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June 13, 2012

Editorial: Poet's work, newsman's passion lives on

Somewhere Barney Gallagher is smiling.

The former Gazette editor, who died in April at age 90, was passionate about all things Haverhill. But the poetry of a long-ago Gazette editor, John Greenleaf Whittier, held a special place in his heart.

Gallagher wrote often of the Haverhill-born poet and worked to keep his memory and his poetry alive among new generations of Haverhill school children.

More than 20 years ago, Gallagher organized a ceremony to honor Whittier and childhood sweetheart Lydia Ayer. Each year, a group of fifth-graders studies Whittier's poem "In School-days" then makes a pilgrimage to Walnut Ceremony to recite the poem and place flowers at Ayer's grave.

In the poem, set more 40 years after Ayer's death at age 14, Whittier recalls the one-room schoolhouse they attended and the day both lingered after school. The little girl wanted to apologize for beating him in a school spelling bee — "Because, you know, I love you."

The ceremony was held again last Thursday, this time with a moment of silence for Gallagher.

Whittier's work and Gallagher's passion both live on.

In memory of both, we bring you the poem. It's about love, memory and loss.

In School-days

By John Greenleaf Whittier

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 frescos 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.

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