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Poetic Tributes to Sarah Orne Jewett

Sarah Orne Jewett

Ann Struthers

In the country of the pointed firs
Sarah Orne Jewett was taught to eat cake
while wearing white gloves. She didn't like boys;
her sisters' sharp elbows nudged her at parties
when she stared at pretty girls.

She listened to Grandmothers' stories,
to the lame scrub woman's life, harsh as lye soap,
to the egg lady, shoulders humped like a chicken's,
to Granny Smith who kept a vegetable patch,
spoke poverty and lived granite.
She wrote their lives every morning at her desk
in the wide upstairs hall overlooking the secret woods.

With her first royalties
bought a fast thoroughbred named Sheila,
galloped across the fields, whipping the air.
After thirty, took up with Annie Fields.
The neighbors said they had a "Boston marriage."
Her ice skates hung above the green mantle
in her stark bedroom
except in winter when she engraved the pond
with their sharp blades, a lantern fastened
to her left wrist for night skating.
Her sisters watched her
from the great windows of the house
writing bold yellow sentences on the dark.

This poem appeared originally in The American Scholar and was collected in The Alcott Family Arrives (Copyright 1993 Ann Struthers), and is reprinted here by permission. To see more of Struthers's work, you can visit the web site on The Alcott Family Arrives or The first photo above is of Sarah Orne Jewett, the second and third below are of Annie Adams Fields and of Jewett. The first two are from Elizabeth Silverthorne, Sarah Orne Jewett; the last from Annie Fields, Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett.

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To S. O. J.

Invitation to a walk.

Edith M. Thomas (1854-1925)

I've a budding plan that shows
All the color of the rose:
On some morning you will name,
You break house, and I'll the same,
(In such craft we're skilled profoundly!)
Leave our bodies sleeping soundly,
Thence abroad, all spirit, fare,
Lighter than the breathing air.

Quickly mount the ether way:
Only have a care, I pray,
That you be not caught amain
In some wild dream's comet-train!
Since your journey lies due west,
When your spirit's feet you'd rest,
At your pleasure you can float
In the old moon's cockle-boat.

Meanwhile, I must take my way
Toward the gleaming of the day.
When we meet, as meet we will,
Then we'll foot it, light and still,
Wheresoe'er the fancy please:
On the blossoming chestnut-trees,
Starting perfume, as we go;
Or upon some river's flow,
Trip it as the naiads do.
Yonder, sleeping, misty-blue,
Lies my lake, and evermore
Softly kisses the brown shore, -
We might loiter there awhile.

Or we'll flit to your Marsh Isle!
When we've breathed the late-mown grass,
Up an orchard slope we'll pass;
Golden pippins hanging low, -
If we take some, who will know?
. . . Ah, sweet Doris! what if we
At her window try a glee?
Singing, "Doris, sweetheart, wake,
And the dark its flight shall take!"

Thus I plan: do you agree
You will come half-way to me?
On some morning you will name,
You break house, - I'll do the same!

This poem to Sarah Orne Jewett appeared in The Atlantic in December 1885, pp. 805-6. Thomas refers specifically to two works of Jewett, "The Confession of a House-Breaker" - which appears in The Mate of the Daylight (1883) - and A Marsh Island (1885).


John Greenleaf Whittier

Outbound, your bark awaits you. Were I one
     Whose prayer availeth much, my wish should be
     Your favoring trade-wind and consenting sea.
By sail or steed was never love outrun,
And, here, or there, love follows her in whom
     All graces and sweet charities unite,
     The old Greek beauty set in holier light;
And her for whom New England's byways bloom,
Who walks among us welcome as the Spring,
     Calling up blossoms where her light feet stray.
     God keep you both, make beautiful your way,
Comfort, console, bless; safely bring,
Ere yet I make upon a vaster sea
The unreturning voyage, my friends to me.

Whittier wrote this sonnet for the recently widowed Annie Fields and her new friend Sarah Orne Jewett as the pair departed for Jewett's first trip to Europe in May of 1882. The text is from Whittier's Complete Poetical Works (1894). "Her in whom all graces and sweet charities unite" is generally agreed to be Fields, while "her for whom New England's byways bloom" is Jewett.

A Tribute

If I could look as she looks,
I wouldn't be bothered with books.
If I could write as she writes,
My looks wouldn't vex me o' nights.
     But to write as she writes,
     And look as she looks,
     And charm as she charms --
Who is there can do it,
Save only Miss Jewett?

This tribute appeared in Life Magazine,  April 6, 1899.  It is quoted in Elizabeth Silverthorne, Sarah Orne Jewett: A Writer's Life (183) and in Weber & Weber, A Bibliography of the Published Writings of Sarah Orne Jewett (65).

Sarah Orne Jewett.

(Written for The Sun by Mabel S. Merrill.)

