There was a reunion for students at Haverhill Academy, 1827-1830, on September 10, 1885, for which Whittier wrote “The Reunion.” He had mixed feelings about the reunion, “which he thought would give as much pain as pleasure; those who went would miss so many whom they had known and would find it hard to connect their aged selves with their boyhood and girlhood.” (Woodwell 474) But Whittier turned out to be the center of attention. A poem of welcome was addressed to him, all the invited guests were introduced to him, Abby J. Woodman, whom Whittier had brought with him for the purpose, read “Reunion.” He gave signed photographs to each of his classmates and agreed to let one of them, Harrison Plummer, paint his portrait for the Public Library. (Woodwell 475)
Whittier’s note at the beginning gives the occasion.
Read September 10, 1885, to the surviving students of Haverhill Academy in 1827-1830.
The gulf of seven and fifty years
We stretch our welcoming hands across;
The distance but a pebble’s toss
Between us and our youth appears.
He acknowledges those who are no longer with them.
And some have gone the unknown way,
And some await the call to rest;
Who knoweth whether it is best
For those who went or those who stay?
He continues that those who remain are grateful that life is still worth living, and he thanks Providence for all the good they have received since their school days.
“T is something that we wander back,
Gray pilgrims, to our ancient ways,
And tender memories of old days
Walk with us by the Merrimac;…
And it’s not just the ones who could make the reunion.
Dear comrades, scattered wide and far,
Send from their homes their kindly word,
And dearer ones, unseen, unheard,
Smile on us from some heavenly star.
He ends with a note of finality: a hopeful one for those who shared his faith.
Hail and farewell! We go our way’
Where shadows end, we trust in light;
The star that ushers in the night
Is herald also of the day!
Full text of "The Reunion"