Holman F. Day was a Maine native and a well known author of numerous novels and poems about Maine and its people. His writings were based on both fictional and real life Downeast characters. The following poem, published in the Lewiston Journal, was reprinted by the Boston Globe on Sunday, 31 May 1896. It reads...
When Israel Leavitt Kneeled to Pray.
He wore a sun-tanned, old, brown coat,
His corded hands were stiff and gnurled,
And every seam upon his face
Spoke eloquently, where the world
Had writ the toiler on his brow.
- The years had held no beds of ease
For this old Christian, who had fought
So long and nobly on his knees.
And yet, upon that gnarled old face
Such gentle kindness ever glowed;
Through all the wrinkles and the tan
- So good the man within him showed.
So patient was he with his lot
Of steady toil and little gain,
So quick to share his meagre store,
So slow to censure or complain,
That when his townsmen sought a word
For perfect good a synonym,
With one consent they earnestly
And soulfully referred to him.
- A faded, toiling, simple man,
Unlettered and uncouth in speech,
And yet those homely talks of his
Were mightier in their humble reach
Than smooth appeal and rounded phrase
That rolled so unctiously down
From that young college-bred divine
Who held the pulpit in our town.
And this I know, we impish lads,
Who buzzed and nudged and acted so
Each Sunday evening meeting time,
Far back on dusky "Devil's row,"
Were prompt to stifle every laugh
And cease our silly, boyish play,
To bow our heads in reverence
When Israel Leavitt kneeled to pray.
We liked that man; he always had
A sympathy for boyish woe;
When youthful tribulation nagged,
To Uncle Leavitt we would go;
He understood a boy, you see,
Although he had none of his own.
And always smoothed our little griefs
With kindly smile and hearty tone.
Our earthly parents oft forgave
Through Uncle Leavitt's kindly care,
And when he knelt we dimly felt
That God must likewise hear his prayer.
He didn't pray as some folks pray,
- He didn't proffer sage advice
On managing the universe,
Nor with mock meekness first entice
The Gracious Father to bend down
And give to him a listening ear,
To then indulge in homilies
On how He'd best run matters here.
Ah, no! He had one simple prayer;
He humbly asked that God might sift
The thistles from the soul's good wheat,
And give us poor, weak chaps a lift.
"Jest as I, Lord, will give a lift
To any neighbor when I can;
I only want to get from Thee
Jest what I give my fellow-man."
And do you wonder when we saw
That frayed, old, sun-tanned coat sink down
Between the pews each Sunday night!
- No graceless youngster in the town,
But what would bow his tousled head,
Smooth all his saucy smiles away
And hide his eyes in reverence
When Israel Leavitt kneeled to pray.
Who was ISRAEL LEAVITT? Was he a work of fiction, or, as the poem suggests, a person from Holman's early childhood? Holman, who was born in Vassalboro, Maine in 1865, had moved with his family to Richmond, ME prior to the 1880 census. Living in town at the time of that enumeration was one Israel Leavitt, an 80-year old widower, residing in the household of his daughter Jane and her second husband, John Banks. By this time he had gone blind - the prior census did not mention that fact. The poem states that he had no sons of his own - that is true of this Israel, as he only had one daughter, Jane Thomas Leavitt.
Israel Leavitt, who was the son of Ebenezer and Sarah (Wallace) Leavitt, died on 7 March 1887, and was buried in Newell Cemetery, in the north part of town. His wife Lydia is there as well, having died decades earlier. He is found in Descendants of Israel Leavitt v2, pg 30. A grave photo can be found here: Find a Grave
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