Will Carleton

Ever since I was young, my Aunt Marge and my family told me that I was related to Will Carleton, the poet laureate of Michigan. I went to Hillsdale College in 1993 to meet Dr. Jerome Fallon, who was writing a book about Will Carleton.

My aunt told me that my grandfather always said that we were distant cousins. After looking at the family tree in Michigan, (although he has no direct descendants), I came to the conclusion that Will was my great grandfathers cousin. I guess that makes me a distant cousin

Will was an awesome poet. His most famous poem was "Over The Hill To The Poor House", about the inhumane treatment of the elderly. His poem, "Sewing Girl's Diary", was about indoor air pollution. Landlords at that time didn't think it was their responsibility to keep the air clean from the pollution caused by the chimneys in their buildings and people were dying from the indoor air pollution.

He also had poems about divorce, homelessness, and many other topics that greatly reflect today, as well as the 1800's.

The idea that Will's topics are so timeless and relevant today is what fascinates me. In his poem, "The New Church Organ", the congregation is not sure of using new sounds and techniques in their church services, while in "The Old Man Laments", the old man says that before the telegraph came along he never was aware of the whole worlds problems - he just had to worry about the problems in his own home town!

Will was popular as The United States changed from a rural to an industrial society. People were leaving their farms to move and get work in the cities. Will's poems, along with his fellow writers from that era, became part of America's conscience, and, partly because of their writings, helped establish a safety net for the poorer members of our society.

His poem "Want, Want, Want" is a more accurate look at poverty than either the right or left wing is presenting today, while in "A Doctors' Story", Will gives some insight into the medical profession. On "How We Kept The Day", Will satirizes our festivities on July 4th. We eat and drink too much, and listen to politicians; This is how we celebrate our Nations Independence!

Lord willing, I am going to write a play about Will Carleton. I have the outline for it - I just have to find the time to do it.



Will Carleton Play - First Concept

The Outline

(NOTE: This original outline was written by Dennis Carleton and has beeen revised since.)

Narrator: Will Carleton. Where do you start with Will? Will was born in a log cabin in a small town called Hudson Michigan. Will had the usual conflicts that come when a farmers son wants to be, of all things, a poet. Will's father did not think that being a writer was the best occupation for his son, but Will perservered, recieved a four yearr degree from Hillsdale College, became a teacher and - more importantly - a poet.

Will's poems shed light and helped people through difficult cultural changes as the United States went from farming to an industrialized society. Citizens fled the country for jobs and a better life in the cities. As with many great works of art, Will's poems have withstood the test of time and are just as relevant today. Will discussed poverty, homelessness, air poluttion, divorce and the role of the newspaper in society. Before we hear some of Will's poems, let's' hear what Will had to say about his own work.


Will At the Podium: In his books, the author has aimed to give expression to the truth, that within every person, even if humble or debased,there may be some good worth lifting up and saving; that in each human being, though revered and seemingly immaculate, are some faults which deserve pointing out and correcting, Likewise, in all circumstances of life, however trivial they appear, may possess the comic and pathetic, the good and bad, the joyful and sorrowful. I also believe that the most important consideration of a book or a poem is the motive, which should be connected either with the substantial improvement, or the rational entertainment of the human race.

The author who has the attention of any great number of people, and does not use it to make them better and truer, is to be pitied as well as his readers. Third, I believe that the next important consideration in a book or a poem is the subject matter; this should never be above the comprehension of the average mind and thought of the world if the author expects to write for the people, and not for the short lived praises of a small, transient, artificial admiration. The clearer the windowpane, the brighter may be seen the flowers of the garden and the tints of the sky. I also believe that an author should have his own thoughts and and so far as a writer uses another's thoughts and expressions, he is a compiler and not an author.. With these few words of introduction, the author launches upon the sea of popular opinion, grinds his axe and enters once more the great forest of human nature for timber to go on with his boat-building.

Narrator: Wills most famous poem started as he witnessed an older woman being thrown into a poor house. Over The Hill To the Poor House was written by Will, sent to the Toledo Blade newspaper and published. The Harper Brothers liked this poem and others so much that he was asked to compile a book that eventually sold hundreds of thousands. When Over The Hill To the Poor House was published, thousands of people repented and and rescued their poor parents from poor houses. How far have we really cone in our society's treatment of the elderly?


