Hampton's Coast Inspired Man
By Karen Payne
Hampton Union, Friday, December 14, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Photo is courtesy of Wayne P. Bryer as published in "Hampton a Century of Town and Beach 1888-1988", by Peter E. Randall.]
Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was born 200 years ago on Monday and the bicentennial celebration of his birth is renewing interest in a man inspired by the local shore.
Whittier was born into a Quaker household Dec. 17, 1807. The house in which he was born still stands in Haverhill, Mass., and Whittier fans will mark his 200th birthday Monday with all-day readings of his poetry. Special events will take place at the birthplace homestead in Haverhill and at the Whittier Home and Friends Meeting House in Amesbury, Mass.
A select band of believers are expected to arrive at these places intent to absorb something of the spirit of Whittier, who spoke so clearly to the people in his time.
Whittier's fans describe him as a man who held fierce values of peace, temperance and humanity. Strongly opposed to slavery, he also worked on behalf of the rights for Indians, women's suffrage, the blind, felons and animals. He was a force of moral passion, a puritan prophet with respect for all mankind, according to Lewis Leary, a Whittier biographer.
From the poem "Hampton Beach" Whittier observed the peace of the Seacoast many residents appreciate:
I take Mine ease to-day:
Here where these sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary
"I have not read many of Whittier's poems, but I have read 'Snowbound' and some of the poems about the Seacoast," said Marcia Hannon of North Hampton.
New England and especially New Hampshire's Seacoast were strong sources of inspiration for Whittier's pen. Its history, ballads, and traditions transposed easily to his poems about the coast including "Hampton Beach," "The Tent on the Beach," "The Changeling," "The New Wife and the Old," "How the Women Went from Dover," "The Wreck of Rivermouth," "Drift-wood" and "The Cable Hymn."
Finding Whittier's poems is more of a challenge these days, but libraries across the Seacoast offer old volumes of his work with a few biographies of his life.
Marija Sanderling, reference librarian at Lane Memorial Library in Hampton, set up a display at the library of books about Whittier, in honor of his birthday.
"Whittier's works are not checked out very often," Sanderling said. "It is mostly historians who are interested in his work." At Drake Farm Books in North Hampton, owner Bob Gross offers numerous books of the poet's works that reek of antiquity.
"We often have people who come in and ask for poems by Whittier," Gross said. "He is not a forgotten poet."
Many fans of Whittier's poetry say it is meant to be read aloud as it flows with the cadence of a musical score. Michael Maglaras of Greenwich, Conn., and formerly of Dover, is putting a modern twist on nearly 200-year-old poems.
Maglaras has released three spoken word-CDs of Whittier's poems under the label 217 Records.
"I wish to re-acquaint the American public with the works of John Greenleaf Whittier," he said. "Recording Whittier's works is a personal passion of mine."
So what might the poet Whittier have to say to us in 2007? "That God is good, that nature is radiant with beauty and that love is man's single shield against meanness and despair," Leary said.
December 17, 1807 - September 7, 1892
Bicentennial Birthday Events
24-hour poetry vigil at Whittier's birthplace, 305 Whittier Road, Haverhill, Mass., from noon on Sunday to noon on Monday. Take a turn reading a famous Whittier poem, choose your own favorite writer to read aloud or even let others listen to your own work.
Sign up for 15-minute segments. To reserve a spot call (978) 373-3979. Everyone is welcome to come and listen.
Open house at the Whittier Home, 96 Friend St., Amesbury, Mass., from 2 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 16. Free event, but donations excepted. Call (978) 388-1337 for information.
Whittier hymn-sing at the Friends Meeting House, 120 Friend St., Amesbury, Mass., from 2 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 16. Free, but donations accepted.
Lane Memorial Library presents a collection of Whittier's locally inspired works. The library is at 2 Academy Ave., in Hampton. Call 926-3368 for information.