Seacoast Poems of John Albee
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Written by 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.




What avails the past to them? What avail
The placid stream, the lordly towering pines?
Ah, what de Chauncy, Sparhawk, Champernowne!
All passes! And they, with great they know not,
Commingled lie, and share with them one fate—
To be forgot.

So musing on my oar
I drifted past the ancient bridge and on
To that still place, near where, as from a hill,
The creek pours out its tide-filled cup two ways:
One the Atlantic hungrily devours,
The other swells thy flood, Piscataqua.
Then homeward turned beside the forest pines,
I heard that voice of ocean feminine,
The softer seas which murmur in their tops;
And soon the old familiar beat far off,
And soon the dark blue, clear and always pure,
Bathing the world, each day itself twice bathed,
Led by the tiring maiden moon at eve

And morn to crystal chambers of the deep.
Plunged in the tides I too would leave behind
The memory of mouldering greatness,
The forms of loud-tongued living wives and men.
O sharp asperities of mortal paths
That lead but hinder us from all we love!
Then who but sometimes backward walks, where hope

Obscured the thorny goal with too fierce light ;
Or soothes himself with joys, though lost, still his ;
Or countervails his life in other lives ?
And Mary Chauncy sleeping by the sea,
Its silent neighbor for a hundred years,
Daughter of long-descended Cambrian sires,
In sweet youth dead, dead in her first, last tears,
Still holds her lifeless babe on lifeless arm
And sits the pensive pilot of my boat,
When autumn days draw me in idle mood
To Chauncy Creek; and hers and Champernowne's
Are forms that lingering, linger my return.



Here poise, like flowers on flowers, the butterflies;
The grasshopper on crooked crutch leaps up,
The wild bees hum above the clover cup,
The fox-grape wreathes the fence in green disguise
Of ruin; and antique plants set out in tears,
Pink, guelder-rose, and myrtle's purple bells
Struggle 'mid grass and their own wasting years
To show the grave that no inscription tells.
Here rest the bones of Francis Champernowne;
The blazonry of Norman kings he bore;
His fathers builded many a tower and town,
And after Senlac England's lords. Now o'er
His island cairn the lonesome forests frown,
And sailless seas beat the untrodden shore.


Break not his sweet repose
Thou whom chance brings to this sequestered ground,

The sacred yard his ashes close,
But go thy way in silence; here no sound
Is ever heard but from the murmuring pines,

Answering the sea's near murmur;
Nor ever here comes rumor
Of anxious world or war's foregathering signs.

The bleaching flag, the faded wreath,
Mark the dead soldier's dust beneath,

And show the death he chose;
Forgotten save by her who weeps alone,
And wrote his fameless name on this low stone:
Break not his sweet repose.


More poems by John Albee


If you should turn your feet from yonder town
Intent to bathe your eyes with'healing sight
Of open sea, and islands rising through,
Mere heaps of shattered ledge that have outstood
Eternal storm, though gray, defiant still,
The river shows the path that you must go;
Its stream engrails the shores of twenty isles,
And pleasant is the way as is its end ;
For you will idle on the bridges three,
And loiter through the ancient village street,
That crowns the harbor mouth; then you will come

To beaches hard, and smoothed by each new tide
Rolling between the low, port-cullised rocks,
Rocks bare a-top, but kirtled at the feet
With sea-weed draperies that float or fall,
As swells or sinks the lonely, restless wave.
There, just above the shore, is Walbach Tower,
Its crumbling parapet with grass and weeds
O'ergrown, and peaceful in its slow decay.
Old people always tell strange tales to us,
A later race—always old tales are strange.
And seems the story of this ancient Tower
A marvel, though believing while I hear,
Because who tell it do believe it true.
Three English ships lay under Appledore,
And men in groups stood on the rocks, intent
If they the fort could mean to cannonade,
Or land along the coast and inland march
To sack and burn the wealthy Portsmouth Town.
The morning dawned and twice again it dawned,
And still the hostile ships at anchor swung ;
But now a rumor ran they meant to land ;
At once brave Walbach was resolved to build

A tower which all the beaches should command,
And mount thereon his sole tremendous gun.
He summoned all the villagers at dusk
Of one September Sunday when the days
Are shortening, and the nights are bright and cool.
Men came and boys, and with them women came,
Whose dauntless mothers helped our fathers win,
In that rebellious time against the king,
The freedom which, forgetful of its cost,
We toss to any hand raised o'er the crowd,
And pushing hardest, or with loudest voice.
They wrought as never men and women wrought,
And in one night the Tower completed rose.
But lo, the miracle! for unseen hands
Alternate with the mason's dextrous craft,
As voice repeats and catches up the voice
In song, laid on the workmen's every course
Another course, and they no presence saw,
But thought they heard the chiming trowels ring.

The morning glimmer showed that labor done
For which two nights were counted scarce enough;
Then well their awed but joyful hearts confessed
Some present deity their Champion friend,
To whom they knelt upon the dewy grass,
As in the east, the sun returning, built
A tower of gold along the ocean floor,
And offered up subdued and grateful praise.
The hateful ships approached the river mouth,
Stood off and on and tacked about; at last,
Firing a gun to stern, they sailed away.
Still stands the Tower, long may it stand disused!
Without a blow, one foe it put to flight,
And when another comes it will arise
And in its ruins keep its legend good.
For while I told this tale one summer night,
Leaning a weary head on fondest breast,
We heard the sea-maids on the outer rocks
Splash in the falling tide, and dimly saw

What seemed their tresses, undulating there ;
And felt, around, below, above, the power,
Not human, but the help of human hands,
When set to labor in some noble cause.


