Whittier in Amesbury

The River Path

Map of the Merrimack RiverThe scene of this poem is Pleasant Valley in Amesbury, overlooking the Merrimac River. The time is twilight. Looking at a map of Amesbury, and the east to west meandering of the Merrimac, one can trace Whittier’s walk by his descriptions of the sunlight.



He begins by describing the sound, then feeling, and then sight.

No bird-song floated down the hill,
The tangled bank below was still;

No rustle from the birchen stem,
No ripple from the water’s him.

The dusk of twilight round us grew,
We felt the falling of the dew;

For, from us, ere the day was done,
The wooded hills shut out the sun.

But on the river’s farther side
We saw the hill-tops glorified,--

Amesbury is north of Newburyport, with the Merrimac River separating the two cities.  But, along Whittier’s walk, the Merrimac heads south, which means the setting sun is shining on the Newburyport side, but the Amesbury side is in darkness. He is most likely looking at what is now Maudslay State Park.

With us the damp, the chill, the gloom:
With them the sunset’s rosy bloom;

While dark, through willowy vistas seen,
The river rolled in shade between.

The setting sun, shining through an opening in the hills, symbolized Divine light coming through the hills of doubt. Then the river path turns toward the west.

Sudden our pathway turned from night;
The hills swung open to the light;

Through their green gates the sunshine showed,
A long, slant splendor downward flowed.

The sunlight  inspires a prayer.

“So,” prayed we,” when our feet draw near
The river dark, with mortal fear,

“And the night cometh chill with dew,
O Father! Let Thy light break through!

“So let the hills of doubt divide,
So bridge with faith the sunless tide!

“So let the eyes that fail on earth
On thy eternal hills look forth;

“And in Thy beckoning angels know
The dear ones whom we loved below!”

Merrimack River today

Full text of "The River Path"

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