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ON STAR ISLAND
High on the lichened ledges, like
A lonely sea-fowl on its perch,
Blown by the cold sea winds, it stands,
Old Gosport's quaint, forsaken church.
No sign is left of all the town
Except a few forgotten graves;
But to and fro the white sails go
Slowly across the glittering waves.
And summer idlers stray about
With curious questions of the lost
And vanished village, and its men,
Whose boats by these same waves were tossed.
I wonder if the old church dreams
About its parish, and the days
The fisher people came to hear
The preaching and the songs of praise!
Rough-handed, browned by sun and wind,
Heedless of fashion or of creed,
They listened to the parson's words --
Their pilot heavenward indeed.
Their eyes on week-days sought the church,
Their surest landmark, and the guide
That led them in from far at sea,
Until they anchored safe beside
The harbor-wall that braved the storm
With its resistless strength of stone.
Those busy fishers all are gone --
The church is standing here alone.
But still I hear their voices strange,
And still I see the people go
Over the ledges to their homes:
The bent old women's footsteps slow;
The faithful parson stop to give
Some timely word to one astray;
The little children hurrying on
Together, chattering of their play.
I know the blue sea covered some,
And others in the rocky ground
Found narrow lodgings for their bones --
God grant their rest is sweet and sound!
I saw the worn rope idle hang
Beside me in the belfry brown.
I gave the bell a solemn toll --
I rang the knell for Gosport town.
"On Star Island" first appeared in Harper's Magazine (63:550-551), September 1881. A different version was reprinted in Verses (1916). Weber and Weber report that the poem was written at Isles of Shoals, July 26, 1880 (25). Rita Gollin says, in Annie Fields: Woman of Letters (2002), that the friendship of Jewett and Annie Fields began when they met on Star Island:
When Sarah arrived with her friend Cora Clark Rice at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, one of the Isles of the Shoals, she found "a great many Boston people there whom I knew" including the Fieldses. She and Annie then wandered about the island together, explored the deserted village of Gosport, and climbed to the belfry of its church. (216)
The poem, says Gollin, commemorates that meeting. "Annie would soon see 'our' Gosport poem in Harper's, Sarah said: "I feel that you and I are partners in those verses."
The illustration appears below. The artist has not been identified, and help would be appreciated. A monogram appears on the lower right corner that seems to consist of the initials MYT or perhaps just MT, in top to bottom order. Please send your information to the site manager. Photograph by Terry Heller, June 2003.
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
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