A beloved figure in his own era——a household name for such poems as “Barbara Frietchie” and “The Barefoot Boy”—John Greenleaf Whittier remains an emotionally honest, powerfully reflective voice. A Quaker deeply involved in the struggle against slavery (he was harassed by mobs more than once) he enlisted his poetry in the abolitionist cause with such powerful works as “The Hunters of Men,” “Song of Slaves in the Desert,” and “Ichabod!”, his mournful attack on Daniel Webster’s betrayal of the anti-slavery cause.
Whittier’s narrative gift is evident in such perennially popular poems as “Skipper Ireson’s Ride” and the Civil War legend “Barbara Frietchie,” while in his masterpiece “Snow-Bound” he created a vivid, flavorful portrait of the country life he knew as a child in New England. “His diction is easy, his detail rich and unassuming, his emotion deep,” writes editor Brenda Wineapple. “And the shale of his New England landscape reaches outward, promising not relief from pain but a glimpse of a better, larger world.”
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“Whittier is an indispensable part of our poetic heritage. . . . As he matured, he sometimes put his strong Quaker beliefs in vital conflict with both the imagistic and hedonistic impulses of their brands of Romanticism. When he created such tension among his passions and responsibilities, the result was a beautiful, valiant pastoralism that one finds impossible to forget.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch