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Celebrating National Poetry Month: Nehemiah Cleaveland’s “Fair Topsfield”

April is National Poetry Month! Launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, National Poetry Month is a special occasion that celebrates poets’ integral role in our culture and that poetry matters.

Perhaps when visiting the library, you’ve stopped to admire the celebration quilt in the library stairwell, titled “Fair Topsfield.” It was designed by Isabella Groblewski and Terri Meinelt and constructed by Patricia Gandt, Patricia Lucey, Carolyn Herron, Judith lais, Ildiko Tary, and Kathleen Dainton from 1997-2000, and was supported by a donation from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to celebrate the town’s 350th anniversary. Check out information about this work of art, and others on display currently in the library, on our Art in the Library page.

“Topsfield Revisited” by Nehemiah Cleaveland

The following is a longer version of the poem Topsfield Fair, written by Nehemiah Cleaveland. This poem was published in the Salem Gazette on July 14, 1875.

Still are the hills of Topsfield fair,
Her valleys rich in beauty rare
As when my childish feet first trod
Her varied ways and knew each sod

Since then the world I’ve journeyed ’round
And joyously my pulses bound
As glistening spire and peaceful farms
Smile from the hill’s encircling arms.

Once more for me, while shadowed dark
The distant woods the horizon mark;
And lovely are the wandering gleam,
The graceful banks of Ipswich stream!

The sunny reach of meadows wide,
The leafy bowers on either side!
Through fertile fields the highway winds,
And all too soon the village finds;

Where balconies and porches show
Around a gabled homestead low,
And sheltering elms have not forgot
To whisper o’er a modest cot.

The home of wealth here towers high,
The well-known cobblers shop I spy,
And idlers ’round the open door
Of that exchange, the village store.

Loud rings the smith’s great anvil still,
And briars clothe the Academy Hill.
The breezy Common, green and wide,
The mountain ash the church beside,

The church itself, the school house bare,
Unchanged, a different aspect wear: —
For I am weather-worn and old,
Unlike that untamed urchin bold,

Who cut these desks, and stained this floor,
And battered in this dingy door.
But one by one again appear
My boon companions seated here.

The master labors to inspire
A glimmer of ambition’s fire,
Applies his knuckles to each crown
As if to hammer knowledge down.

And all the aisles of Wildes’s grove
Re-echo with the tones I love;
And still the squirrel saucily
Flings down an empty shell at me.

And still the bird with scarlet crest
Hides in the oak her lonely nest.
The Parsonage woods this summer day,
With hints of ladies’ slippers gay,

Lure me to enter, seek, and find.
The lane, with budding thickets lined,
Across the hurrying brook invites,
And more and more my eyes delights,

As paths adown the hillside stray
Where children tumble in the hay,
And through low bending boughs appears
A landmark of two hundred years, —

Quiet and quaint the old house sleeps,
And many a secret sacred keeps.
Across the fields, so fair to see,
The locust clusters beckon me

To follow the returning bees
And stay beneath the fragrant trees.
The strawberries blush deep in the grass,
The buttercups nod as I pass,

The neighboring pines’ delicious sigh
Now and again goes floating by,
As in those golden afternoons
So like to this in other Junes.

Once more, but not with line and hook,
I stroll by trout-famed Gallup’s Brook.
Its banks no fairer fringes wore
Of rarest ferns in days of yore,

No clearer did its waters show
The shining pebbles down below.
Alas! these twenty years and three
Have traced their saddest lines on me!

And slowly now my footsteps seek
The Old Road to the Dry Bridge bleak.
A traveller through the by-gone time,
A pilgrim to a sacred shrine.

I am as sensitive to-day
As blossoms on the barberry spray.
The stream-worn stone beneath my feet,
The pond, the willow’s lettered seat.

The pasture path through trampled brakes,
What tender memories each awakes.
And here impatient cows await
The barefoot boy who cometh late.

Go whistling on thy way, my boy,
May time but bring thee deeper joy!
Rugged and steep the road I tread,
Ringing with carols overhead,

Sparkling with trickling hills that start,
Unbidden from the Great Hill’s heart,
Toward three tall trees I wander on,
No longer old, no more alone,–

Walking again in auld lang syne,
In spirit with that friend of mine
Who used to love those hickory trees,
And now the heavenly beauty sees.

O, for one short and happy hour
I feel again the conquering power
Of vigorous life, dream long long dreams,
While hope upon my pathway beams.

And glorifies the earth anew,
And all the world are good and true.
One radiant face alone I see,
An angel ministers to me,

Draws from my soul its every care
And holy peace impresses there
And though before my yearning eyes
Regretfully, the bright day dies,

Yet as the glow fades from the hills
A calmer light the valley fills,
So sweet in memory shall abide
The comfort of this eventide.

O early home, forever dear!
Blessed the fate that brought me here!

This quilt graces the library's stairwell leading to the second floor, and was inspired by the poem "Fair Topsfield" by Nehemiah Cleaveland.

From 2021, Library staff member Rebecca Boudreau reading the shortened version of “Fair Topsfield.”

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