Abraham Davenport

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Abraham Davenport
by John Greenleaf Whittier

In the old days (a custom laid aside

With breeches and cocked hats) the people sent

Their wisest men to make the public laws.

And so, from a brown homestead, where the Sound

Drinks the small tribute of the Mianus,

Waved over by the woods of Rippowams,

And hallowed by pure lives and tranquil deaths,

Stamford sent up to the councils of the State

Wisdom and grace in Abraham Davenport.


'Twas on a May-day of the far old year

Seventeen hundred eighty, that there fell

Over the bloom and sweet life of the Spring

Over the fresh earth and the heaven of noon,

A horror of great darkness, like the night

In day of which the Norland sagas tell,

The Twilight of the Gods. The low-hung sky

Was black with ominous clouds, save where its rim

Was fringed with a dull glow, like that which climbs

The crater's sides from the red hell below.

Birds ceased to sing, and all the barnyard fowls

Roosted; the cattle at the pasture bars

Lowed, and looked homeward; bats on leathern wings

Flitted abroad; the sounds of labor died;

Men prayed, and women wept; all ears grew sharp

To hear the doom-blast of the trumpet shatter

The black sky, that the dreadful face of Christ

Might look from the rent clouds, not as He looked

A loving guest at Bethany, but stern

As Justice and inexorable Law.


Meanwhile in the old State House, dim as ghosts,

Sat the lawgivers of Connecticut,

Trembling beneath their legislative robes.

"It is the Lord's Great Day! Let us adjourn,"

Some said; and then, as if with one accord,

All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport.

He rose, slow cleaving with his steady voice

The intolerable hush. "This well may be

The Day of Judgment which the world awaits;

But be it so or not, I only know

My present duty, and my Lord's command

To occupy till He come. So at the post

Where He hast set me in His providence,

I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face,

No faithless servant frightened from my task,

But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls;

And therefore, with all reverence, I would say,

Let God do His work, we will see to ours.

Bring in the candles." And they brought them in.


Then by the flaring lights the Speaker read,

Albeit with husky voice and shaking hands,

An act to amend an act to regulate

The shad and alewive fisheries, Whereupon

Wisely and well spake Abraham Davenport,

Straight to the question, with no figures of speech

Save the ten Arab signs, yet not without

The shrewd dry humor natural to the man:

His awe-struck colleagues listening all the while,

Between the pauses of his argument,

To hear the thunder of the wrath of God

Break from the hollow trumpet of the cloud.


And there he stands in memory to this day,

Erect, self-poised, a rugged face, half seen

Against the background of unnatural dark,

A witness to the ages as they pass,

That simple duty hath no place for fear.