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John Greenleaf Whittier Poem The King's Missive

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) Courtesy of Wikipedia

UNDER the great hill sloping bare

To cove and meadow and Common lot,

In his council chamber and oaken chair,

Sat the worshipful Governor Endicott.

A grave, strong man, who knew no peer

In the pilgrim land, where he ruled in fear

Of God, not man, and for good or ill

Held his trust with an iron will.

He had shorn with his sword the cross from out

The flag, and cloven the May-pole down,

Harried the heathen round about,

And whipped the Quakers from town to town.

Earnest and honest, a man at need

To burn like a torch for his own harsh creed,

He kept with the flaming brand of his zeal

The gate of the holy common weal.

His brow was clouded, his eye was stern, With a look of mingled sorrow and wrath; ‘Woe's me!’ he murmured: “at every turn The pestilent Quakers are in my path! Some we have scourged, and banished some, Some banged, more doomed, and still they come, Fast as the tide of yon bay sets in, Sowing their heresy's seed of sin.

Did we count on this? Did we leave behind The graves of our kin, the comfort and ease Of our English hearths and homes, to find Troublers of Israel such as these? Shall I spare? Shall I pity them? God forbid! I will do as the prophet to Agag did: They come to poison the wells of the Word, I will hew them in pieces before the Lord! “

The door swung open, and Rawson the clerk Entered, and whispered under breath, “There waits below for the hangman's work A fellow banished on pain of death— Shattuck, of Salem, unhealed of the whip, Brought over in Master Goldsmith's ship At anchor here in a Christian port, With freight of the devil and all his sort!”

Twice and thrice on the chamber floor Striding fiercely from wall to wall,

‘The Lord do so to me and more,’

The Governor cried, “if I hang not all!

Bring hither the Quaker.” Calm, sedate,

With the look of a man at ease with fate,

Into that presence grim and dread

Came Samuel Shattuck, with hat on head.

‘Off with the knave's hat!’ An angry hand Smote down the offence; but the wearer said, With a quiet smile, “By the king's command I bear his message and stand in his stead.” In the Governor's hand a missive he laid With the royal arms on its seal displayed, And the proud man spake as he gazed thereat, Uncovering, ‘Give Mr. Shattuck his hat.’

He turned to the Quaker, bowing low,— “The king commandeth your friends' release Doubt not he shall be obeyed, although To his subjects' sorrow and sin's increase. What he here enjoineth, John Endicott, His loyal servant, questioneth not. You are free! God grant the spirit you own May take you from us to parts unknown.”

So the door of the jail was open cast, And, like Daniel, out of the lion's den Tender youth and girlhood passed, With age-bowed women and gray-locked men. And the voice of one appointed to die Was lifted in praise and thanks on high, And the little maid from New Netherlands Kissed, in her joy, the doomed man's hands.

Whittier also wrote on Cassandra Southwick, Thomas Macy, and other Quaker history.

Here is a video---Whittier's World: Poet John Greenleaf Whittier House Museums in Haverhill & Amesbury, MA. Whittier was a Quaker from Quaker roots.

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