The Exiles by John Greenleaf Whittier
The incidents upon which the following ballad has its foundation about the year 1660. Thomas Macy was one of the first, if not the first white settler of Nantucket. The career of Macy is briefly but carefully outlined in James S. Pike’s The New Puritan.
THE goodman sat beside his door
One sultry afternoon,
With his young wife singing at his side
An old and goodly tune.
A glimmer of heat was in the air,–
The dark green woods were still;
And the skirts of a heavy thunder-cloud
Hung over the western hill.
Black, thick, and vast arose that cloud
Above the wilderness,
As some dark world from upper air
Were stooping over this.
At times the solemn thunder pealed,
And all was still again,
Save a low murmur in the air
Of coming wind and rain.
Just as the first big rain-drop fell,
A weary stranger came,
And stood before the farmer’s door,
With travel soiled and lame.
Sad seemed he, yet sustaining hope
Was in his quiet glance,
And peace, like autumn’s moonlight, clothed
His tranquil countenance,–
A look, like that his Master wore
In Pilate’s council-hall:
It told of wrongs, but of a love
Meekly forgiving all.
“Friend! wilt thou give me shelter here?”
The stranger meekly said;
And, leaning on his oaken staff,
The goodman’s features read.
“My life is hunted,–evil men
Are following in my track;
The traces of the torturer’s whip
Are on my aged back;
“And much, I fear, ‘t will peril thee
Within thy doors to take
A hunted seeker of the Truth,
Oppressed for conscience’ sake.”
Oh, kindly spoke the goodman’s wife,
“Come in, old man!” quoth she,
“We will not leave thee to the storm,
Whoever thou mayst be.”
Then came the aged wanderer in,
And silent sat him down;
While all within grew dark as night
Beneath the storm-cloud’s frown.
But while the sudden lightning’s blaze
Filled every cottage nook,
And with the jarring thunder-roll
The loosened casements shook,
A heavy tramp of horses’ feet
Came sounding up the lane,
And half a score of horse, or more,
Came plunging through the rain.
“Now, Goodman Macy, ope thy door,–
We would not be house-breakers;
A rueful deed thou’st done this day,
In harboring banished Quakers.”
Out looked the cautious goodman then,
With much of fear and awe,
For there, with broad wig drenched with rain
The parish priest he saw.
Open thy door, thou wicked man,
And let thy pastor in,
And give God thanks, if forty stripes
Repay thy deadly sin.”
“What seek ye?” quoth the goodman;
“The stranger is my guest;
He is worn with toil and grievous wrong,–
Pray let the old man rest.”
“Now, out upon thee, canting knave!”
And strong hands shook the door.
“Believe me, Macy,” quoth the priest,
“Thou ‘lt rue thy conduct sore.”
Then kindled Macy’s eye of fire
“No priest who walks the earth,
Shall pluck away the stranger-guest
Made welcome to my hearth.”
Down from his cottage wall he caught
The matchlock, hotly tried
At Preston-pans and Marston-moor,
By fiery Ireton’s side;
Where Puritan, and Cavalier,
With shout and psalm contended;
And Rupert’s oath, and Cromwell’s prayer,
With battle-thunder blended.
Up rose the ancient stranger then
“My spirit is not free
To bring the wrath and violence
Of evil men on thee;
“And for thyself, I pray forbear,
Bethink thee of thy Lord,
Who healed again the smitten ear,
And sheathed His follower’s sword.
“I go, as to the slaughter led.
Friends of the poor, farewell!”
Beneath his hand the oaken door
Back on its hinges fell.
“Come forth, old graybeard, yea and nay,”
The reckless scoffers cried,
As to a horseman’s saddle-bow
The old man’s arms were tied.
And of his bondage hard and long
In Boston’s crowded jail,
Where suffering woman’s prayer was heard,
With sickening childhood’s wail,
It suits not with our tale to tell;
Those scenes have passed away;
Let the dim shadows of the past
Brood o’er that evil day.
“Ho, sheriff!” quoth the ardent priest,
“Take Goodman Macy too;
The sin of this day’s heresy
His back or purse shall rue.”
