June 8, 2010

Whittier's first published poem

A poem titled "The Exile's Departure" saw print in the June 8, 1826 issue of the Newburyport (Massachusetts) Free Press. The editor of the magazine was William Lloyd Garrison, still early in his career. He was intrigued by the anonymous poet and published several more of his poems. "His poetry bears the stamp of true genius," he wrote in the Free Press, "which, if carefully cultivated, will rank him among the bards of his country."

Finally, Garrison rode out to the family farm in Haverhill, eager to meet the anonymous poet. That was the first day that Garrison met John Greenleaf Whittier face to face. Whittier didn't know he was coming and Garrison was surprised to meet a younger man than he expected (they were only three years apart). Garrison encouraged Whittier to further his education and continued publishing his poems with every publication he edited (including Boston's National Philanthropist and the Journal of the Times in Bennington, Vermont).

Garrison also helped Whittier get work in the periodical industry. The most notable connection between the two came in The Liberator, a publication founded by Garrison with a strong anti-slavery agenda. Whittier gladly joined the cause. The poet praised the activist in his poem "To William Lloyd Garrison," calling him the "Champion of those who groan beneath / Oppression's iron hand." Soon, however, the two had a falling out over the direction of the abolitionist movement. They did not reconcile until after the Civil War.

The following is the third stanza (of four) from "The Exile's Departure," Whittier's first published poem:

Friends of my youth! I must leave you forever,
  And hasten to dwell in a region unknown: —
Yet time cannot change, nor the broad ocean sever,
  Hearts firmly united and tried as our own.
Ah, no! though I wander, all sad and forlorn,
  In a far distant land, yet shall memory trace,
When far o'er the ocean's white surges I'm borne,
  The scene of past pleasures, — my own native place.

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