The Witch of Wenham

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The Witch of Wenham
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Along Crane River's sunny slopes
      Blew warm the winds of May,
And over Naumkeag's ancient oaks
      The green outgrew the gray.

The grass was green at Rial-side,
      The early birds at will
Waked up the violet in its dell,
      The wind-flower on its hill.

"Where go you, in your Sunday coat,
      Son Andrew, tell me, pray."
"For strip-ed perch in Wenham Lake
      I go to fish today."

"Unharmed of thee in Wenham Lake
      The mottled perch shall be:
A blue-eyed witch sits on the bank
      And weaves her net for thee.

"She weaves her golden hair; she sings
      Her spell-song low and faint;
The wickedest witch in Salem jail
      Is to that girl a saint."

"Nay mother, hold thy cruel tongue;
      God knows," the young man cried,
"He never made a whiter soul
      Than hers by Wenham side.

"She tends her mother sick and blind,
      And every want supplies;
To her above the blessed Book
      She lends her soft blue eyes.

"Her voice is glad with holy songs,
      Her lips are sweet with prayer;
Go where you will, in ten miles round
      Is none more good and fair."

"Son Andrew, for the love of God
      And of thy mother, stay!"
She clasped her hands, she wept aloud,
      But Andrew rode away.

"O reverend sir, my Andrew's soul
      The Wenham witch has caught-
She holds him with the curled gold
      Whereof her snare is wrought.

"She charms him with her great blue eyes
      She binds him with her hair---
Oh, break the spell with holy words,
      Unbind him with a prayer!"

"Take heart," the painful preacher said
      "This mischief shall not be;
The witch shall perish in her sins
      And Andrew shall go free.

"Our poor Ann Putnam testifies
      She saw her weave a spell,
Bare-armed, loose-haired, at full of moon
      Around a dried-up well.

" 'Spring up, O well!' she softly sang
      The Hebrew's old refrain
(For Satan uses Bible words)
      Till water flowed amain.

"And many a goodwife heard her speak
      By Wenham water words
That made the buttercups take wings
      And turn to yellow birds.

"They say that swarming wild bees seek
      The hive at her command-
And fishes swim to take their food
      From out her dainty hand.

"Meek as she sits in meeting-time,
      The godly minister
Notes well the spell that doth compel
      The young men's eyes to her.

"The mole upon her dimpled chin
      Is Satan's seal and sign;
Her lips are red with evil bread
      And stain of unblest wine.

"For Tituba, my Indian, saith
      At Quasycung she took
The Black Man's godless sacrament
      And signed his dreadful book.

"Last night my sore-afflicted child
      Against the young witch cried.
To take her Marshal Herrick rides
      Even now to Wenham side."

The marshal in his saddle sat,
      His daughter at his knee;
"I go to fetch that arrant witch
      Thy fair playmate," quoth he.

"Her spectre walks the parsonage,
      And haunts both hall and stair;
They know her by the great blue eye
      And floating gold of hair."

"They lie, they lie, my father dear!
      No foul old witch is she,
But sweet and good and crystal-pure
      As Wenham waters be."

"I tell thee, child, the Lord hath set
      Before us good and ill
And woe to all whose carnal love
      Oppose His righteous will.

"Between Him and the power of hell
      Choose thou, my child, to-day:
No sparing hand, no pitying eye
      When God commands to slay!"

He went his way; the old wives shook
      With fear a he drew nigh;
The children in the dooryard held
      Their breath as he passed by.

Too well they knew the gaunt gray horse
      The grim witch-hunter rode,
The pale Apocalyptic beast
      By grisly Death bestrode.

Oh, fair the face of Wenham Lake
      Upon the young girl's shone,
Her tender mouth, her dreaming eyes
      Her yellow hair outblown.

By happy youth and love attuned
      To natural harmonies,
The singing birds, the whispering wind
      She sat beneath the trees.

Sat shaping for her bridal dress
      Her mother's wedding gown
When lo! the marshal, writ in hand,
      From Alford hill rode down.

His face was hard with cruel fear,
      He grasped the maiden's hands:
"Come with me unto Salem town
      For so the law commands!"

"Oh, let me to my mother say
      Farewell before I go!"
He closer tied her little hands
      Unto his saddle bow.

"Unhand me," cried she piteously,
      "For thy sweet daughter's sake."
"I'll keep my daughter safe," he said,
      "From the witch of Wenham Lake."

"Oh, leave me for my mother's sake
      She needs my eyes to see."
"Those eyes, young witch, the crow shall peck
      From off the gallows-tree."

He bore her to a farm-house old
      And up its stairway long
And closed on her the garret-door
      With iron bolted strong.

The day died out, the night came down:
      Her evening prayer she said
While, through the dark, strange faces seemed
      To mock her as she prayed.

The present horror deepened all
      The fears her childhood knew;
The awe wherewith the air was filled
      With every breath she drew.

And could it be, she trembling asked
      Some secret thought or sin
Had shut good angels from her heart
      And let the bad ones in?

Had she in some forgotten dream
      Let go her hold on Heaven,
And sold herself unwittingly
      To spirits unforgiven?

Oh, weird and still the dark hours passed;
      No human sound she heard,
But up snd down the chimney stack
      The swallows moaned and stirred.

And o'er her, with a dread surmise
      Of evil sight and sound,
The blind bats on their leathern wings
      Went wheeling round and round.

Low hanging in the midnight sky
      Looked in a half-faced moon.
Was it a dream, or did she hear
      Her lover's whistled tune?

She forced the oaken scuttle back;
      A whisper reached her ear:
"Slide down the roof to me," it said,
      "So softly none may hear."

She slid along the sloping roof
      Till from its eaves she hung
And felt the loosened shingles yield
      To which her fingers clung.

Below, her lover stretched his hands
      And touched her feet so small;
"Drop down to me, dear heart," he said,
      "My arms shall break the fall."

He set her on his pillion soft
      Her arms about him twined;
And, noiseless as if velvet-shod,
      They left the house behind.

But when they reached the open way
      Full free the rein he cast
Oh, never through the mirk midnight
      Rode man and maid more fast.

Along the wild wood-paths they sped
      The bridgeless streams they swam,
At set of moon they passed the Bass,
      At sunrise Agawam.

At high noon on the Merrimac
      The ancient ferryman
Forgot, at times, his idle oars
      So fair a freight to scan.

And when irom off his grounded boat
      He saw them mount and ride
"God keep her from the evil eye
      And harm of witch!" he cried.

The maiden laughed, as youth will laugh
      At all its fears gone by;
"He does not know," she whispered low,
      "A little witch am I."

All day he uged his weary horse
      And, in the red sundown
Drew rein before a friendly door
      In distant Berwick town.

A fellow-feeling for the wronged
      The Quaker people felt,
And safe beside their kindly hearths
      The hunted maiden dwelt,

Until from off its breast the land
      The haunting horror threw,
And hatred, born of ghastly dreams,
      To shame and pity grew.

Sad were the year's spring morns, and sad
      Its golden summer day,
But blithe and glad its withered fields
      And skies of ashen gray;

For spell and charm had power no more,
      The spectres ceased to roam
And scattered households knelt again
      Around the hearths of home.

And when once more by Beaver Dam
      The meadow-lark outsang
And once again on all the hills
      The early violets sprang,

And all the windy pasture slopes
      Lay green within the arms
Of creeks that bore the salted sea
      To pleasant inland farms,

The smith filed off the chains he forged,
      The jail-bolts backward fell
And youth and hoary age came forth
      Like souls escaped from hell.