A Life's Story by Dennison Woodcock


I wrote about Dennison Woodcock and his poetry book last month.   I have since discovered that there was no easy technical way to transcribe the text.  The format and the old typeface is more than basic OCR (optical character recognistion) could handle.  

I have transcribed the first, longest, and most autobiographical poem.  Through doing this I have gotten to know his words well, and recognize many of my mother's turns of phrase.  I wonder if she memorized chunks of it in her youth!

I plan to tanscribe the rest of the poems  and offer the book to Project Gutenberg.  If I successfully post it to Gutenberg these writings will achieve new life.  Meanwhile, here is a transcription of Dennison Woodcock's Life's Story.

A Life's Story.

From One to Ninety-One

(By Dennison Woodcock)

Borne down by weight of ninety years

My limbs have weaker grown;

'Mid joy and grief. 'mid smiles and tears

How quick the years have flown.

O look 'way back, a distant view.

To years of long ago.

I asked my brother if he knew

What caused the winds to blow.

My brother answered me with ease,

As if prepared to know;

It is those slim and lofty trees

That make the wind to blow.

I looked and saw the lofty pines

Waving to and fro;

They were full proof within my mind

They were what made it blow.

When I felt the chilling breeze,

The snowflakes whizzing round;

I felt a grudge against those trees.

And wished they were cut down.

But a wee bit of a child

Knew naught of nature's laws;

My mind was often running wild

And took effect for cause.

Saw water gushing from a mill,

Heard a fluttering sound;

As we went riding up the hill,

The saw went up and down.

It remained a mystery still,

The thing I could not know;

How water running through a mill

Could make the saw to go.

A bush had lopped into a stream,

Was bobbing up and down;

I thought that I had solved the theme

The truth there I had found.

I went and fixed a limber stick,

A saw attached also;

It run on water from the creek,

The saw it would not go.

I went there to recruit my skill,

Saw pitman, crank and wheel;

Then I went home and built a mill,

With saw of tempered steel.

When I built that little mill

I something more than played;

It helped to point mechanic skill.

It helped to learn a trade.

To Boston went to learn a trade,

It was the iron founder's,

Many patterns there I made,

And learned to use the pounders.

Pattern-making was a trade,

Was often in demand;

When I wished a casting made,

The shape it came to hand.

When I was fifteen years of age

I started for the west;

Sometimes I rode upon the stage,

Sometimes got off to rest.

When I came to Clinton's Ditch

I went on board a boat;

My mind was raised to highest pitch.

So many things to note.

A query how two boats could pass,

With lines from boat to shore;

The horses stopped, the line it sunk,

The boat went passing o'er.

It was a mystery to me,

How boats went through the locks:

But then I soon began to see,

When in between the rocks

The boat was run into the lock,

The gates were closed below;

The boat it bumped against the rock,

Water began to flow.

Soon that spacious flume was full.

The gates above were swung;

The hoses then began to pull,

The boat it moved along.

We ate and drank within the boat,

Was seeming much like home;

We passing many towns of note,

Looking for more to come.

No railroads running then that way.

No, none in all the land;

Riding sixty miles a day

Was then thought something grand.

Rochester, near Sandy Ridge,

Where roaring falls there be,

Canal it crosses on a bridge,

Across the Genessee.

In a race the water ran,

The falls so high and steep;

Where Sammy Patch, that foolish man

There made his fatal leap.

I left the boat and took to land,

A trip of eighty miles;

Where my friends had made a stand

Far in the Western wilds.

Now the West has taken flight

Three thousand miles or more;

Thru valleys bright, o'er mount'ns high

Unto the western shore.

For a shop I built a shed

And covered it with bark;

I worked until the day had fled,

From morning until dark.

I built for me a turning lathe,

Made bedsteads, tables, chairs;

I built a bureau for my ma

And sometimes did repairs.

I found plenty of work to do

To keep me from all harm,

And when my father wanted me

I helped him on the farm.

