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Snow-Bound Poem Made Whittier Wealthy

snow-bound_05

 After the storm  

Fame nourished Whittier through his elder years, but the demands of his ever-expanding public weighed heavily on “the hermit of Amesbury” as his friend Longfellow dubbed him. Hundreds of letters and requests for autographs and favors poured in. Curious fans knocked on his door, breaking his concentration. He was shocked when an anonymous woman arrived at his house with a pair of scissors to request a lock of his hair. Whittier told a friend that he would rather chop wood than talk about his poetry with strangers.  

Whittier wrote many poems about the Piscataqua region, the Isles of Shoals, and the White Mountains. His treatment of Maud Muller’s spring in York and tales of tenting on Hampton Beach were as recited in their era as rock and rap lyrics are today. He often based poems on supernatural themes drawn from popular legends. Whittier’s treatment of the exploited witch” Goody Cole or the devilish Jonathan Moulton, both of Hampton, make him the forerunner of spooky story tellers like Stephen King. Like King, his work was largely considered “pop” art for the masses, not worthy of scholarly attention. But even as his work as a Fireside Poet fades, his early work as a white abolitionist, Quaker, and advocate of women’s rights is drawing more attention among academics.   

Whittier wrote his last poem at age 84 while vacationing in nearby South Hampton. He died there in 1892. Despite persistent rumors that the poet is buried in seacoast, New Hampshire, his body was delivered to his Amesbury home, now a museum, where it lay in state as 5,000 guests passed by. But that is a story for another snow-bound day.   

SOURCES: For more information on Whittier’s birthplace in Haverhill, MA visit johngreenleafwhittier.com or learn about the Whittier Home in Amesbury, MA at whittierhome.org.  

Copyright © 2011 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson writes and lectures on NH history. His books are available at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. Robinson is also editor and owner of the popular history Web site SeacoastNH.com where this column appears exclusively online.

 

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