Whittier’s Trumpet

whittierBack in Nov. 1982, at a book sale in Abilene, Tex., I bought a fascinating little tome, Poems of Whittier. Or as the title page has it: “Poems By John Greenleaf Whittier,” published by Books, Inc., New York & Boston. No date given.

It’s fascinating for two reasons. On the inside front cover (hardback), a decal bears the printed name of the original owner, Patricia Moore, with a poem by children’s author Emilie Poulsson:

Books are keys to wisdom’s treasure;
Books are gates to lands of pleasure;
Books are paths that upward lead,
Books are friends — come, let us read.

On the right side, written in what appears to be the ink of a fountain pen: “Patricia Xmas 1944.”

I opened the book this morning, more than 64 years after that ink dried, and this quatrain from his poem, “Worship,” popped out at me:

O brother man! fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

His Quakerism bleeds through (perhaps not a good metaphor for that religion), but the verse makes a nice point.

The spine of the book makes the case for my fascination. The section where the title appears was blacked out, but one can see faintly underneath it another title: The Way of All Flesh, with the author’s name, Samuel Butler.

That work was a 1903 novel which “attacked the Victorian pattern of life, in particular the ecclesiastical environment in which he was reared,” according to the link above.

Seems evident that, during WWII, the printer reused the hardback cover of a recent edition of the novel to encase Whittier’s poems.

Of course, all this leads to one of my own:


Tomorrow’s need and scarcity may darken
What’s written sharp today upon the spine;
The faddish novel must give way and harken
To the trumpet* of the peaceful poet’s line.

It cheers me that the poet was superimposed over the novelist. For once, poetry gets its revenge.

*”The alternate history story ‘P.’s Correspondence’ (1846) by Nathaniel Hawthorne … includes the notice ‘Whittier, a fiery Quaker youth, to whom the muse had perversely assigned a battle-trumpet, got himself lynched, in South Carolina’. –“John Greenleaf Whittier

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

What do you think?