A seventeen laid out a frame,

A building fro a school;

Where a youth might learn to read

If he was not a fool.

When I was eighteen years of age,

Somewhat inclined to roam;

Then I unto old Swanzey went,

My old and native home.

The same good man was teaching there

I visited the district school

Saw those I used to know;

That taught me year ago.

To Athol factory I went,

Was looking for employ;

'Twas by good luck there I was sent,

For I was just the boy.

We had a first-rate boarding place,

It was a lucky chance;

The factory girls were boarding there

We often had a dance.

Five long months we labored there,

Till finished was the task;

When I went to draw my pay

They paid more than I asked.

I worked on houses, barns and mill,

And helped to build a church;

'Twa long I work'd and labored there,

Refrained from spending much.

I of old Swanzey took a view,

Her rivers, brooks and fountains;

Bid old Monadnock last adieu

From top of the Green Mountains.

My father needed all I earned

In payment on his land;

Huge piles of timber there he burned

to get it off his hand.

Still kept working for my father,

A revenue to brind,

Making buckets in the winter

And sugar in the spring.

So we made a pile of sugar,

Enough to sweeten many throats;

Helping Nathan log a fallow,

To sow a field of oats.

I worked at different kinds of work,

I worked at making chairs,

And I also made two cutters,

And sometimes did repairs.

When twnty-tow in Hallsport bought

A lot, 'twas rough and new;

To me an interesting spot,

So pleasing to my view.

A limpid stream was running there,

'Till make machinery whirl;

Here I'll build a dwelling fair

For that prospective girl.

I from there to Whitesville went,

Worked for Joseph Cory;

A house for Matthew Wilson built,

Here I'll tell a story.

He had a daughter young and fair,

Just budding into bloom;

She was a lively helper there,

The sunshine of her home.

I felt my heartstrings give a start,

They snapped like burning twine;

And so she stole away my heart

And gave me hers for mine.

So Colonel Matthew Wilson, Squire,

Gave me a loving bride;

New life's vicissitudes to share,

A helpmeet by my side.

Worked forty days to buy two stoves

To warm our little fold;

To boil potatoes, bake our loaves,

And drive away the cold.

I undertook to build a house,

Was often gee's and haw'd;

The season it was very dry,

My logs they were not sawed.

No circular mlls in that day

Were run by water's flow,

The upright saw went "yerk te yerk"

As Paddie's toad did go.

I built a shanty snug and warm,

It was inside the frame;

It shielded us from cold and storm

And from the snow and rain.

When the spring and summer came

And my logs were sawed;

'Twas then that I enclosed the frame,

Had room more long and broad.

The upper rooms a dwelling were,

The lower room a shop;

There I made machinery purr,

Could make it go or stop.

A Western fever seized my brain,

It was in forty-four;

So we wandered south and west

Three thousand miles or more.

We did not find that favored spot.

That o'er productive soil;

Where peace and plenty was our lot,

And pleasures banished toil.

So we came home and went to work.

It strengthens limb and wind;

The idleness of lazy shirk

Will prove a constant grind.

Built a machine for turning bowls,

It turned them smooth and round;

It seemed to prove a turning point,

It turned me out of town.

For bowl timber grew very scarce,

Hard work finding any;

So we left our Hallsport home

For wilds of Pennsylvania.

And so we built us there a shop,

Brother Nathan and I,

And there we climb'd the mout'n top,

Whose summits pierced the sky.

We cut down trees and sawed of blocks,

And made them nearly round.

And then we cleared away a path

And saw them rolling down.

Typhoid fever siezed my wife,

My brother lost a child;

So trouble seemed to hedge us round

Here in the forest wild.

Our dear mother came to see us,

Here she took sick and died;

It seem'd that fate was bound to treens

At length we stemmed the tide.

He thought he saw a greater charm

On Alleghany's hill,

With cows and horses on a farm,

The fruitful soil to till.

