The Shad Spirit, by John Greenleaf Whittier

Tales and Sketches

          "Now drop the bolt, and securely nail
          The horse-shoe over the door;
          'T is a wise precaution; and, if it should fail,
          It never failed before.

          "Know ye the shepherd that gathers his flock
          Where the gales of the equinox blow
          From each unknown reef and sunken rock
          In the Gulf of Mexico,—

          "While the monsoons growl, and the trade-winds bark,
          And the watch-dogs of the surge
          Pursue through the wild waves the ravenous shark
          That prowls around their charge?

          "To fair Connecticut's northernmost source,
          O'er sand-bars, rapids, and falls,
          The Shad Spirit holds his onward course
          With the flocks which his whistle calls.

          "Oh, how shall he know where he went before?
          Will he wander around forever?
          The last year's shad heads shall shine on the shore,
          To light him up the river.

          "And well can he tell the very time
          To undertake his task
          When the pork-barrel's low he sits on the chine
          And drums on the empty cask.

          "The wind is light, and the wave is white
          With the fleece of the flock that's near;
          Like the breath of the breeze he comes over the seas
          And faithfully leads them here.

          "And now he 's passed the bolted door
          Where the rusted horse-shoe clings;
          So carry the nets to the nearest shore,
          And take what the Shad Spirit brings."

The comparatively innocent nature and simple poetic beauty of this class of superstitions have doubtless often induced the moralist to hesitate in exposing their absurdity, and, like Burns in view of his national thistle, to:

              "Turn the weeding hook aside
               And spare the symbol dear."

But the age has fairly outgrown them, and they are falling away by a natural process of exfoliation. The wonderland of childhood must henceforth be sought within the domains of truth. The strange facts of natural history, and the sweet mysteries of flowers and forests, and hills and waters, will profitably take the place of the fairy lore of the past, and poetry and romance still hold their accustomed seats in the circle of home, without bringing with them the evil spirits of credulity and untruth. Truth should be the first lesson of the child and the last aspiration of manhood; for it has been well said that the inquiry of truth, which is the lovemaking of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature.