Main Contents
Jewett's Poems

THE EAGLE TREES

Sarah Orne Jewett

This talented authoress, the daughter of Dr. Theodore Herman Jewett, a graduate of Bowdoin, was born in South Berwick, Sept. 3, 1849; was educated at home and in the Berwick Academy, and has traveled extensively, often with her intimate friend, Mrs. Annie Fields -- wife of the late distinguished author and publisher -- and herself a writer of repute, in Europe, Canada, and the United States. In addition to contributions to the leading magazines, Miss Jewett is the author of several very popular books. "Deephaven," published in Boston, 1877; "Play-Days," 1878; "Old Friends and New," 1880; "Country By-Ways," 1881; "The Mate of the Daylight," 1883; "A Country Doctor," 1884; "A Marsh Island," 1885; "A White Heron," 1886; and "The Story of the Normans" (New York) 1887. Miss Jewett's father, before referred to, who died at Crawford Notch, in the White Mountains, Sept. 20, 1878, was president of the Maine Medical society, and made many important contributions to current medical literature.

THE EAGLE TREES.

to J. G. W.

Great pines that watch the river go
   Down to the sea all night, all day,
Firm-rooted near its ebb and flow,
   Bowing their heads to winds at play,
Strong-limbed and proud, they silent stand,
   And watch the mountains far away,
And watch the miles of farming land,
   And hear the church bells tolling slow.

They see the men in distant fields
   Follow the furrows of the plough;
They count the loads the harvest yields,
   And fight the storms with every bough,
Beating the wild winds back again.
   The April sunshine cheers them now;
They eager drink the warm spring rain,
   Nor dread the spear the lightning wields.

High in the branches clings the nest
   The great birds build from year to year;
And though they fly from east to west,
   Some instinct keeps this eyrie dear
To their fierce hearts; and now their eyes
   Glare down at me with rage and fear;
They stare at me with wild surprise,
   Where high in air they strong-winged rest.

Companionship of birds and trees!
   The years have proved your friendship strong,
You share each other's memories,
   The river's secret and its song,
And legends of the country-side;
   The eagles take their journey long,
The great trees wait in noble pride
   For messages from hills and seas.

I hear a story that you tell
   In idleness of summer days:
A singer that the world knows well
   To you again in boyhood strays;
Within the stillness of your shade
   He rests where flickering sunlight plays,
And sees the nest the eagles made,
   And wonders at the distant bell.

His keen eyes watch the forest growth,
   The rabbits' fear, the thrushes' flight;
He loiters gladly, nothing loath
   To be alone at fall of night,
The woodland things around him taught
   Their secrets in the evening light,
Whispering some wisdom to his thought
   Known to the pines and eagles both.

Was it the birds who early told
   The dreaming boy that he would win
A poet's crown instead of gold?
   That he would fight a nation's sin? --
On eagle wings of song would gain
   A place that few might enter in,
And keep his life without a stain
   Through many years, yet not grow old?

And he shall be what few men are,
   Said all the pine-trees, whispering low;
His thought shall find an unseen star;
   He shall our treasured legends know:
His words will give the way-worn rest
   Like this cool shade our branches throw;
He, lifted like our loftiest crest,
   Shall watch his country near and far.

NOTES

"The Eagle Trees" appeared in Harper's Magazine (66:608), March 1883 and in The Poets of Maine, edited by George Bancroft Smith (Portland, ME: Elwell, Pickard, & Co., 1888) . The introductory text appears with the poem in this anthology. The Harper's version is identical with that in the anthology, except that in the magazine version, there is no line indentation; all lines begin at the left margin. However, a different manuscript version exists, and it is described below.
    In "Recollections of Whittier," Mary Rice Jewett remembers Sarah and Whittier talking about an eagle tree along the river, probably at Sligo Point.

J. G. W. is John Greenleaf Whittier. According to the Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, "one of the best-loved American poets of the 19th century, John Greenleaf Whittier, b. Haverhill, Mass., Dec. 17, 1807, d. Sept. 9, 1892, achieved a national reputation with his nostalgic poem "Snow-Bound" (1866), celebrating the rural world of New England. A Quaker, Whittier began his career as a journalist for William Lloyd Garrison, committing himself to the abolitionist cause in the celebrated pamphlet Justice and Expediency (1833) and thereafter, throughout the Civil War, in numerous polemics and volumes of patriotic verse." "Telling the Bees," the poem referred to here was published in 1838. Whittier and Jewett were close friends who admired each other's work. See, for example, her dedication of The King of Folly Island.
 

Carl J. Weber published a version of this poem based on a manuscript Jewett sent to Whittier in 1882.  Jewett indicates that the manuscript accompanied her letter to Whittier of 16 May 1882 ("Yours Always Lovingly": Sarah Orne Jewett to John Greenleaf Whittier, Edited by Richard Cary, Essex Institute Historical Collections 107 [1971]: 429-30).  At the time Weber published the poem and his accompanying article in The New England Quarterly 18#3 (Sept. 1945) 401-407, he had not yet located the above anthology publication. Following is a summary of the ways in which the manuscript differs from the published version.  

The arrangement on the page is different. Here is the first stanza from the manuscript.

Great pines that watch the river go
   Down to the sea all night all day,
Firm-rooted near its ebb and flow,
   Bowing their heads to winds at play:
      Strong-limbed and proud they silent stand
   And watch the mountains far away,
      And watch the miles of farming land
And hear the church bells tolling slow.

Notice also that the punctuation is different in lines 2, 4, 5, 7.

Stanzas 4 & 5 of the anthology version do not appear in the manuscript.

Stanza 4 of the manuscript does not appear in the anthology version; here is stanza 4 of the manuscript.

I will not trespass in this place
   Nor storm the eagles' castle-walls,
Where winds have rocked the royal race
   And taught the note the young bird calls
      Rejoicing as he seeks the cloud,
   And spreads his wings and never falls
      Like weaker birds; but soaring proud
A king at heart, he conquers space.

Other manuscript lines that vary from the anthology publication

Stanza 2
3  They count the loads the harvest yields
6  The April sunshine cheers them now
7  They eager drink the warm Spring rain

Stanza 3
2   The great birds build from year to year
6   Glare down at me with rage and fear,
7   They stare at me with wild surprise

Stanza 6
3   He loiters gladly, nothing loth
4   To be alone at fall of night.
5   The silent things around him taught
7   Whispered some wisdom to his thought,

Stanza 7
4   That he would fight a nation's sin,

Stanza 8
4   He shall our treasured legends know;
6   Like this cool shade our branches throw,
 
 

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.


Main Contents
Jewett's Poems