In School Days – by John Greenleaf Whittier

I memorized this poem when I was a child, also, and it made me wistful and sad. But it wasn’t until I grew much much older that I came to fully appreciate it.

Still sits the schoolhouse by the road,
A ragged beggar sleeping,
Around it still the sumacs 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 the western window pane
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 her 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 . . .”
And 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.



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