'T was in New Hampshire's one good port
The Isabella lay;
Hark! Sailors' oaths are fierce and short—
No breezes stirred that day.
Swear and whistle, whistle and swear!
Never a breath on the cheek,
Never a breath for wrath or prayer;
There they lay for a week,
With hold close-stowed and clear, clean deck,
And crew just twenty-four—
Save one, who dreamed a dream of wreck
And hid himself on shore.
At last the land-breeze, soft and calm;
Slowly they left the strand;
But ere a mile again the balm
Fell over sea and land.
The good bark idly rocked and swung;
The men they chafed and swore;
And still the Captain's cursing tongue
Was heard all men's before.
He called the awful hurricane,
" Come, make her old masts reel! "
And wished, his fav'rite phrase profane,
" His head below the keel."
But there they lay, and up and down,
And stem and stern they go;
And ever there the sleepy town,
The glassy sea below. 


Mountains and wave-washed shore,
Where men with fate contend,
Whose conflicts heroes bore
When nature scarce would bend
To their desire, are ours.
The level, endless plain,
Earth's most prolific powers,
The middle regions gain.
Rich in corn, men in might,
Their's the wealth, their's the rule;
For us the ancient fight,
Of dauntless breasts the school.
How empty and how waste,
Land of mere grain and men!
I to my sea-side haste;
Thou to thy mountain glen.
There each, by secret grace,
Lonely, but calm in earnest will,
Keep for the gods a place
By untamed sea and unploughed hill.

(to his wife)

If I should write with genius' fire,
With that same fire you read—and sigh;
But the proud world, in scoff or ire,
Would curl its lip—and let me die.
So I must write what will be read,
The chaff well winnowed of the wheat;
Who writes for bread, can give no bread—
If men want husks, husks they shall eat.



(New Castle, N. H., 1683
see author’s note below)

How thick the devils are around us!
Good Lord, deliver us and save !
Our sins, our guilt, and shame have found us ;
Good Lord, must Satan dig our grave?
Thou knowest, Lord, our pinfold ever
Owned none but saints in the first flock;
But now the wicked come and sever
The sweetest pasture and best stock.
So, Lord, Thou hast sent us trials sore,
Yea, stone-throwing imps! And we fear
Of Thy wrath to see some vials more,
And that Thy grace be never near.


Let Goodman Walton sin no farther,
In whose house, preachers, Thy chosen ones,
Oft warm their hearts with Old Jamaica—
' T was there the Devil threw the stones !
Plunge Walt Barefoot in his own ditches !
Send pious captains to our Fort;
Thou know'st how he saved those three witches,
And haled Thy servant to his court.
Let not our Governor work more evils,
Vaporing that our Church has come
Of sand, so rocks are sent by devils—
In mercy, Lord, send Cranfield home!
Pull down all scoffers in high places,
And let Jehovah rule this Town;
Be no long hair nor women's graces,
But let them dress in homespun gown.

And as Thou never canst take pleasure
In costly temple's idol ware,
Let all our Churches plainness measure,
And nothing help, or hinder prayer.
Keep in the Church's fold the chosen—
But sinners must pay tithes and dues
And that our faith be never frozen,
Seat all the righteous in front pews.
So goats from sheep be always sundered,
And chaff from wheat be always blown;
And when Thy fold is called and numbered,
Give Thou the Devil all his own.
But do with us as Thine own choice is ;
Yet here we 'd see Thy vengeance fall
On some we know !—in their offices
The brethren and their friends install.

Build Thou here the New Jerusalem!
Thy will be done on friend and foe!
But Thy saints, with comfort pay them;
Let come Thy reign—and Cranfield's g'

Notes to the previous two poems by the author

—About the close of the iyth century the people of New Castle, N. H., were sorely troubled by what they called a stonethrowing devil. The house of one George Walton, a few bricks of which the plough sometimes discovers, was the shining mark of the tormentor. Some said it was the work of boys ; others, a threatening, and punishment of the sins of the people. They who stood for the latter cause, did not mean, by the people, themselves, but the adherents of the Church of England, and in especial Gov. Cranfield and Walter Barefoot, Captain of the Fort. The former was strenuous for canonical sacraments ; and Capt. Walter Barefoot, the most interesting figure in N. H. provincial history, was a merry man, a disbeliever in witchcraft, and had rescued three accused witches from the hands of Puritan persecutors. Parson Moody led the assault against the devil and his doings, with which he confused, in the most approved manner, the actions of Cranfield and Barefoot, until it was far from plain which was which. The contest was hot on both sides ; the stone-throwing mischief grew bolder and bolder, until it continued through the day as well as night. Goodman Walton and his family were almost distracted . so was Parson Moody. Everybody prayed with unction, but it was more than hinted that it was all in vain so long as Barefoot had charge of the six brass pieces at the Fort, and Cranfield kept hung up in the Council Chamber the ritual of the English Church. These effectually barred the passage of all devout petitions. The excitement was great and extended through this and the neighboring province of Massachusetts. It is noticed by the writers of the time ; and Richard Chamberlain, Secretary of this province, after his return to England, wrote and printed in London, a very curious and detailed account of the " StoneThrowing Devil of New Castle," or, " Lithobolia" This little pamphlet is now very rare; only two copies of it are known of in this country—one, imperfect, in Harv. Coll. Library, the other in possession of Chas. Deane, Esq., of Cambridge.]