Monday, January 19, 2015




_____ MAUD MULLER _____


Maud Muller, on a summer's day,
Raked the meadows sweet with hay.

Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

But, when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast--

A wish, that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse's chestnut mane.

He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees, to greet the maid,

And ask a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.

She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

"Thanks!" said the Judge, "a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed."

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her briar-torn gown,
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

And listened, while a pleasant surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.





At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away,

Maud Muller looked and sighed: "Ah, me!
That I the Judge's bride might be!

"He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.

"My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a painted boat.

"I'd dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.

"And I'd feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door."

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

"A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne'er hath it been my lot to meet.

"And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

"Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay:

"No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

"But low of cattle, and song of birds,
And health, and quiet, and loving words."

But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,
And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.

But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well,
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth's bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go:

And sweet Maud Muller's hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;

And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms,
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,
"Ah, that I were free again!

"Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay."

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.

But care and sorrow, and child-birth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through the wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein,

And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;

The weary wheel to a spinnet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned;

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o'er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, "It might have been."

Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;

And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!


~ John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1882)





Here are two quotations from this piece I hope you will remember. The second is the reason why this poem became famous:


1.

But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,
And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.

2. 

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Now, Read the Poem Again, and Imagine It is Set in the Old South instead of New England, and then Imagine MAUD MULLER as a Lovely, Virtuous, Charming NEGRESS –– or a Handsome, Strapping Young MAN Named MARTIN.
NOW You May UNDERSTAND the True MEANING of Whittier's Wistful, Plaintive Verse.

12 comments:

  1. I love that poem. What sighing sentiment, and New England society was advanced enough at that time join in on idealizing bucolic country settings.

    You jarred me out of my warm reverie with your last paragraph, though. I'm not criticizing, just telling you how I feel.

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  2. I think Walt Whitman had the 'young man' in bucolic setting covered already.

    Are you sure Whittier was lamenting the forgone interracial marriages and gay weddings? That's an interesting interpretation, and I don't begrudge you it, but it pretty much wrecked by simpleton's enjoyment of the poem.

    I am a live and let live guy, and I don't care who marries who, but why must everything today be agenda driven? Why must great men from the past be dragged out and repurposed to fit someone's modern agenda?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Keep THINKING, Kurt. I'm not going to explain to anyone -- especially not you. Wasn't it you I was lecturing just the other day about the American public's increasing inability to draw inferences, understand allusions, see parallels, and comprehend figurative language?

      I'll give you one clue, however:

      Maud Muller is NOT a charming vignette of pastoral life in the nineteenth century, nor is it a simple folk tale of two people who happen to encounter one another by the side of a country lane on a lovely summer afternoon.
      The setting may seem bucolic, but the meaning has implications that apply to human interaction everywhere.

      Delete
  3. One of the saddest poems in American literature, IMO.

    Family standards often operate for the good, but not always.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Replies
    1. Yes, of course. Jersey. Negress may sound quaint today, but it's a perfectly respectable term for a female Negro.

      Prince - Princess
      Actor - Actress
      Waiter - Waitress
      Mayor - Mayoress
      Master - Mistress

      Only leftists determined to wrest control of the language to implement their Power Agenda would want to relegate time-honored terms to a forbidden category.

      Boys are still boys, and girls are girls the last time I looked. The leftist determination to portray both sexes as though there were no appreciable difference between them is disorienting at best, inimical at worst.

      Delete
    2. Disagree about "perfectly respectable," FreeThinke. From the Oxford English:

      "since then [1960s], the term Negro (together with related terms such as Negress) has fallen from favour and is now typically regarded as out of date or even offensive in both British and American English."

      It notes that it is sometimes retained within proper nouns for consistency, but the linguistic authority (in matters of correctness, I defer to the OED) has marked "Negro" and related terms as deprecated.

      Delete
    3. I accept the Oxford English Dictionary as authoritative. Which dictionary do you prefer?

      Delete
    4. Most reference works once regarded as trustworthy now in their newer editins reflect the deadly POISON of Political Correctness run amok, Jez.

      I respect NOTHING and NO ONE defining him, her or itself as an "authority" since the madness of the SICK-sties cast its long dark shadow over the WEST.

      All these efforts to vilify perfectly good, long-established terminology, add "inclusive language," and otherwise change the language to aid and abet leftist political initiatives is tendentious nonsense trumped up by would-be-tyrants in their naked attempt to dominate and control the culture.

      So you may disagree all you like, but it won't stop me from continuing to understand that your poor young mind was conscripted and warped by Cultural Marxism from infancy -- whether YOU understand, and accept that or not.

      Since the mid-1950's at least, Popular Culture is not -- and never has been -- mere "entertainment." Instead, it has for ever so long been an insidious form of INDOCTRINATION -- MASS HYPNOSIS.

      I'm sorry you had to one of its many hundreds of millions of innocent victims.

      Delete
    5. These are the online dictionaries I consult most frequently. Of this group Collins English Dictionary is the least tainted by political correctness, but the others are perfectly good normal usage.

      Oxford Dictionaries
      American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
      Collins English Dictionary
      Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 11th Edition
      Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Ed.

      Online dictionaries are a handy expedient, but I much prefer pre-1960's print editions of The American College Dictionary, the enormous old unabridged volumes we used to find in school and public libraries published by Merriam Webster, Funk and Wagnall, and such.

      Unfortunately, we have no access online to the OED unabridged or otherwise. I always wanted to own a copy of the pre-1960's OED unabridged, which I understand comes in many volumes, but Alas! the opportunity never arose. I would doubtless consider OLD editions of the OED to be the ultimate source for enhancing, enriching and refining one's vocabulary.

      I categorically reject anything that smacks of PC and Feminazi influence. Politicizing standard English terms in order to wrest control of young minds and bend them to suit an agenda is deplorable.

      Delete

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