening time,
By chance, onlooking idly,
Apart from all so widely,
Have set her voyage to rhyme.

Dies now the gay persistence
Of song and laugh, in distance;
Alone with me remaining
The stream, the quiet meadow,
The hills in shine and shadow,
The sombre pines complaining.

And, musing here, I dream
Of voyagers on a stream
From whence is no returning,
Under sealed orders going,
Looking forward little knowing,
Looking back with idle yearning.

And I pray that every venture
The port of peace may enter,
That, safe from snag and fall
And siren-haunted islet,
And rock, the Unseen Pilot
May guide us one and all.

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