To the poorhouse I'm trudgin' my weary way
I am smart and chipper for all the years I'm told
A woman of seventy and only a trifle grey
As any other woman who's only half as old
To the poorhouse I can't quite make it clear
To the poorhouse it seems so horrid queer
Many a step I've taken toilin' to and fro
But this the sort of journey I never thought to go

Over the hill to the poorhouse
Over the hill to the poorhouse

What's the use of heapin' a paupers shame
Am I lazy - crazy - blind - or lame
True I'm not so supple nor so awful stout but charity's not
A favor that one can live without
Once I was handsome, I was upon my soul -
Once my cheeks were roses -
My eyes as black as coal -
But I can't remember hearing people say
For any kind of reason that I was in their way

Over the hill to the poorhouse
Over the hill to the poorhouse

So they have shirked and slighted me and shifted me about
They well nigh soured me and wore my old heart out
Still I born up pretty well and wasn't much put down
Till charlie called the poor master and put me on the town
To the poorhouse my children dear goodbye - many a night
I've watched you when only God was nigh - But God will judge
Between us and I will always pray that
You will not suffer the half I do today

Over the hill to the poorhouse
Over the hill to the poorhouse

Narrator: One of today's biggest problems is the chaos that has become health care but once again over a hundred years ago, Will was wrestling with how a doctor should treat his patients, how much he should charge.


Good folks ever will have their way-
Good folks ever for it must pay.
But we, who Are here and everywhere,
The burden of their faults must bear.
We must shoulder others' shame-
Fight their follies, and take their blame

Purge the body, and humor the mind;
Doctor the eyes. when the soul is blind;
Build the column of health erect
On the quicksands of neglect.-
Always shouldering others shame--
Bearing their faults ,and taking, the blame

Deacon Rogers, he came to me;
"Wife is agoin' to die," said he.
"Doctors great, an' 'doctors small,
Haven't improved her any at all.
"Physic and blister, powders and pills,
And nothing sure BUT THE DOCTORS BILLS

"Twenty women., with remedies new,
Bother my wife the whole day through.
Sweet as honey, or bitter as gall-
Poor old woman, she takes 'em all.
"Sour or sweet, whatever they choose;

"So she pleases wboe'er may call,
And death is suited the best of all.
"Physic and blister, powder an' pill-
Bound to conquer, and sure to kill
Mrs. Rogers lay in her bed.
Bandaged and blistered from foot to head

Blistered and bandaged from head to toe,
Mrs. Rogers was very low.
Bottle and saucer, spoon and cup,
On the table stood bravely up;
Physics of high and low degree;
Calomel, catnip, boneset tea;

Every thing a body could bear,
Excepting light and water and air.
I opened the blinds; the day was bright
And God gave Mrs. Rogers some light.
I opened the window; the day was fair,
And God gave Mrs. Rogers some air.

Bottles and blisters, powders and pills,
Catnip, boneiset, sirups, and squills;
Drugs and medicines, high and low,
I threw them as far as I could throw.
"What are you oing?" my patient cried;
"Frightening Death," I coolly replied.

"You are crazy" a visitor said:
I flung a bottle at his head.
Deacon Rogers he came to me;
"Wife is a gettin' her health, said he.
"I really think she will worry me through;
She scolds me just as she used to do.

"All the people have poohed an' slirred-
All the neighbors have had their word;
"'Twere better to perish, some of 'em sty,
Than be cured in such an irregular way.
"Your wife," said I, " had God's good care,
And His remedies, light and water and air.

"All of the doctors, beyond a doubt,
Couldn't have cured Mrs. Rogers whithout
The deacon smiled and bowed his bead;
"Then your bill is nothing," he said.
"God's be the glory, as you say
God bless you, doctor good-day good. day


Narrator: In the old man meditates the old man is upsets because of the telegraph. Before the telegraph came along the old man had only to worry about his local problems. Isn't this what we say about our information age explosion of the Internet and Cable TV.?


The world keeps newing so!-they fashion it
So old men find no place where to fit.
On and right on!" leaps hot from every tongue;
"Live while you live!" and "Go it while you're young!

