Saturday, November 19, 2011


For my own contribution to this year's Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge,
I'm returning to a subject that always fascinates me: the stone walls of
New England. I don't know how many times when I've been out for a
walk somewhere in the woods that I've run across a stone wall that
seems to me to be out in the middle of nowhere. I look at it and then
at the trees rhat surround it and wonder if all the area had once been
cleared for pasturage or farming. How long had the land been part of
a farm, who had owned it, when and why had the land been reclaimed
by the woods?

Most of my ancestors on my Dad's side of the family were farmers in
Maine and New Hampshire. It must have been hard grueling work to
dig up those rocks, haul them away and then use them to construct
those stone walls!

Awhile back I posted Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" here which
talked about the yearly practice of checking the walls between neighboring
farms for repairs. Since then I found a poem by Holman Day on the
construction of the walls. I've shared one of his poems before, "The 
Wangan Camp"   .  Mr.Day was one of the regional poets of the late
19th-early 20th century who wrote poems ablut local subjects, often
using the local dialect to convey how the words would have sounded
spoken by a person who lived in the area.

So, imagine yourself sitting on the front porch of a Maine farmhouse as
a weathered old farmer tells you what he thinks about building " An Old
Stun' Wall":


If ye only knew the backaches in an old stun'
O, Lordy me,
I'm seventy-three! —
Begun amongst these boulders and I've lived
here through it all.
I wasn't quite to bub's age there, when dad
commenced to clear
The wust of ninety acres with a hoss team and
a steer.
And we've used the stun's for fencin' and we've
built around the lot,
O, I've tugged and worked there, sonny, ontil
gracious me, I've sot
And fairly groaned o' evenings with the twinges
in my back;
Sakes, there warn't no shirkin,' them days; it
was tug and lift and sack,
For it needed lots of muscle, lots of gruntin',
lots of sand
If a feller calculated for to clear a piece of
Bub, it isn't any wonder that our backs has got
a hump,
That our arms are stretched and awkward like
the handle on a pump,
That our palms are hard and calloused, that we
wobble in our gait
— There's the reason right before you 'round
the medders in the State.
And I wonder sometimes, sonny, that we've
any backs at all
When I figer on the backaches in an

 If ye only knew the backaches in an old stun'
We read of men
Who with a pen
Have pried away the curses that have crushed
us in their fall.
I don't begrudge them honor nor the splendor
of their name
For an av'rage Yankee farmer hasn't any use
for fame,
But the man who lifted curses and the man
who lifted stones
Never'll hear a mite of diffrunce in the
Heavenly Father's tones.
For I have the humble notion, bub, that when
all kinds of men,
The chaps that pried with crowbar and the
chaps that pried with pen,
Are waitin' to be measured for the things
they've done below
The angel with the girth-chain's bound to give
us all fair show.
And the humble man who's tussled with the
rocks of stubborn Maine
Won't find that all his labor has been thankless
and in vain.
 And while the wise and mighty get the glorious
credit due
The man who took the brunt of toil will be
remembered too.
The man who bent his aching back will earn
his crown, my child,
By the acres he made fertile and the miles of
rocks he piled.
That ain't my whole religion, for I don't propose
to shirk
What my duties are to Heaven,— but the gospel
of hard work
Is a mighty solid bed-rock that I've built on
more or less;
I believe that God Almighty has it in his heart
to bless
For the good they've left behind them rough old
chaps with humped-up backs
Who have gone ahead and smoothed things with
the crowbar and the axe.
For if all our hairs are numbered and He notes
the sparrow's fall
He understands the backaches in an

from Up in Maine: Stories of Yankee life told in verse (Small,
Maynard & Company, 1900) p.31

1 comment:

Judith Richards Shubert said...

I would say "Amen" to that, Bill! I can see that old chap telling Bub that story ~ how true it is, too! Thanks for sharing your stone walls of Maine with us.