In “Spring Whistles” Lucy Larcom explores the promise inherent in the untried, as three boys joyfully anticipate the sounds their whistles will make. The engraving from an original by Mary Ann Hallock is perhaps the best of her works appearing in Our Young Folks.

After cutting a length of green willow and slipping off the bark in one piece, the whistle-maker shaped the wood and slid the bark back over it; the whistle played as long as it stayed moist. Whistles of willow and poplar, Jacob Abbott reminds us in Up the River, could be made only in spring: “ … such whistles can not be made at any other season than in the spring, for that is the time when the alburnum is formed between the bark and the wood, and it is in consequence of the soft and pulpy condition of this alburnum that the bark will separate from the wood so easily. … The place where it is formed is just beneath the bark. It is at first a mere pulpy mass, very soft and full of juice. In the willow and poplar, and in some other trees, it is so soft in the small stems that, by striking upon the bark gently all around with some smooth object, such as the handle of a knife, the alburnum is crushed, and the whole mass becomes soft and slippery, and then the bark can be easily slipped off, and so the whistle can be made.” The seated boy in this engraving is doing just that.
“Spring Whistles,” by Lucy Larcom (from Our Young Folks, May 1870; p. 274)
Three boys, with whistles
Drawn by Miss M. A. Hallock.]       [See the Poem.
[Frontispiece for May 1870 issue]

Down by the gate of the orchard

This Saturday afternoon,

Harry and Arthur and Robin

Are getting their whistles in tune.

Different notes they are playing;

Different echoes they hear;—

Always the best of the music

Is in the musician’s ear.

Harry says, “Hark! when I whistle,

March winds are wind on the hills;

Waterfalls break from the snow-drifts;

Their thunder the forest fills.

Thousands of bluebirds and sparrows,

Sing on the branches bare;

Oceans of musical murmurs

Ripple and stir in the air.”

Arthur is whispering, “Listen!

Dropping of April showers,—

Dripping of rainy rosebuds,—

Flight of the rustling hours;—

And a speckled lark in the meadow,

That utters one long sad note,

As if the sorrow of gladness

Were hid in his little throat.”

“Whistle, O whistle!” cries Robin.

“Never such echoes could be

Coaxed from a twig of the willow

As wait in my whistle for me.

When I shape at last the mouthpiece

And let the rich music out,

You will think that Pan or Apollo

Is wandering hereabout:

“You will dream of orchards in blossom;

Of lambs in the grass at play;

And of birds that warble all summer

The wonderful songs of May.”

No doubt of it, Rob! in the whistle

That nobody yet has played,

Is sleeping a melody sweeter

Than ever on earth was made.

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