Whittier had very little opportunity for education beyond what the district school afforded, for his parents were too poor to send him away to school. His two years’ attendance at Haverhill Academy was paid for by his own work at making ladies’ slippers for 25 cents a pair. He began writing verses almost as soon as he learned to write at all, but his father discouraged this ambition as frivolous, saying it would never give him bread.
Whittier led the life of a New England farm boy, used to hard work and few pleasures. His family were Quakers, sturdy of stature as of character. Their library consisted of one book, the family Bible. Later, a book of poetry was loaned to him by his schoolteacher. Whittier was intensely patriotic and religious by nature. His poems picture country life and the scenes of the simple occupations common in his part of the nation. He opposed any injustice to the poor and wrote many poems in protest against slavery.
Here is an example of his work called “The Corn Song” which extolls the beauty of autumn and the harvest.
THE CORN SONG
Heap high the farmer’s wintry hoard! Heap high the golden corn! No richer gift has autumn poured from out her lavish horn! Let other lands, exulting; glean the apple from the pine, the orange from its glossy green, the cluster from the vine.
We better love the hardy gift our rugged vales bestow, to cheer us when the storm shall drift our harvest-fields with snow. Through vales of grass and meads of flowers our plows their furrows made. While on the hills the sun and showers of changeful April played.
We dropped the seed o’er hill and plain beneath the sun of May and frightened from our sprouting grain the robber crows away. All through the long, bright days of June, its leaves grew green and fair and waved in hot midsummer’s noon its soft and yellow hair.
And now, with autumn’s moonlit eves, its harvest-time has come. We pluck away the frosted leaves and bear the treasure home. Then shame on all the proud and vain whose folly laughs to scorn, the blessing of our hardy grain and our wealth of golden corn.
Let earth withhold her goodly root, let mildew blight the rye. Give to the worm the orchard’s fruit, the wheat-field to the fly. But let the good old crop adorn the hills our fathers trod. Still let us, for his golden corn send up our thanks to God!
Former Harlan city school teacher, Douglas Terry, introduced his junior high and high school students to poets such as Whittier and many others. I was one of those students and for that, I shall always be grateful. Mr. Terry was a talented musician and had a keen appreciation for beauty and the arts. He will forever live in the hearts of many of his students.