The Witch Of Wenham
Along Crane River's sunny slopes
Blew warm the winds of May,
And over Naumkeag's ancient oaks
The green outgrew the gray.
The grass was green on Rial-side,
The early birds at will
Waked up the violet in its dell,
The wind-flower on its hill.
'Where go you, in your Sunday coat,
Son Andrew, tell me, pray.'
For striped perch in Wenham Lake
I go to fish to-day.'
'Unharmed of thee in Wenham Lake
The mottled perch shall be
A blue-eyed witch sits on the bank
And weaves her net for thee.
'She weaves her golden hair; she sings
Her spell-song low and faint;
The wickedest witch in Salem jail
Is to that girl a saint.'
'Nay, mother, hold thy cruel tongue;
God knows,' the young man cried,
'He never made a whiter soul
Than hers by Wenham side.
'She tends her mother sick and blind,
And every want supplies;
To her above the blessed Book
She lends her soft blue eyes.
'Her voice is glad with holy songs,
Her lips are sweet with prayer;
Go where you will, in ten miles round
Is none more good and fair.'
'Son Andrew, for the love of God
And of thy mother, stay!'
She clasped her hands, she wept aloud,
But Andrew rode away.
'O reverend sir, my Andrew's soul
The Wenham witch has caught;
She holds him with the curled gold
Whereof her snare is wrought.
'She charms him with her great blue eyes,
She binds him with her hair;
Oh, break the spell with holy words,
Unbind him with a prayer!'
'Take heart,' the painful preacher said,
'This mischief shall not be;
The witch shall perish in her sins
And Andrew shall go free.
'Our poor Ann Putnam testifies
She saw her weave a spell,
Bare-armed, loose-haired, at full of moon,
Around a dried-up well.
''Spring up, O well!' she softly sang
The Hebrew's old refrain
(For Satan uses Bible words),
Till water flowed a-main.
'And many a goodwife heard her speak
By Wenham water words
That made the buttercups take wings
And turn to yellow birds.
'They say that swarming wild bees seek
The hive at her command;
And fishes swim to take their food
From out her dainty hand.
'Meek as she sits in meeting-time,
The godly minister
Notes well the spell that doth compel
The young men's eyes to her.
'The mole upon her dimpled chin
Is Satan's seal and sign;
Her lips are red with evil bread
And stain of unblest wine.
'For Tituba, my Indian, saith
At Quasycung she took
The Black Man's godless sacrament
And signed his dreadful book.
'Last night my sore-afflicted child
Against the young witch cried.
To take her Marshal Herrick rides
Even now to Wenham side.'
The marshal in his saddle sat,
His daughter at his knee;
'I go to fetch that arrant witch,
Thy fair playmate,' quoth he.
'Her spectre walks the parsonage,
And haunts both hall and stair;
They know her by the great blue eyes
And floating gold of hair.'
'They lie, they lie, my father dear!
No foul old witch is she,
But sweet and good and crystal-pure
As Wenham waters be.'
'I tell thee, child, the Lord hath set
Before us good and ill,
And woe to all whose carnal loves
Oppose His righteous will.
'Between Him and the powers of hell
Choose thou, my child, to-day
No sparing hand, no pitying eye,
When God commands to slay!'
He went his way; the old wives shook
With fear as he drew nigh;
The children in the dooryards held
Their breath as he passed by.
Too well they knew the gaunt gray horse
The grim witch-hunter rode
The pale Apocalyptic beast
By grisly Death bestrode.
Oh, fair the face of Wenham Lake
Upon the young girl's shone,
Her tender mouth, her dreaming eyes,
Her yellow hair outblown.
By happy youth and love attuned
To natural harmonies,
The singing birds, the whispering wind,
She sat beneath the trees.
Sat shaping for her bridal dress
Her mother's wedding gown,
When lo! the marshal, writ in hand,
From Alford hill rode down.
His face was hard with cruel fear,
He grasped the maiden's hands
'Come with me unto Salem town,
For so the law commands!'
'Oh, let me to my mother say
Farewell before I go!'
He closer tied her little hands
Unto his saddle bow.
'Unhand me,' cried she piteously,
'For thy sweet daughter's sake.'
'I'll keep my daughter safe,' he said,
'From the witch of Wenham Lake.'
'Oh, leave me for my mother's sake,
She needs my eyes to see.'
'Those eyes, young witch, the crows shall peck
From off the gallows-tree.'
He bore her to a farm-house old,
And up its stairway long,
And closed on her the garret-door
With iron bolted strong.
The day died out, the night came down
Her evening prayer she said,
While, through the dark, strange faces seemed
To mock her as she prayed.
The present horror deepened all
The fears her childhood knew;
The awe wherewith the air was filled
With every breath she drew.
And could it be, she trembling asked,
Some secret thought or sin
Had shut good angels from her heart
And let the bad ones in?
Had she in some forgotten dream
Let go her hold on Heaven,
And sold herself unwittingly
To spirits unforgiven?
Oh, weird and still the dark hours passed;
No human sound she heard,
But up and down the chimney stack
The swallows moaned and stirred.
And o'er her, with a dread surmise
Of evil sight and sound,
The blind bats on their leathern wings
Went wheeling round and round.
Low hanging in the midnight sky
Looked in a half-faced moon.
Was it a dream, or did she hear
Her lover's whistled tune?
She forced the oaken scuttle back;
A whisper reached her ear
'Slide down the roof to me,' it said,
'So softly none may hear.'
She slid along the sloping roof
Till from its eaves she hung,
And felt the loosened shingles yield
To which her fingers clung.
Below, her lover stretched his hands
And touched her feet so small;
'Drop down to me, dear heart,' he said,
'My arms shall break the fall.'
He set her on his pillion soft,
Her arms about him twined;
And, noiseless as if velvet-shod,
They left the house behind.
But when they reached the open way,
Full free the rein he cast;
Oh, never through the mirk midnight
Rode man and maid more fast.
Along the wild wood-paths they sped,
The bridgeless streams they swam;
At set of moon they passed the Bass,
At sunrise Agawam.
At high noon on the Merrimac
The ancient ferryman
Forgot, at times, his idle oars,
So fair a freight to scan.
And when from off his grounded boat
He saw them mount and ride,
'God keep her from the evil eye,
And harm of witch!' he cried.
The maiden laughed, as youth will laugh
At all its fears gone by;
'He does not know,' she whispered low,
'A little witch am I.'
All day he urged his weary horse,
And, in the red sundown,
Drew rein before a friendly door
In distant Berwick town.
A fellow-feeling for the wronged
The Quaker people felt;
And safe beside their kindly hearths
The hunted maiden dwelt,
Until from off its breast the land
The haunting horror threw,
And hatred, born of ghastly dreams,
To shame and pity grew.
Sad were the year's spring morns, and sad
Its golden summer day,
But blithe and glad its withered fields,
And skies of ashen gray;
For spell and charm had power no more,
The spectres ceased to roam,
And scattered households knelt again
Around the hearths of home.
And when once more by Beaver Dam
The meadow-lark outsang,
And once again on all the hills
The early violets sprang,
And all the windy pasture slopes
Lay green within the arms
Of creeks that bore the salted sea
To pleasant inland farms,
The smith filed off the chains he forged,
The jail-bolts backward fell;
And youth and hoary age came forth
Like souls escaped from hell.
John Greenleaf Whittier
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