September 28, 2011

The joy of him who toils with God

John Greenleaf Whittier was born on a farm in Haverhill, Massachusetts and, for much of his early life, he truly did live the life of a farmer. Later a famous poet, he was invited to present an original poem for the first annual Agricultural and Horticultural Exhibition in his adopted town of Amesbury along with neighboring Salisbury. His poem, "A Song of Harvest," is dated September 28, 1858, and celebrates the concept of farming as part of an advanced (and pious) society:

This day, two hundred years ago,
   The wild grape by the river's side,
And tasteless groundnut trailing low,
   The table of the woods supplied.

Unknown the apple's red and gold,
   The blushing tint of peach and pear;
The mirror of the Powow told
   No tale of orchards ripe and rare.

Wild as the fruits he scorned to till,
   These vales the idle Indian trod;
Nor knew the glad, creative skill,
   The joy of him who toils with God.

O Painter of the fruits and flowers!
   We thank Thee for thy wise design
Whereby these human hands of ours
   In Nature's garden work with Thine.

And thanks that from our daily need
   The joy of simple faith is born;
That he who smites the summer weed,
   May trust Thee for the autumn corn.

Give fools their gold, and knaves their power;
   Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall;
Who sows a field, or trains a flower,
   Or plants a tree, is more than all.

For he who blesses most is blest;
   And God and man shall own his worth
Who toils to leave as his bequest
   An added beauty to the earth.

And, soon or late, to all that sow,
   The time of harvest shall be given;
The flower shall bloom, the fruit shall grow,
   If not on earth, at last in heaven.

At the gathering, Whittier's poem was sung as a hymn; he was paid in fruit and flowers. Whittier wrote to the president of the Agricultural and Horticultural Association for "a choice selection from the products of their gardens and orchards." He considered his own involvement only a "slight service" but promised, "I shall think all the better of my poor and homely rhymes since they have come back to me transmuted into rich fruits and beautiful flowers."

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