And so I bought my brother out

And ran the work alone,

Was in my prime then, strong and stout,

I much hard work have done.

And so my neighbors bro't the blocks,

The turning I would do;

With skill and labor earned the rocks

And helped my neighbors too.

I built for me a larger shop

With greater water power;

It served to make machinery hop

Almost every hour.

We bought a new carding machine,

David Wilson and I;

It showed I was not very keen,

The business had gone by.

They sold their wool to ship away,

Came back already made;

If you hire a maid today

A greater price is paid.

Other machinery in the shop

Employed my time in full;

So I could make my business whop

Without the aid of wool.

My shop was helping me to build,

In paying for my land;

Was helping be to buy my bread,

A helper still in hand.

My wife and I we built a house,

We made it snug and warm;

To shield us from the chilling blast

And from the pelting storm.

We realized a long desire;

But ah! A blighting joke,

My shop was wrapped in flaming fire

And all went up in smoke.

The burning shop it knocked me out.

Gave me a sideway toss;

Was on the down-hill side of life.

Could not retrieve my loss.

I then worked out a t hard days work

On houses, barns and mill,

All to supply our needed wants,

Our stomachs to keep still.

They built the railroad here at last,

After much surveying,

So they cheaply rushed it past

After much delaying.

It caused the lumberman to hump

And low the hemlocks laid,

And left us nothing but the stump

Of sombre hemlock shade.

They laid bare the lofty hills,

And the valleys also;

They rushed the logs into the mill,

From there away they go;

I built for me another shop

With lathes and a buzz-saw;

'Twas there I worked ant mending sleds

The hemlock logs to draw.

In the spring when sledding flees,

Still worked to earn the rocks;

I neckyokes turned and whiffletrees,

And also lever stocks.

Lumbermen gone, the farmer comes,

He works with care and toil;

He burns the brush, blows out the stumps,

Draws money from the soil.

He crowds the forest up the hill,

It yields to his desire;

He makes his pastures broader still,

All with the help of fire.

At the little hamlet Wrights,

The farmers come to get their mail.

And to buy at prices right

The many things for sale.

Where once I heard the wild bird sing,

In forest dark and drear,

Now I hear the church bells ring

In tones so loud and clear.

While the lumber wagon ploughing

Through mud holes deep and wide,

Now merry parties for an outing,

In automobiles glide.

Now I'll turn back on memory's page

And note things of my time;

The uplifting of the age,

And evolution's climb.

The Erie Canal was building

When I was three years old;

Unnumbered boats it has floated

And brought in piles of toll.

A barge canal they are building,

State of New York is growing rich;

Compared with the new the old one

Was but a little ditch.

Then th' next thing comes th' railroad.

Of almost boundless worth;

Its iron bands are now reaching

Almost around the earth.

They have tunnel'd the lofty mount'ns

Clear through from side to side;

And bridged the gushing fountains,

That trains may smoothly glide.

The north unto the south are bound,

And gridironed all the land,

From the Missouri's turbid mouth

To Lake Superior's sand.

The telephone and telegraph,

They give a rising start;

Are helping people talk and laugh

A hundred miles apart.

With lightning speed th' news is hurl'd

On many wires is sped;

Yesterday's news from all the world

In morning papers read.

Then came the mower and the reaper,

The farmer's great delight,

Have driven the scythe and the sickle

Almost away from sight.

With the help of machinery,

Much of his work is done;

With help of steam and good horse power

Machinery is run.

Agricultural colleges

In almost every state;

They are lifting up the farmers

From a low drudging fate.

They've tapped the earth for oil and gas

Houses to light and warm;

That cheerfulness may reign within,

While outside howls the storm.

Then came the Wheeler and the Singer

Others that worked complete;

Helps the woman's tired fingers

While sewing with her feet.

The type-setter, wonderful thing,

New one, under the sun;

Whole lines it will together fling,

From melted metal run.

I am here with loving friends,

Kind neighbors all around;

I wait to see what will turn up

Until I am turned down.