Whittier in Amesbury

For an Autumn Festival

In 1859, Whittier wrote a poem for the exercises at the congregational Church as part of the annual fair of the Amesbury and Salisbury Agricultural and Horticultural Society.  Whittier was too ill to attend, but even had he been well enough, he wouldn’t have enjoyed marching in a procession with the presiding officer, two clergymen, a brass band, and local fire companies, as the committee had planned. His poem was sung by the choir to an overflowing church. (Woodwell 285)

The Persian’s flowery gifts, the shrine
Of fruitful Ceres charm no more;
The woven wreaths of oak and pine
Are dust along the Isthmian shore.

But beauty hath its homage still,
And nature holds us still in debt;
And woman’s grace and household skill,
And manhood’s toil, are honored yet.

And we, to-day, amidst our flowers
And fruits, have come to own again
The blessings of the summer hours,
The early and the latter rain;

To see our Father’s hand once more
Reverse for us the plenteous horn
Of autumn, filled and running o’er
With fruit, and flower, and golden corn!

After another five stanzas of praise for the harvest, Whittier asks,

Who murmurs at his lot to-day?
Who scorns his native fruit and blooms?
Or sighs for dainties far away,
Beside the bounteous board of home?

He ends with a note of thanksgiving.

Thank Heaven, instead, that Freedom’s arm
Can change a rocky soil to gold,--
That brave and generous lives can warm
A clime with northern ices cold.

Thank Heaven that we have free labor, and not that of slaves, and that we can farm in a cold climate with rocky soil.

And let these altars, wreathed with flowers
And piled with fruits, awake again
Thanksgivings for the golden hours,
The early and the latter rain!

Full text of "For an Autumn Festival"