Monday, January 17, 2011

Robert Dinsmore, the Farmer Poet of Windham, NH

Londonderry, New Hampshire in Winter
Robert Dinsmore (AKA Dinsmoor) was known as the “Rustic Bard.” He was the great grandson of James McKeen and John Dinsmoor, two Scotsman who had emigrated from Northern Ireland to New Hampshire. Dinsmore’s poetry is full of Scots phrases and vocabulary, which shows how rich the Scots-Irish culture was in this part of New Hampshire, even during his lifetime. Like the Scots Irish music and dancing, which still remain today, the people of Nutfield were still using this dialect 100 years after coming to New England.

Robert Dinsmore is so unknown today there is not even an entry for him on Wikipedia, which has entries for all sorts of esoterica. He was born in the part of Londonderry, New Hampshire which is now Windham on 7 October 1757, and was a soldier at the capture of Burgoyne at the battle of Saratoga in 1777. He was a favorite poet of John Greenleaf Whittier, who lived down the road in Haverhill, Massachusetts (if you follow Rt. 97 across the border). Whittier wrote a chapter to Dinsmore in his book Old Portraits and Modern Sketches: Personal Sketches and Tributes: Historical Papers, which was a seven volume work published in 1866. Whittier compared him to Robert Burns. He wrote that Dinsmore must “be himself what he sings,--part and parcel of the rural life of New England,--one who has grown strong amidst its healthful influences, familiar with all its details, and capable of detecting whatever of beauty, humor, or pathos pertain to it…”

Robert Dinsmore published a book in 1828 in Haverhill, called Incidental Poems. He lived the life of a farmer and died in Windham on 16 March 1836. His brother, Samuel Dinsmoor (1776 – 1835), graduated from Dartmouth College and was governor of New Hampshire in 1831 for two years. Samuel Dinsmoor, Jr. (1799 – 1869), his son, was also a Dartmouth graduate, and served as governor for two terms in 1849 and 1851. Another grandson was Charles Dinsmoor (1834 – 1904), an inventor and lawyer from Pennsylvania, who helped to develop the modern farm tractor.

The Braes of Glenniffer
By Robert Dinsmoor (1757–1836)

Keen blaws the wind o’er the braes o’ Glenniffer,
The auld castle turrets are cover’d wi’ snaw!
How changed sin’ the time that I met wi’ my lover,
Amang the green bushes by Stantley green shaw!

The wild flowers o’ simmer were springing sae bonny,
The mavis sang sweet frae the green birken tree!
But far to the camp they hae march’d my dear Jonnie,
An’ now it is winter wi’ nature an’ me.

Then ilk thing around us was blithsome an’ cheerie,
Then ilk thing around us was bonnie an’ braw;
Now naething is heard but the wind whistling dreary,
Now naething is seen but the wide spreading snaw.

The trees are a’ bare, an’ the birds mute an’ dowie,
They shake the cauld drift frae their wings as they flee;
They chirp out their plaints seeming wae for my Jonnie,
’T is winter wi’ them, an’ its winter wi’ me.

Yon cauld sleety cloud as it skiffs the bleak mountain,
An’ shakes the dark firs on its stey rocky brae,
While down the deep glen bawls the snaw-flooded fountain,
That murmur’d sae sweet to my laddie an’ me.

’T is na the loud roar o’ the wintry wind swallowin,
’Tis na the cauld blast brings the tear i’ my e’e;
For O gin I saw but my bonnie Scot’s callan.
The dark days o’ winter were simmer to me.

From Specimens of American Poetry: With Critical and Biographical Notices in Three Volumes, by Samuel Kettell, Boston: S. G. Goodrich & Co., 1829

Copyright 2011, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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