Her magic makes for us a summer day,
In a still land where sunny waters gleam,
Where earth lies dreaming, every dream a flower,
Some low sweet blossom in the bending grass;
Here a red lily in gray pasture lands
Worships the sun, and on the hot hillside
Sweet fern burns incense and a brown bird croons.
Over the lowlands faint mists drift and curl,
And from the shadowy distance calls the sea.
No land of marvels this, -- a humble place
Where common folk move on their homely way
And life looks dim and lowly, -- but behold!
The mists have parted as we stood to look,
And in the sunny air the hills of truth,
Clear and eternal, cleave the stainless blue.

From The Lewiston Daily Sun -- July 1, 1903, p. 3

Two Sonnets to Sarah Orne Jewett

by Emily Hanson Obear (of New York and Calais)


You knew so well the heart of our loved State,
    That every man and woman in your books
    Is neighbor to our heart.  You found [knew] the nooks
Which [Where] hide the poor and lonely, -- those who late
Owned [Had] farm and weir and sloop [stoop] and ruled their fate.
    You followed [knew] the windings of the trout-filled brooks;
    You knew how measureless the ocean looks
To eyes that scan the storm and tensely wait

Their men-folk at the close of day.  How dear
    To us who love our country of the pine
        Your isles, wild flowers [your gardens], and your wind-swept shore.
We read your sun-shot lines, and home seems near.
    Your words make hearths in all our households shine
        In [with] pride for tasks and dreams our fathers bore.


One day I saw your writing-folio,
    Loved books you placed on ordered shelves; your name
    Etched on the eastern window pane, as fame
Blazoned it on her list long years ago.
I saw your garden where the flowers grow
    You gathered near your pointed firs, the same
    Mayflowers, daisies, buttercups that came
Each spring to dance in fields your readers know.

I saw the home your memory gladdens now, --
    Tall pine trees marching toward the water's edge;
        Fog film, quick sunlight, island mystery,
    Lean herons coasting slantwise to the sedge.
        But this is what comes oftenest to me: --
The painting over your hearth, -- an unmanned plow.

The first sonnet appeared in the Lewiston Journal Magazine Section, Lewiston, Maine, Saturday, February 6, 1943, p. 1.  The Lewiston text is available courtesy of Colby College Special Collections, Waterville, ME.  It appears to have been published originally in Maine and Vermont Poets (1935, p. 76), edited by Henry Harrison (Nagel & Nagel, Sarah Orne Jewett: A Reference Guide, 1978, p. 70).  It was reprinted, with a second sonnet, as "Two Sonnets to Sarah Orne Jewett," in Colby Library Quarterly, series 2, no.6, May 1948, p.124-126.  Both poems are formatted here as they appear in CLQ.  Brackets in the first sonnet indicate substantial changes between the Lewiston Journal publication (in brackets) and the CLQ publication.  Both are reprinted here by permission of Colby Quarterly.


James Norman Hall (1887-1951).
from  The Atlantic Monthly 174 (September 1944):58-59.

A little way beyond we met Isaiah Peet, the prosperous money-lender, who had cheated the old woman of her own. I fancied that he looked somewhat ashamed as he recognized us. To my surprise, he stopped his horse in most social fashion. "Old Aunt Peet's passed away," he informed me briskly. "She had a shock, and went right off sudden yisterday forenoon. I'm about now tendin' to the funeral 'rangements." From "Going to Shrewsbury."

The news came from the husband's sister's son,
The rogue who stole her farm; but I, for one,
Know that, if Mrs. Peet did pass away,
She rose not later than the following day,
Threw off her shroud, and bought a Shrewsbury ticket.
Dead? Mrs. Peet? No more than Cynthia Pickett
Or Mrs. Persis Flagg both "Orthodox"
Or the Free-Will-Baptist lady; she who knocks
At Mrs. Beckett's door; or Mrs. Janes,
Poor meechin' body! with her ague pains;
Or Mrs. Trimble, or Rebecca Wright,
Driving to Hampden in the fading light
That never fades: as golden now as when
They planned to bring the Bray girls home again.

Not one of them has "passed away" not one.
Miss Tempy Dent, no less than these, lives on;
And her two watchers are as safe as she
From further harm. At Byfleet, knee to knee,
Sit Betsey Lane, Peggy, and Mrs. Dow,
Old women fifty years ago, and now
Not a day older. Peggy's guarded cry:
"Ain't that Mis' Fales? There! Do let's pray her by!"
And Mrs. Todd's, "Well, mother, here I be!"
(Heard at Green Island green immortally),
Ring as they did. They will be carried on
 Over the hills and years when we have gone
To lie among the unremembered dead.
The hungry generations onward tread,
But the winter sun of every New Year's Day
Sees Mrs. Hand and Abby toil their way
Up to Aunt Cynthy Dallett's mountain farm
To "visit" there forever, safe from harm.

All of them safe, the folk Miss Jewett knew;
Such power has truth, when truth is added to
Clear-sighted, faithful, understanding love.
Visit her towns for ample proof thereof.
In Hampden, Woodville, every wall and roof,
And on the farms beyond, is weatherproof.
At Topham Corners, Fairfield, Dunnet Landing,
Columns of wood smoke rise from chimneys standing
Just as they stood those many years ago.
A century from now it will be so;
Because their life is drawn, as she drew hers,
Through healthy roots, deep as the pointed fir's,


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