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Seacoast Poems of John Albee

John_Albee / SeacoastNH.comSEACOAST POETRY

Talk about obscure! Submitted for your approval, 10 history poems by the Massachusetts snowbird who also penned the history of New Caslte, NH. Due largely to his association with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harvard-educated John Albee moved from the ministry to writing history, poetry and nonfiction in the romantic style of the times.(click for 10 poems)


Until recently we have known John Albee largely for two things. He wrote the only history of New Castle, published in 1884, probably on the payroll of Frank Jones who had recently purchased the Wentworth Hotel. And he wrote a romantic Victorian ballad about St. Aspenquid of Agamenticus, the local Sagamore often confused with the historic Passaconnaway, spiritual leader of the disperate groups of Natives who survived the Great Pandemic, and who presented the arriving European settlers with almost 50 years of uninterrupted peace.

UPDATE ON St. Aspinquid  Could he be real after all?

Beyond that, Albee has been pretty much a mystery. He has been called Rev. Albee and we know he summmered at New Castle, but his books have been hard to come by, and the more we see of them, the more we know why. Now, thanks to the miracle of Google Books, a number of Albee’s works have become universally available, although likely not universally appealing. His poetry, like much of his era, is often stiff, filled with moral lessons, thick with classical references, and tends to sound like the King James Bible. The first poem in this collection – Bos’n Hill – is a rare exception. Here Albee picks up on a local legend surrounding an historic site in New Castle and creates a poem that is both arful and effective.

The poems selected here are from his 1883 collection simply entitled POEMS. I picked poems that deal largely with local history, from the legend of Champernowe (a relative of Sir Walter Scott) in Kittery, to a ship captain in Portsmouth, to the building of Walbach Tower (still standing), and the legend of the Rock Throwing Devil of New Castle. If not always fulfilling, at least these poems give us a sense of the times in which they were written, a time when tourists visiting the seashore were fascinated by history.

Although well respected as a minor poet of his era, Albee’s prose is more readable today. He derides authors who cheapen themselves by writing for money what the public wants to read. According to an 1881 interview in Literary World magazine, Reverand Albee was then living in Jaffrey Cottage in New Castle having retired from the ministry to become a gentleman farmer. In another fleeting reference, Albee reportedly visited Henry David Thoreau in 1852 when Albee was a seminary student in Andover, Mass. He was also a friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and his writing clearly leans toward the Transcendental. His wife Helen, also an author, wrote books about rug making and garden plants.

Despite his love of local history, Albee was not a NH hative. He was born in Bellingham, Mass in 1833. He attended Andover Academy and Harvard, which was fortuitous, since in the 21st century Google cut a deal with the Harvard Library to scan its large collection of books that had languished in near total obscurity. Half a dozen of Albee’s books are now available online incluing essays on Thoreau and Emerson, his prose idylls on nothing in particular, his history of New Castle, a couple of biographies and a rambling memoir of his childhood. After years by the sea in New Castle, the Albees summered near Chocurua in the mountains. John Albee died in 1915 and his life’s work, according to the Granite Monthly, amounted to "many charming volumes". – J. Dennis Robinson  

Seacoast Poems by John Albee (1833-1915)

(New Castle, NH legend)

The wind blows wild on Bos'n Hill,
Far off is heard the ocean's rote ;
Low overhead the gulls scream shrill,
And homeward scuds each little boat.

Then the dead Bos'n wakes in glee
To hear the storm-king's song;
And from the top of mast-pine tree
He blows his whistle loud and long.

The village sailors hear the call,
Lips pale and eyes grow dim;
Well know they, though he pipes them all,
He means but one shall answer him.

He pipes the dead up from their graves,
Whose bones the tansy hides;
He pipes the dead beneath the waves,
They hear and cleave the rising tides.

But sailors know when next they sail
Beyond the Hilltop's view,
There's one amongst them shall not fail
To join the Bos'n's Crew.


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