Saturday, July 23, 2016

Sarah Orne Jewett's "On Star Island" ... and being on Star Island (Isles of Shoals"

I'd read Jewett's Country of the Pointed Firs (often considered her best work) a number of years ago. A significant figure in American regionalist literature, she lived and worked in Maine, just across the water from Portsmouth, NH where I'm spending some summer vacation.

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Sarah Orne Jewett (September 3, 1849 – June 24, 1909) was an American novelist, short story writer and poet, best known for her local color works set along or near the southern seacoast of Maine. (Wikipedia).

I took a short day trip out to Star Island and Jewett pretty much captured the experience, from the little chapel, the little graveyard, the clusters of people on holiday,

Here's Jewett's poem, "On Star Island":

 High on the lichened ledges, like
    A lonely sea-fowl on its perch,
Blown by the cold sea winds, it stands,
    Old Gosport's quaint, forsaken church.

No sign is left of all the town
    Except a few forgotten graves;
But to and fro the white sails go
    Slowly across the glittering waves.

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And summer idlers stray about
    With curious questions of the lost
And vanished village, and its men,
    Whose boats by these same waves were tossed.

I wonder if the old church dreams
    About its parish, and the days
The fisher people came to hear
    The preaching and the songs of praise!

Rough-handed, browned by sun and wind,
    Heedless of fashion or of creed,
They listened to the parson's words --
    Their pilot heavenward indeed.

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Their eyes on week-days sought the church,
    Their surest landmark, and the guide
That led them in from far at sea,
    Until they anchored safe beside

The harbor-wall that braved the storm
    With its resistless strength of stone.
Those busy fishers all are gone --
    The church is standing here alone.

But still I hear their voices strange,
    And still I see the people go
Over the ledges to their homes:
    The bent old women's footsteps slow;

The faithful parson stop to give
    Some timely word to one astray;
The little children hurrying on
    Together, chattering of their play.

I know the blue sea covered some,
    And others in the rocky ground
Found narrow lodgings for their bones --
    God grant their rest is sweet and sound!

I saw the worn rope idle hang
    Beside me in the belfry brown.
I gave the bell a solemn toll --
    I rang the knell for Gosport town. 2016.07.22-DSC08165

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