In School Days

The beautiful last days of summer have brought me to the romantic poetry of the 19th Century. One room schoolhouses,inkwells, harsh masters, quiet children filled with joy as they burst from the schoolhouse door to play.

Whittier’s poem “In School Days” is a nostalgic look at a young girl who apologizes to the boy she loves for spelling the word that knocks him out of a spelling bee. “He lives to learn, in lives hard school; how few who pass above him lament their triumph and his loss, like her, because they love him.”

It’s a wonderful reminder of the selflessness of love and how easy it is to take for granted the quiet and simple gifts that we receive throughout our lives. Enjoy.


In School-Days

Still sits the school-house by the road,
A ragged beggar sleeping;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
And blackberry-vines are creeping.

Within, the master’s desk is seen,
Deep-scarred by raps official;
The warping floor, the battered seats,
The jack-knife’s carved initial;

The charcoal frescoes on its wall;
Its door’s worn sill, betraying
The feet that, creeping slow to school,
Went storming out to playing!

Long years ago a winter sun
Shone over it at setting;
Lit up its western window-panes,
And low eaves’ icy fretting.

It touched the tangled golden curls,
And brown eyes full of grieving,
Of one who still her steps delayed
When all the school were leaving.

For near it stood the little boy
Her childish favor singled;
His cap pulled low upon a face
Where pride and shame were mingled.

Pushing with restless feet the snow
To right and left, he lingered;—
As restlessly her tiny hands
The blue-checked apron fingered.

He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
The soft hand’s light caressing,
And heard the tremble of her voice,
As if a fault confessing.

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word:
I hate to go above you,
Because,”—the brown eyes lower fell,—
“Because, you see, I love you!”

Still memory to a gray-haired man
That sweet child-face is showing.
Dear girl! the grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her, because they love him.

John Greenleaf Whittier


2 thoughts on “In School Days

  1. ‘He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
    The soft hand’s light caressing,
    And heard the tremble of her voice,
    As if a fault confessing.’

    Yes, poetry a century ago…it’s neat rhythms and soft cadences with tender emotions.

    Today the manifestations of love are aired on MSN and You Tube, in jolts and acronyms, in loud sound tracks and provocative images.

    The medium is the message?

  2. I learned this poem, while attending a one room school in Fertigs, Pa. in 1945. I was in the 7th. grade. We each had to learn and recite poems in those days, standing at the front of the room. I loved this poem but had forgotten the title and author, only recently finding it in a 7th. grade notebook I had kept. I, too, have written poetry from the time I learned to make my letters and this past month published a small collection of my poems. I write in the similar style of John Greenleaf Whittier. What they consider ‘modern poetry’ these days to me is not worthy of the name “”Poetry”! The title of my book is “I Was Here” and can be found by Googleing Emma Lucy Eddinger Seaman and giving the title of the book. Other books I have written are listed under Lucy Seaman.

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