But the pain only grew worse as his remaining leg, then his arms and
his fingers were stricken by rheumatoid arthritis. He grew almost blind
and was unable to stand noise above the whisper of friends. Trapped in his
room, caged in his body, his mind soared. Kennard's "Ballad of Jack
Ringbolt" tells of a Portsmouth sailor who, after being weighted with
cannon shot and buried at sea by Fort Point, rises to the surface again,
radiant in flames as the body flies out to sea.
Kennard's writing, clearly therapeutic, often begins in pain and moves
toward hope in, what one of his editors called a brave spirit of
"Christian resignation." His complete works were published in a single
volume with a short biography by his friend, pacifist Unitarian minister
In his final years, unable even to move, the poet was required to
painfully dictate, in whispered exhausted phrases, his words of hope and
redemption. The first two poems below were discovered in manuscript form
at the Portsmouth Athenaeum and transcribed by local historian Louise
Tallman. The second is an early love poem. The third explores Kennard's
near rapturous love of the Piscataqua, an emotion he shared with fellow
poets Thomas P. Moses and Thomas Bailey Aldrich. "Luff When You Can" is a
lyric waiting for a melody, and hints at the poet's untapped potential,
cut down by disease. And in "Midnight Musings" Kennard again shows how he
transforms self-pity and sorrow by imagining the plight of others less
fortunate than himself. -- JDR
READ ALSO: The Ballad of Jack Ringbolt
ALSO: Deathbed Masterpiece of James Kennard
ALSO: The Wreck of the Sgumtum
THE LAST REQUEST
By James Kennard, Jr
Written 4 March, 1839,
Oh bury me not in the crowded churchyard,
Surrounded by traffic and din,
Where the rattling car is forever
And the horrid oath and the angry word
city's eternal din!
But carry me far away from the town,
dell where I loved to roam,
And there, where the graceful elm tree
And the stream, to the air sweet music
Oh, there make my last long home.
The robin shall build in the tree o'er my
And sing through the summer day,
the sweet scented violet on my grave,
And the gorgeous golden-rod over
And the brook ripple ever and aye.
I know it is vain, when the spirit has
To care for the cast-off clay;
I've worn this garment of flesh so long,
That my heart is filled with a
wish too strong
To be coldly reasoned
'Tis feeling, not reason, that sways my whole
And urge this last request;
solemn church bell tolls my funeral knell
Then carry me fourth to that
And there let me take my long
And come when the grass is green 'neath thy
And the leaves rustle low on each
And the birds are in song, and the earth is in bloom,
come, but come not to mourn o'er my tomb,
Sweet nature shall rob the
grave of its gloom,
And death shall seem
pleasant to thee.
TO A BEAUTIFUL LADY
Written 1838, Unpublished
I prize not beauty unadorned
By intellectual graces,
I see no fascinating
In merely pretty faces;
A lovely form
A graceful step and air
never steal my heart from me,
If mind were wanting there.
To beauty, valueless
A magic power is lent,
intellect, and taste;
It seems by Nature
To give a charm to moral worth
grace to mind;
Lady, thou art her favorite,
In thee they are combined.
By James Kennard, Jr.
Doth the sullen surge of sorrow
troubled spirit roll?
Is the prospect for to-morrow
Darker, storimer for my soul.
Whiter are the sands of ocean,
Beaten by the
So by sorrow's sad emotion
Is the spirit purified.
A SAIL ON THE PISCATAQUA
James Kennard, Jr.
Published June 1848
O'er the dear
Gaily is our light boat
Brightly on its crystal waves,
the morning sun is glancing.
Portsmouth Bridge is left
Now we're past the "Pulpit"
Lift your hat, and bend your head
To the Parson for his blessing.
Stationed on the rocky
From his Pulpit, as we near
Through the pine-tress whispers he,
Solemn words, would we but hear him.
This sweet Nature
Truth reveals to all who need
Thus on life's tumultuous tide
along, we lightly heed it.
Far and near, on either
See the trees like giants
Past each other, up and down,
With a ghostly motion gliding.
From the rocky pass emerged,
Sinking cliffs and
Far receding ushers us
To the loveliest of reaches.
Stretching wide, a beauteous
To the raptured eye is given;
beyond, the blue hills melt
In the clearer blue of heaven.
Rustic dwellings, clumps of
Upland swells, and verdant
Lie around, and over all
Flit the summer lights and shadows.
O'er the river's broad
Here and there, a boat is
Swelling sails and foaming bows
Life unto the scene imparting.
Humble market-wherry there
Lags along with lazy oar;
Here. The lordly
Dashes by, with rushing roar.
