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Short poem

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

Barbara Frietchie

              1Up from the meadows rich with corn,
              2Clear in the cool September morn,

              3The clustered spires of Frederick stand
              4Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

              5Round about them orchards sweep,
              6Apple and peach tree fruited deep,

              7Fair as the garden of the Lord
              8To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

              9On that pleasant morn of the early fall
            10When Lee marched over the mountain-wall;

            11Over the mountains winding down,
            12Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

            13Forty flags with their silver stars,
            14Forty flags with their crimson bars,

            15Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
            16Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

            17Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
            18Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

            19Bravest of all in Frederick town,
            20She took up the flag the men hauled down;

            21In her attic window the staff she set,
            22To show that one heart was loyal yet.

            23Up the street came the rebel tread,
            24Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

            25Under his slouched hat left and right
            26He glanced; the old flag met his sight.

            27"Halt!" -- the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
            28"Fire!" -- out blazed the rifle-blast.

            29It shivered the window, pane and sash;
            30It rent the banner with seam and gash.

            31Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
            32Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.

            33She leaned far out on the window-sill,
            34And shook it forth with a royal will.

            35"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
            36But spare your country's flag," she said.

            37A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
            38Over the face of the leader came;

            39The nobler nature within him stirred
            40To life at that woman's deed and word;

            41"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
            42Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

            43All day long through Frederick street
            44Sounded the tread of marching feet:

            45All day long that free flag tost
            46Over the heads of the rebel host.

            47Ever its torn folds rose and fell
            48On the loyal winds that loved it well;

            49And through the hill-gaps sunset light
            50Shone over it with a warm good-night.

            51Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er,
            52And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

            53Honor to her! and let a tear
            54Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.

            55Over Barbara Frietchie's grave,
            56Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

            57Peace and order and beauty draw
            58Round thy symbol of light and law;

            59And ever the stars above look down
            60On thy stars below in Frederick town!


1] "This poem was written in strict conformity to the account of the incident as I had it from respectable and trustworthy sources. It has since been the subject of a good deal of conflicting testimony, and the story was probably incorrect in some of its details. It is admitted by all that Barbara Frietchie was no myth, but a worthy and highly esteemed gentlewoman, intensely loyal and a hater of the Slavery Rebellion, holding her Union flag sacred and keeping it with her Bible; that when the Confederates halted before her house, and entered her dooryard, she denounced them in vigorous language, shook her cane in their faces, and drove them out; and when General Burnside's troops followed close upon Jackson's, she waved her flag and cheered them. It is stated that May Quantrell, a brave and loyal lady in another part of the city, did wave her flag in sight of the Confederates. It is possible that there has been a blending of the two incidents." [Whittier's note, p. 342]

3] Frederick: northern Maryland town.

10] Lee: Robert Edward Lee (1807-70), American confederate general, victor in the Civil War battles of the Seven Days, Cedar Run, Bull Run, and Chancellorsville, loser in the battles of Antietam River and Gettysburg, and eventually (as commander of all the Confederate armies) the one who surrendered at Appomattox on February 9, 1865.

24] Stonewall Jackson: Thomas Jonathan Jackson (1824-63), confederate general with Lee.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier, Cambridge edition, ed. H. E. S. (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1894): 342-43. PS 3250 E94 1894 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1863
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/20

Form: couplets

Other poems by John Greenleaf Whittier