Happy birthday, John

American poet John Greenleaf Whittier was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts on December 17, 1807. Although he received little formal education, he was an avid reader and an autodidact. He was also a devout Quaker and an abolitionist. He wrote and published antislavery literature, and he traveled widely throughout the North, speaking against slavery, organizing antislavery societies, lobbying congressional leaders, and sometimes finding himself the target of violent attacks by his political opponents. After many years of this stressful existence had destroyed his health, Whittier was forced to retire from active participation in the abolitionist movement; but he continued his writing in support of the cause, and he lived to see the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

Whittier is best remembered today as the author of the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” In 1919, Charles Ives used two stanzas of the hymn for his composition “Serenity.” Here it is, sung by Jan DeGaetani, accompanied by pianist Gilbert Kalish.

O Sabbath rest of Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

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