June 21, 2010

Something for stay-at-home travellers

June 21 marks the Summer Solstice, the official first day of summer. Traveling during the hot season is certainly not a modern concept. Targeting that tradition, in 1876, the Lowell, Massachusetts poet Lucy Larcom compiled a book called Roadside Poems for Summer Travellers. As Larcom wrote in her opening preface:

The book begins and ends like the journey of a summer traveller, and may prove an agreeable companion to such as take it with them in their journeyings; for it lingers by brook and river, among mossy rocks and wayside blossoms, and under overhanging trees, and climbs and descends the hills of our own land, and the countries across the sea... And it has, perhaps, something for stay-at-home travellers as well.

The book collected poems (previously-published ones) by notable writers like Thomas Bailey Aldrich, William Cullen Bryant, Thomas Buchanan Read, Alice Cary, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James T. Fields, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, Andrews Norton, Edmund Clarence Stedman, Bayard Taylor, Henry David Thoreau, Jones Very and, of course, her good friend John Greenleaf Whittier — as well as several British poets.

One of the contributions from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the poem "Travels by the Fireside." The poem perfectly answers Larcom's prediction that the book would appeal to "stay-at-home travellers as well."

The ceaseless rain is falling fast,
  And yonder gilded vane,
Immovable for three days past,
  Points to the misty main.

It drives me in upon myself
  And to the fireside gleams,
To pleasant books that crowd my shelf,
  And still more pleasant dreams.

I read whatever bards have sung
  Of lands beyond the sea,
And the bright days when I was young
  Come thronging back to me.

The narrator of the poem reads books reminiscent of his youthful travels and returns to those locales in his mind.

Let others traverse sea and land,
  And toil through various climes,
I turn the world round with my hand,
  Reading these poets' rhymes.

From them I learn whatever lies
  Beneath each changing zone,
And see, when looking with their eyes,
  Better than with mine own.

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