The Life and Times of Maud Müller

While perusing a children’s book which once had belonged to my wife’s stepfather (I was checking it out to see if it was worth keeping, but it was too badly deteriorated), a scrap of paper fell out – an old newspaper clipping. Old and wrinkled, it was almost like cloth, and turned out to be a humorous poem about a young lady named Maud Muller.

Maud Miller on Skates

What I discovered was that the original was written by John Greenleaf Whittier, which includes the famous tag line, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’ ” It appears that the others I have found are the equivalent of “fan fiction,” but I share them with you anyway in the spirit of fun.


by: John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

MAUD MÜLLER, on a summer’s day,
Raked the meadows sweet with hay.
Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.
But, when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast–
A wish, that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse’s chestnut mane.
He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees, to greet the maid,

And ask a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.
She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.
“Thanks!” said the Judge, “a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed.”

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;
Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her briar-torn gown,
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;
And listened, while a pleasant surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away,
Maud Muller looked and sighed: “Ah, me!
That I the Judge’s bride might be!

“He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.
“My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a painted boat.

“I’d dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.
“And I’d feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door.”

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

“A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne’er hath it been my lot to meet.
“And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

“Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay:
“No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

“But low of cattle, and song of birds,
And health, and quiet, and loving words.”
But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,
And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.
But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well,
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.
He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth’s bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go:
And sweet Maud Muller’s hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;
And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms,
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, with a secret pain,
“Ah, that I were free again!
“Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay.”

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.
But care and sorrow, and child-birth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,
And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through the wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein,
And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;
The weary wheel to a spinnet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned;

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o’er pipe and mug,
A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, “It might have been.”
Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;
And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!

(One Hundred Choice Selections. Ed. Phineas Garrett. Philadelphia: Penn Publishing Co., 1897.)


John Gast, artist, after J.G. Brown

“Mr. Whittier’s statement of the origin of his poem “Maud Müller” is thus given. He was driving with his sister through York, U.S.A., and stopped at a harvest field to enquire the way. A young girl raking hay near the stone-wall stopped to answer their inquiries. Whittier noticed as she talked that she bashfully raked the hay around and over her bare feet, and she was fresh and fair. The little incident left its impression, and he wrote out the poem that very evening. “But if I had had any notion that the plaguey little thing would have been so liked, I should have taken more pains with it.” To the inquiry as to the title, Maud Müller, he said it was suggested to him, and was not a selection. It came as the poem came. But he gives it the short German pronunciation, as Meuler, not the broad Yankee, Muller.” (From Parodies of the works of English & American authors, Volume 5, p. 240)


Maud Muller on a winter day
Went out upon the snow to sleigh.
Beneath her high heeled number six
Were a foot of hay and four hot bricks.
Singing she slode, and her merry glee
Shook the snow all off the tree.
“Wait till the clouds roll by!” she howled.
And as she passed the people scowled.
On her dexter side sat a fresh young dude
With his arm out of place as they sweetly slude.
But her howling died, and a vague distress
And a quart of snow filled the back of her dress.
For the reins were held in a careless hand,
And the basest drum in a parade’s band.
Went boom, bum, boom! And one cold day
A tandem left with an upturned sleigh.
Alas, for the dude! three cheers for the sleigh!
And hurrah for the chestnuts that ran away!
The saddest words at hier father’s door
Were these, “You needn’t cone back no more.”
The livery bill when he hied him thence
Was seventeen dollars and fifty cents.
-Boston Globe.


Maud Muller, on a winter’s day
Went forth to learn to skate, they say –
Went forth did Maud with hopeful heart
To learn this graceful, joyous art;
I might as well distinctly state
She ne’er before had tried to skate.

* * * * *
This little row of twinkling stars
But mark the passage of the hours
That Maudie spent upon the pond
Since shortly after morn had dawned
The day was doen, the evening gloan
Was gathering as Maud rode home
Aboard a well-filled trolley car
That sped along with bump and jar;
Maud stood suspended from a strap;
She lacked her usual pep and snap;
Her skating cap was cocked awry –
A weary look was in her eye;
Her hair was in sad disarray
And she seemed neither blithe nor gay;
A gentleman who sat quite near
Looked up and saw the pretty dear;
He noticed she had skating been,
Also that she was quite all in’
Then up he rose on both his feet
And said, “Sweet creature, take my seat.”
Maud pulled a weary little sigh
And languidly she did reply:
“No thank you – keep your seat I pray –
I’ve just been sitting around all day!”

[Being the only genuine sequel to “Maud Müller”)
By Bret Harte

“Maud Müller, all that summer day,
Raked the meadow sweet with hay;

But when he came, with smile and bow,
Maud only blushed, and stammered, “Ha-ow?”

And spoke of her “pa,” and wondered whether
He’d give consent they should wed together.

Old Muller burst in tears, and then
Begged that the Judge would lend him “ten;”

For trade was dull, and wages low,
And the “craps,” this year, were somewhat slow.

And ere the languid summer died,
Sweet Maud became the Judge’s bride.

But on the day that they were mated,
Maud’s brother Bob was intoxicated;

And Maud’s relations, twelve in all,
Were very drunk at the Judge’s hall.

And when the summer came again,
The young bride bore him babies twain;

And the Judge was blest, but thought it strange
That bearing children made such a change;

For Maud grew broad and red and stout,
And the waist that his arm once clasped about

Was more than he now could span; and he
Sighed as he pondered, ruefully,

How that which in Maud was native grace
In Mrs. Jenkins was out of place;

And thought of the twins, and wished that they
Looked less like the men who raked the hay

On Muller’s farm, and dreamed with pain
Of the day he wandered down the lane.

And looking down that dreary track,
He half regretted that he came back;

For, had he waited, he might have wed
Some maiden fair and thoroughbred;

For there be women fair as she,
Whose verbs and nouns do more agree.

Alas for maiden! alas for judge!
And the sentimental,—that’s one-half “fudge;”

For Maud soon thought the Judge a bore,
With all his learning and all his lore;

And the Judge would have bartered Maud’s fair face
For more refinement and social grace.

If, of all words of tongue and pen,
The saddest are, “It might have been,”

More sad are these we daily see:
“It is, but hadn’t ought to be.”

(From Parodies of the works of English & American authors, Volume 5, p. 240)


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