VALLEY OF THE MERRIMACK

Scottish Rite Masons

THE MERRIMACK

By John Greenleaf Whittier

 [“The Indians speak of a beautiful river far to the south which they call Merrimack.”   --    Sieur de Monts: 1604]

Stream of my fathers sweetly still

The sunset rays thy valley fill

Poured slantwise down the long defile

Wave, wood and spire beneath them smile.

I see the winding Powow fold

The green hill in its belt of gold

And following down its wavy line

Its sparkling waters blend with thine.

There’s not a tree upon thy side

Nor rock which thy returning tide

As yet hath left abrupt and stark

Above thy evening water-mark;

No calm cove with its rocky hem

No isle whose emerald swells begem

Thy broad smooth current not a sail

Bowed to the freshening ocean gale

No small boat with its busy oars

Nor gray wall sloping to thy shores

Nor farm house with its maple shade

Or rigid poplar colonnade

But lies distinct and full in sight

Beneath this gush of sunset light.

Centuries ago that harbor bar

Stretching its length of foam afar

And Salisbury's beach of shining sand

And yonder island's wave smoothed strand

Saw the adventurer's tiny  [1]

Flit stooping from the eastern gale

And o’er these woods and waters broke

The cheer from Britain's hearts of oak

As brightly on the voyager's eye

Weary of forest sea and sky

Breaking the dull continuous wood

The Merrimack rolled down his flood

Mingling that clear pellucid brook

Which channels vast Agioochook  [2]

When spring time's sun and shower unlock

The frozen fountains of the rock

And more abundant waters given

From that pure lake The Smile of Heaven [3]

Tributes from vale and mountain side

With ocean's dark eternal tide!

 

On yonder rocky cape which braves

The stormy challenge of the waves

Midst tangled vine and dwarfish wood

The hardy Anglo Saxon stood

Planting upon the topmost crag

The staff of England's battle flag

And while from out its heavy fold

Saint George's crimson cross unrolled

Midst roll of drum and trumpet blare

And weapons brandishing in air

He gave to that lone promontory

The sweetest name in all his story [4]

Of her the flower of Islam's daughters

Whose harems look on Stamboul's waters

Who, when the chance of war had bound

The Moslem chain his limbs around

Wreathed o’er with silk that iron chain

Soothed with her smiles his hours of pain

And fondly to her youthful slave

A dearer gift than freedom gave.

 

But look! -- the yellow light no more

Streams down on wave and verdant shore

And clearly on the calm air swells

I he twilight voice of distant bells

From Ocean's bosom white and thin

The mists come slowly rolling in

Hills woods the river's rocky rim

Amidst the sea like vapor swim

While yonder lonely coast light, set

Within its wave washed minaret

Half quenched a beamless star and pale

Shines dimly through its cloudy veil !

 

Home of my fathers I have stood

Where Hudson rolled his lordly flood

Seen sunrise rest and sunset fade

Along his frowning Palisade

Looked down the Appalachian peak

On Juniata's silver streak

Have seen along his valley gleam

The Mohawk's softly winding stream

The level light of sunset shine

Through broad Potomac's hem of pine

And autumn's rainbow tinted banner

Hang lightly o’er the Susquehanna

Yet wheresoe’er his step might be

Thy wandering child looked back to thee

Heard in his dreams thy river's sound

Of murmuring on its pebbly bound

The unforgotten swell and roar

Of waves on thy familiar shore

And saw amidst the curtained gloom

And quiet of his lonely room

Thy sunset scenes before him pass

As in Agrippa's magic glass

The loved and lost arose to view

Remembered groves in greenness grew

Bathed still in childhood's morning dew

Along whose bowers of beauty swept

Whatever Memory's mourners wept

Sweet faces which the charnel kept

Young gentle eyes which long had slept

And while the gazer leaned to trace

More near some dear familiar face

He wept to find the vision flown

A phantom and a dream alone. !

 

Note 1. Adventurer: Captain John Smith.

Note 2. Agioochook: Mt. Washington  

Note 3. Smile of Heaven: Lake Winnipisaukee. 

Note 4. Captain Smith gave to the promontory now called Cape Ann the name of Tragabizanda. 

 

Source: The Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. Household edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin & Co. 1892.  Image Credit: American Rivers and Merrimack River Watershed Council