Posted by: Democratic Thinker | April 25, 2013

The Pocket Knife—A National Portrait

 

 

—————

 

The Pocket-Knife.
A “National Portrait.”

 

THE Yankee boy, before he’s sent to school
Well knows the mysteries of that magic tool,
The pocket-knife. To that his wistful eye
Turns, while he hears his mother’s lullaby;
His hoarded cents he gladly gives to get it,
Then leaves no stone unturned till he can whet it;
And in the education of the lad
No little part that implement hath had.
His pocket-knife to the young whittler brings
A growing knowledge of material things.

Projectiles, music, and the sculptor’s art,
His chestnut whistle, and his shingle dart,
His elder pop-gun with its hickory rod,
Its sharp explosion and rebounding wad,
His corn-stalk fiddle, and the deeper tone
That murmurs from his pumpkin-stalk trombone,
Conspire to teach the boy. To these succeed
His bow, his arrow of a feathered reed,
His wind-mill, raised the passing breeze to win,
His water-wheel, that turns upon a pin;
Or, if his father lives upon the shore,
You’ll see his ship, “beam ends” upon the floor,
Full rigged with raking masts, and timbers staunch,
And waiting, near the wash-tub, for a launch.

Thus, by his genius and his jack-knife driven,
Ere long he’ll solve you any problem given;
Make any gim-crack, musical or mute,
A plow, a coach, an organ or a flute;
Make you a locomotive or a clock,
Cut a canal, or build a floating-dock,—
Or lead forth Beauty from a marble block;—
Make any thing, in short, for sea or shore,
From a child’s rattle to a Seventy-four:—
Make it, said I?—Ay, when he undertakes it,
He’ll make the thing, and the machine that makes it.

And when the thing is made,—whether it be
To move on earth, in air, or on the sea;
Whether on water, o’er the waves to glide,
Or, upon land to roll, revolve, or slide;
Whether to whirl or jar, to strike or ring,
Whether it be a piston or a spring,
Wheel, pulley, tube sonorous, wood or brass,
The thing designed shall surely come to pass;
For, when his hand’s upon it, you may know
That there’s go in it, and he’ll make it go.

—Rev. John Pierpont, from the Litchfield Centennial Celebration Poem (1851).

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