Weekend Poem to Consider: ‘Calef of Boston’ by John Greenleaf Whittier

This Weekend’s ‘Poem to Consider’ is by the ‘Fireside Poet’, John Greenleaf Whittier. I know I posted one of his poems last week, but I like him and since I just finished reading a book on The Salem Witchcraft Trials (a review will follow soon), I thought this poem was timely.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the two main actors in this drama: Cotton Mather and Robert Calef. (information from Wikipedia)

Cotton Mather had written a book titled Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693 in which he defended his role in the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

In his own book several years later, titled More Wonders of the Invisible World, Robert Calef attacked the Salem Witch Trials and criticized Cotton Mather personally for his role in those events. He wrote his book as a warning to others because he feared those events could happen again.

Although the two never debated publically, at the time both of their books created a public discussion.  In my opinion, it was a much needed public discussion about how the Witch Trials began, were they just or unjust, and how they could or should be prevented in the future.

In response to Calef’s critiques, Cotton Mather later wrote another book titled Some Few Remarks Upon A Scandalous Book, but rather than addressing his remarks academically or admitting any responsibility for what happened, he instead calls Calef a follower of Satan! You be the judge for yourself between the two men and their responses.

“Calef of Boston” by John Greenleaf Whittier

In the solemn days of old,

Two men met in Boston town,

One a tradesman frank and bold,

One a preacher of renown.

Cried the last, in bitter tone:

‘Poisoner of the wells of truth!

Satan’s hireling, thou hast sown

With his tares the heart of youth!’

Spake the simple tradesman then,

‘God be judge ‘twixt thee and me;

All thou knowed of truth hath been

Once a lie to men like thee.

‘Falsehoods which we spurn to-day

Were the truths of long ago;

Let the dead boughs fall away,

Fresher shall the living grow.

‘God is good and God is light,

In this faith I rest secure;

Evil can but serve the right,

Over all shall love endure.

‘Of your spectral puppet play

I have traced the cunning wires;

Come what will, I needs must say,

God is true, and ye are liars.’

When the thought of man is free,

Error fears its lightest tones;

So the priest cried, ‘Sadducee!’

And the people took up stones.

In the ancient burying-ground,

Side by side the twain now lie;

One with humble grassy mound,

One with marbles pale and high,

But the Lord hath blest the seed

Which that tradesman scattered then,

And the preacher’s spectral creed

Chills no more the blood of men.

Let us trust, to one is known

Perfect love which casts out fear,

While the other’s joys atone

For the wrong he suffered here.


One thought on “Weekend Poem to Consider: ‘Calef of Boston’ by John Greenleaf Whittier

  1. what a wonderful poem and an insightful reminder of the dangers of unchecked and unregulated power and authority ‘in the name of god’. the start of the incursions into the rights, freedoms and well being of others may begin as imperceptible slights of harshness or inappropriate rudeness out of turn, but the effects often pile up in a kind of deadly game of ‘one-ups-manship’ that eventually, In the case of the Salem Witch Trials led to actual physical torture and even death for any who might have had either the temerity to speak up and oppose the Spiritual Tyranny or the Stockholm Syndrome like, battered child mentality to just go along with it, seemingly without escape.
    may we continue to learn the dangers of these types of Faith Based Initiatives that are driven by the will and power of unscrupulous men drunk on power and control of others and made mad by the delusion of being the Mouthpiece of God.

    Liked by 1 person

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