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.
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.
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,"—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.