Monday, April 13, 2015

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807—1892) is a Quaker poet who advocated for the abolition of slavery. He was particularly influenced by the poetry of Robert Burns. Whittier's first poem was published in 1826 when his sister sent it to The Newburyport Free Press without his permission.

He became a newspaper editor and rose quickly to the influential New England Weekly Review where he became an outspoken critic of President Andrew Jackson. He had been interested in a career in politics, but his outspoken 1833 abolitionist pamphlet Justice and Expediency marginalized him from the mainstream. In 1857 he was one of the founding contributors to The Atlantic Monthly.

Up until the end of the Civil War, Whittier's writing focussed on bringing an end to slavery. Once that was accomplished he turned his attention to poems expressing faith, love of nature, and the experience of rural life. The publication of his long poem Snow-Bound in 1866 made him a household name and brought him a comfortable income.


My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

By Their Works

Call him not heretic whose works attest
His faith in goodness by no creed confessed.
Whatever in love's name is truly done
To free the bound and lift the fallen one
Is done to Christ. Whoso in deed and word
Is not against Him labours for our Lord.
When he, who, sad and weary, longing sore
For love's sweet service sought the sisters' door
One saw the heavenly, one the human guest
But who shall say which loved the master best?

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about John Greenleaf Whittier: second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.