“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.”
- Simonides of Ceos

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

"In School-days" by John Greenleaf Whittier

Born in rural Massachusetts in 1807, John Greenleaf Whittier began to write poetry at a young age with his first poem being published in the summer of 1826. Shortly thereafter, he began working as an editor of various periodicals. The poem "In School-days" was written in 1869 and Whittier may have drawn a bit on his own experience as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. The poem was praised by the public as well as by other poets with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow commenting, "There is something more in education than is set down in the school-books. Whittier has touched this point very poetically in that little lyric of his." Oliver Wendell Holmes said of the poem in a letter to Whittier, "...I had no sooner read them [the lines] that I fell into such ecstasy that I could hardly find words too high-colored to speak of them to my little household. I hardly think I dared read them aloud. My eyes fill with tears just looking at them in my scrapbook, now, while I am writing."

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Program Credits

Announcer: Thomas Lamar
Narrator: Jeffrey K. Holbrook
Composer: Natasha Green
Sound Design & Mixing: Christopher Green
Photography: P. Ryan Paulsen
Producer/Director: J.D. Sutter

Entry on Wikipedia for John Greenleaf Whittier
Whittier's Bio on The Poetry Foundation
Analysis of "In School-days" by Lauren Bollinger

NOTE: There is an alternate version of the first stanza in some early publications of this poem. We have chosen to use the later version of the text for our program as it was the text included in several authorized editions of Whittier's writings. You can see the alternate text at the bottom of this post.
John Greenleaf Whittier

"In School-days" by John Greenleaf Whittier

Still sits the school-house by the road,
   A ragged beggar sleeping;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
   And blackberry-vines are creeping.

Within, the master’s desk is seen,
   Deep scarred by raps official;
The warping floor, the battered seats,
   The jack-knife’s carved initial;

The charcoal frescos on its wall;
   Its door’s worn sill, betraying
The feet that, creeping slow to school,
   Went storming out to playing!

Long years ago a winter sun
   Shone over it at setting;
Lit up its western window-panes,
   And low eaves’ icy fretting.

It touched the tangled golden curls,
   And brown eyes full of grieving,
Of one who still her steps delayed
   When all the school were leaving.

For near her stood the little boy
   Her childish favor singled:
His cap pulled low upon a face
   Where pride and shame were mingled.

Pushing with restless feet the snow
   To right and left, he lingered;—
As restlessly her tiny hands
   The blue-checked apron fingered.

He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
   The soft hand’s light caressing,
And heard the tremble of her voice,
   As if a fault confessing.

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word:
   I hate to go above you,
Because,”—the brown eyes lower fell,—
   “Because, you see, I love you!”

Still memory to a gray-haired man
   That sweet child-face is showing.
Dear girl! the grasses on her grave
   Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
   How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
   Like her,—because they love him.

Illustration which accompanied the poem in one of its publications.

Alternate Text of Stanza One

Still sits the school-house by the road,
   A ragged beggar sunning;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
   And blackberry-vines are running.