St. Johnsbury Poets of the Past – April 2015 Edition of History & Heritage

St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center

Welcome to April’s edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.

We are located in the Summer Street School building while renovations are being made before we move to our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street. It took a community along with friends and alumni to make this dream a reality. We encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Ongoing work includes wiring and new ceiling in the classroom/meeting room in the back of the house; a handicapped bathroom and entrance ramp is being readied; wiring for lights in the barn has begun and the manufacture of cabinets to hold the exhibits for display is taking place. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

St. Johnsbury Poets of the Past – Part 2


Wendell Phillips Stafford

St. Johnsbury is a Poem Town for the month of April (additional information can be found on the Catamount Arts web site). Asked if I knew any past poets, three immediately came to mind from stories my parents had told me and reciting my father had often done. Last month, I wrote of Charles H. Horton and Charles Braley; I will continue with Wendell P. Stafford.

Stafford was probably the most quoted by my father to “us kids.” Born in Barre, Vermont on May 1, 1861, he graduated from Barre Academy in 1878 and then came to St. Johnsbury Academy for additional college preparation. Stafford graduated with the class of 1880. He then studied law in the office of Henry Clay Ide passing his bar examination in June of 1882. He graduated from Boston University Law School in 1883. His career in law included being appointed to the Vermont Supreme Court as a judge in 1900 and in 1904 appointed to the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Outside of a very successful career in the law, he was known as a poet, speaker and author. In his book The Land We love (one verse)

VERMONT

My heart is where the hills fling up

Green garlands to the day.

“Tis where the blue lake brims her cup,

The sparkling rivers play.

My heart is on the mountain still

Where’er my steps may be;

Vermont, O maiden of the hills,

My heart is there with thee!  

In 1886 Wendell Stafford married Florence Goss of St. Johnsbury. They had two sons, Robert and Edward. Robert died at a very early age and this was his Father’s tribute to him

R. S. S. (September 20, 1894 – May 24, 1901)

We shall not miss thee less but more,

For ever more, O silent little son,

As our dull days go on,

Each finding hope’s predicted deeds undone,

Losing some field of joy thy presence would have won.

We shall not lose our memory’s blessed store,

We see thee as before,-

Nothing inert,

The bright blue eyes alert,

And light foot on the poise to skip and run,

The thin lips curling into fairy fun,

And brow whose promise large was read of every one.

Oh paradox of misery!

For sudden sorrow smiled,

Seeing thou didst but pause

To be for aging hearts the sweet, immortal child.

Not thee, dear little lad, we lost not thee:

But we have lost the man that never was

And never was to be.

A sad footnote to this poem is that several years ago, we found the marble cross to the memory of Robert missing. It was broken at the base and gone from the cemetery lot in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. Having said that maybe this last poem speaks volumes.

THE OLIVE BRANCH

The life of man is only a span,

“Twas a mighty long time before it began;

And whether we frown or whether we smile,

We’re going to be dead a very long while.

Then don’t you think we’re asses, brother,

To spend a minute in hating each other?

Let us not say a single word

Would trouble the daisies if they heard

Or carved in the marble would look absurd.

I have introduced you to three of St. Johnsbury’s past poets. For those parents, grandparents and teachers who would like their children to develop an interest in poetry, I discovered a great kid’s book, Otto the Owl Who Loved Poetry by Vern Kousky, 2015. The pictures are great too!

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