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Will Carleton: Community through Conversation

William McKendree Carleton understood the necessity of community. Born in 1845 in Southern Michigan, Will developed a love of learning early in life. He also developed a love for writing poetry, which would become his main way for creating community later in life. Will Carleton came to Hillsdale College in 1862 but had to take a three-year break during the Civil War to help keep his family’s farm running. During his break from Hillsdale, he was also a teacher. He came back to Hillsdale in 1865, when he also began visiting the local poorhouse. While visiting the poorhouse, he created friendships with the residents and listened to their stories. Many of the residents were old and had been abandoned by their families. He knew that these stories needed to be told, and so he wrote his famous poem “Over the Hill to the Poorhouse” in an attempt to share the stories of his friends. Will Carleton would have never written the poem that launched him into the national spotlight if he had not taken the time to build community with those he met at the poorhouse. He told these stories and many others through his poetry, for which the state of Michigan gave him the honorary title of Poet Laureate. The legacy of Will Carleton prompted one local charter school to name their school after him. If you have been following along with our new school sponsorship program, you know that we recently sponsored that charter school. Like Will Carleton, we understand how important community is, especially in the school setting. With a heart for creating community among educators, we launched our school sponsorship program. We think that sharing a great cup of coffee between classes is a great way for faculty to cultivate friendship and support one another. In the spirit of Will Carleton who understood the need for friendship and community, we invite you to join us in this endeavor to support educators and teachers. Support a school in your community by sponsoring them. Click the link below and we’ll help you register to purchase the school of your choice a brand-new coffee maker and a monthly subscription of freshly roasted coffee. Once you sign up, we’ll take care of the rest and simply bill you each month. Sponsor a school today!

Over the Hill to the Poorhouse

By Will Carleton

1 Over the hill to the poor-house I’m trudgin’ my weary way — I, a woman of seventy, and only a trifle gray — I, who am smart an’ chipper, for all the years I’ve told, As many another woman that’s only half as old.

2 Over the hill to the poor-house — I can’t quite make it clear! Over the hill to the poor-house — it seems so horrid queer! Many a step I’ve taken, a-toilin’ to and fro, But this is a sort of journey I never thought to go.

3 What is the use of heapin’ on me a pauper’s shame? Am I lazy or crazy? am I blind or lame? True, I am not so supple, nor yet so awful stout; But charity ain’t no favor, if one can live without.

4 I am ready and willin’ an’ anxious any day To work for a decent livin’ and pay my honest way; For I can earn my victuals, an’ more too, I’ll be bound, If anybody is willin’ to only have me ’round.

5 Once I was young an’ hand’some — I was, upon my soul — Once my cheeks was roses, my eyes was black as coal; And I can’t remember, in them days, of hearin’ people say, For any kind of a reason, that I was in their way!

6 ‘Tain’t no use of boastin’ or talkin’ over-free, But many a house an’ home was open then to me; Many a han’some offer I had from likely men, And nobody ever hinted that I was a burden then.

7 And when to John I was married, sure he was good and smart, But he and all the neighbors would own I done my part; For life was all before me, an’ I was young an’ strong, And I worked my best an’ smartest in tryin’ to get along.

8 And so we worked together; and life was hard, but gay, With now and then a baby to cheer us on our way. Till we had half a dozen, and all growed clean an’ neat, An’ went to school like others, an’ had enough to eat.

9 An’ so we worked for the child’rn, and raised ’em every one — Worked for ’em summer and winter, just as we ought to’ve done; Only perhaps we humored ’em, which some good folks condemn, But every couple’s own child’rn’s a heap the dearest to them!

10 Strange how much we think of OUR blessed little ones! — I’d have died for my daughters, and I’d have died for my sons. And God He made that rule of love; but when we’re old and gray I’ve noticed it sometimes, somehow, fails to work the other way.

11 Stranger another thing: when our boys an’ girls was grown, And when, exceptin’ Charley, they’d left us there alone, When John he nearer an’ nearer came, an’ dearer seemed to be, The Lord of Hosts, He came one day and took him away from me!

12 Still I was bound to struggle, an’ never cringe or fall — Still I worked for Charley, for Charley was now my all; And Charley was pretty good to me, with scarce a word or frown, Till at last he went a-courtin’, and brought a wife from town.

13 She was somewhat dressy, an’ hadn’t a pleasant smile — She was quite conceity, and carried a heap o’ style; But if ever I tried to be friends, I did with her, I know; But she was hard and haughty, an’ we couldn’t make it go.

14 She had an edication, and that was good for her, But when she twitted me on mine, ’twas carryin’ things too far, An’ I told her once, ‘fore company, (an’ it almost made her sick) That I never swallowed a grammer, nor ‘et a ‘rithmetic.

15 So ’twas only a few days before the thing was done — They was a family of themselves, and I another one. And a very little cottage one family will do, But I never have seen a mansion that was big enough for two.

16 An’ I never could speak to suit her, never could please her eye, An’ it made me independent, an’ then I didn’t try. But I was terribly humbled, an’ felt it like a blow, When Charley turned agin me, an’ told me I could go!

17 I went to live with Susan, but Susan’s house was small, And she was always a-hintin’ how snug it was for us all; And what with her husband’s sisters, and what with child’rn three, ‘Twas easy to discover there wasn’t room for me.

18 An’ then I went with Thomas, the oldest son I’ve got: For Thomas’s buildings’d cover the half of an acre lot, But all the child’rn was on me — I couldn’t stand their sauce — And Thomas said I needn’t think I was comin’ there to boss.

19 An’ then I wrote to Rebecca, my girl who lives out West, And to Isaac, not far from her — some twenty miles at best; And one of ’em said ’twas too warm there for anyone so old, And t’other had an opinion the climate was too cold.

20 So they have shirked and slighted me, an’ shifted me about — So they have well nigh soured me, an’ wore my old heart out; But still I’ve borne up pretty well, an’ wasn’t much put down, Till Charley went to the poor-master, an’ put me on the town!

21 Over the hill to the poor-house — my child’rn dear, good-bye! Many a night I’ve watched you when only God was nigh; And God’ll judge between us; but I will al’ays pray That you shall never suffer the half that I do to-day!

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