“Now, goodwife, haste thee!” Macy cried.
She caught his manly arm;
Behind, the parson urged pursuit,
With outcry and alarm.
Ho! speed the Macys, neck or naught,–
The river-course was near;
The plashing on its pebbled shore
Was music to their ear.
A gray rock, tasselled o’er with birch,
Above the waters hung,
And at its base, with every wave,
A small light wherry swung.
A leap–they gain the boat–and there
The goodman wields his oar;
“Ill luck betide them all,” he cried,
“The laggards on the shore.”
Down through the crashing underwood,
The burly sheriff came:–
“Stand, Goodman Macy, yield thyself;
Yield in the King’s own name.”
“Now out upon thy hangman’s face!”
Bold Macy answered then,–
“Whip women, on the village green,
But meddle not with men.”
The priest came panting to the shore,
His grave cocked hat was gone;
Behind him, like some owl’s nest, hung
His wig upon a thorn.
“Come back,–come back!” the parson cried,
“The church’s curse beware.”
“Curse, an’ thou wilt,” said Macy, “but
Thy blessing prithee spare.”
“Vile scoffer!” cried the baffled priest,
“Thou ‘lt yet the gallows see.”
“Who’s born to be hanged will not be drowned,”
Quoth Macy, merrily;
“And so, sir sheriff and priest, good-by!”
He bent him to his oar,
And the small boat glided quietly
From the twain upon the shore.
Now in the west, the heavy clouds
Scattered and fell asunder,
While feebler came the rush of rain,
And fainter growled the thunder.
And through the broken clouds, the sun
Looked out serene and warm,
Painting its holy symbol-light
Upon the passing storm.
Oh, beautiful! that rainbow span,
O’er dim Crane-neck was bended;
One bright foot touched the eastern hills,
And one with ocean blended.
By green Pentucket’s southern’slope
The small boat glided fast;
The watchers of the Block-house saw
The strangers as they passed.
That night a stalwart garrison
Sat shaking in their shoes,
To hear the dip of Indian oars,
The glide of birch canoes.
The fisher-wives of Salisbury–
The men were all away–
Looked out to see the stranger oar
Upon their waters play.
Deer-Island’s rocks and fir-trees threw
Their sunset-shadows o’er them,
And Newbury’s spire and weathercock
Peered o’er the pines before them.
Around the Black Rocks, on their left,
The marsh lay broad and green;
And on their right, with dwarf shrubs crowned,
Plum Island’s hills were seen.
With skilful hand and wary eye
The harbor-bar was crossed;
A plaything of the restless wave,
The boat on ocean tossed.
The glory of the sunset heaven
On land and water lay;
On the steep hills of Agawam,
On cape, and bluff, and bay.
They passed the gray rocks of Cape Ann,
And Gloucester’s harbor-bar;
The watch-fire of the garrison
Shone like a setting star.
How brightly broke the morning
On Massachusetts Bay!
Blue wave, and bright green island,
Rejoicing in the day.
On passed the bark in safety
Round isle and headland steep;
No tempest broke above them,
No fog-cloud veiled the deep.
Far round the bleak and stormy Cape
The venturous Macy passed,
And on Nantucket’s naked isle
Drew up his boat at last.
And how, in log-built cabin,
They braved the rough sea-weather;
And there, in peace and quietness,
Went down life’s vale together;
How others drew around them,
And how their fishing sped,
Until to every wind of heaven
Nantucket’s sails were spread;
How pale Want alternated
With Plenty’s golden smile;
Behold, is it not written
In the annals of the isle?
And yet that isle remaineth
A refuge of the free,
As when true-hearted Macy
Beheld it from the sea.
Free as the winds that winnow
Her shrubless hills of sand,
Free as the waves that batter
Along her yielding land.
Than hers, at duty’s summons,
No loftier spirit stirs,
Nor falls o’er human suffering
A readier tear then hers.
God bless the sea-beat island!
And grant forevermore,
That charity and freedom dwell
As now upon her shore!