Comrades look! the west wind
Flags the sail; the waves grow
Rouse of Aeolus from his sleep!
Whistle, whistle whistle shrilly!
See, obedient to the call,
Q'er the beach, the breeze approaching!
Now our little bark
Leeward gunwale nearly touching.
Luff a little! Ease the sheet
On each side the bright foam flashes;
mouth she holds a bone,
O'er her bow the salt spray dashes.
To and from; long tack and
Rapidly we work up river.
it not to you,
That we thus could sail forever?
LUFF WHEN YOU CAN
BEAR AWAY WHEN YOU
By James Kennard, Jr.
Published February 1847
When the mariner sees, far ahead on the
By the yeasty white waves, in their wildest commotoin,
breakers are lying direct in his path,
He dashes not onward to brave all their wrath,
But, still in his compass and helm placing trust,
Luffs, luffs if he can, bears away when he must.
lightning's sharp flash, mid the thunder's deep roar,When the foaming waves dash on the rocky lee shore,
When Hope disappears, and the terrible form
Death rides triumphant upon the dark storm,
In God and their ship the
bold mariner's trust,
Luff, luff while they can, yield a point when they must.
Then make it your rule, on the billows of life,
So to sail as to shun all commotion and strife;
And thus your
voyage of existence by pleasant,
Hope smile on the future, Joy beam on the present,
If you in the rule of the mariner trust,
luff while you can, bear away when you must.
And when the lee-shore of
grim Death is in view,
And the tempests of fate your lone vessel pursue, --
Even while your last prayers unto God are
Though prepared for the worst, still hope on for the
Carry sail till the last stitch of canvas is burst, --
luff while you can, bear away when you must.
Published November 1845
In at the open window shine
The far-off solemn stars of heaven:
With sleepless eyelids, I
Upon my couch, to musing given.
A holy silence fills the
In sleep repose earth's sons and
One voice alone is heard afar,--
rushing "sound of many waters."
Piscataqua! I know full well
Thine old, familiar tone, dear river!
To thee, as by a mighty
My inmost heart is bound for ever.
In boyhood, while life's morning
Still moistened hope's delusive blossom,
sail-boat, or in light canoe,
I loved to sport upon thy bosom.
And when the summer sun sank
At eve, among his gorgeous pillows,
from the hot and dusty town,
I've bathed amid thy cooling billows.
Full many a river may, I
In point of length be ranked before
But thou art broad, and deep, and
And blue as are the heavens o'er thee.
Of Mississippi they may
Who find t' explore him time and
But I have pierced thine every
And love thee for that very reason.
No mighty common sewer art
To do the drainage of the nation,
pure waters ebb and flow
With Ocean's every heart-pulsation.
Oft sound the echoes on thy
With music, song, and laughter
As o'er they breast, at even-tide,
Floats the returning water-party.
And oft, as now, when summer
The harsher din of daylight hushes,
listen to they voice of might,
As seaward they strong current rushes.
Anon, above thy solemn
A sound like Fate's dread step
As o'er they bridge, at hurrying
Come tramping steeds and rumbling coaches.
That midnight train hath come and
From silence sprung, in silence ended;
further, naught to me is known,
Of whence it came, or whither tended.
From voiceless gloom thus
Emerges man, --a solemn
From mystery to mystery,
the bridge of Life we travel.
O, what a bitter
Were this brief span to mortals
Had we, O God! No faith in thee,
stuff on earth, no hope of heaven!
O, no! there lies beyond the
No "silent land," awaiting mortals;
land of melody and bloom
Spreads out behind Death's gloomy portals.
Then bravely bide the doom that
Bear all of earth, for all of
Step, like a conqueror, through those
Not like a captive, chained and driven.
O river! rushing to the sea
With eager and impetuous motion,
Soon they pent waters shall be
To roam the deep and boundless ocean.
Then, while thou murmurest in mine
Let me accept the lesson given:
pant for a wider sphere?
So should my spirit long for heaven.
Though in the silence of the
I thus discourse with thee, dear
Though flowing almost in my sight,
stream! we meet no more for ever !
For ever? When the ties which
My soul to clay kind Death shall
Free as the wind I'll roam again
Along they banks, delightful river!
Selections from the Writings of James Kennard, Jr., with an itroduction on
his life by Rev. Andrew Peabody, William D. Ticknor & Co., Boston,
1849. Plus unpublished manuscripts found in a copy of the book at the
Portsmouth Athenaeum and transcribed by Louise Tallman, 1990.
copyright © 2002 SeacoastNH.com. All rights reserved.