"An average, moderate life, if these things last,
Will be among the lost arts of the past;
These rushing days of lightning and of steam
Push everything out into some extreme.

The rich grow richer, smarter grow the smart;
It's harder for the rest to get a start;
Old-fashioned politics, cease.your mild strife,
When men can say "An office or your Iife"

And you, small rogues, you so guilty feel
Because a thousand dollars you may steal,
Look at that scamp of sanctimonious style,
Who pilfers millions with a charming smile


Once my horse and I in peace could drive,
With some fair chance of rea'chin home alive;
Now, every other mile a sign-board bars,
With "Railroad Crossing-. look out for the Cars."

These cars-they carry thousands in a day,
And maybe take some that bad better stay;
While often, in a crash of wail and woe,
They take folks where they do not want to go!

And I have heard and read distressing things
Of railroad cliques, monopolies, and rings.
I've tried to understand their stock reports,"
Their bills " and bears," their curious longs "and shorts;"

Where in the most that I can calculate
If to, fall among them is your fate,
Your heart,for many months will sing the song,
"My pocket's short, my countenance is long-".

But now the telegraph and papers try
To bring this whole world underneath the eye,
And my old fool heart into sorrow drive
O'er deaths of folks I didn't know were alive.

It is an interesting fact to know
That news can sweep across the country -so;
But it gets out of breath, I calculate,
And sometimes fails to tell the story straight;

And talk that's false, or frivolous, or too small,
The slower -it goes, the better for us all.
It's smart, this flashing news from shore to shore,
But old men value peace a good deal more.

NARRATOR: If a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear? Langston Hughes has a poem where he talks of love unfulfilled being one of our worse sufferings. Will has a more optimistic view that although we are alone, there is always a chance that our best selves will be discovered. This is one of wills most romantic poems as well as one in which he describes the beauty of nature, namely the ocean and the forest.


"Oh STRONG and terrible Ocean, 0h grand and glorious Ocean,
Oh restless, stormy Ocean, A million fathoms o'er
When never an eye was near thee to view thy turbulent glory,
When never an ear to bear thee relate thy endless story,

What didst thou then, Oh Ocean? Did you toss thy foam in air,
With never a bark to fear thee, and never a soul to dare?">

The strong and terrible Ocean, with rock-embattled shore;
I threw my fleecy blanket up over my shoulders bare,
I raised my head in triumph, and tossed my grizzled hair;

For I knew that sometime - sometime
White-robed ships would venture from out of the placid bay,
I knew that sometime - sometime
Lordly men and maidens my servile guests would be,
And hearts of sternest courage would filter and bend to me."

"Oh deep and solemn Forest, Oh sadly whispering Forest,
Oh lonely moaning Forest, that murmereth evermore!
When never a footstep wandered across thy sheltered meadows,
When never a wild bird squandered his music 'mid thy shadows,

What didst thou then, 0h Forest? Didst robe thyself in green,
And pride thyself in beauty the while to be unseen?"


Oh I was the self-same Forest, The same low-whispering Forest,
The softly murmuring Forest, and all of my beauties wore.
I dressed myself in splendor all through the lonely hours;
I twined the vines around me, And-covered my lap with flowers;

For I knew that some time birds of beautiful plumage would flit and nestle here;
Songs of marvelous sweetness would charm my listening ear;
I knew that some time lovers would gayly wander 'neath my protecting boughs,
And into the ear of my silence would whisper holy vows."

"Oh fair and beautiful Maiden, Oh pure and winsome Maiden,
Oh grand and peerless Maiden, created to adore!
When no love came to woo thee that won thy own love-treasure,
When never a heart came to thee thy own heart-wealth could measure,
What doest thou then, Oh Maiden, didst smile as thou smilest now,
With ne'er the kiss of a lover upon thy snow-white brow?"


"Oh! I was the self-same Maiden, The simple and trusting Maiden,
The happy and careless Maiden, with all of my love in store.
I gayly twined, my tresses, and cheerfully went my way;
I took no thought of the morrow, and cared for the cares of the day;
For I knew that some time into the path of my being, the love of my life would glide,
And we by the gates of heaven would wander side by side."