Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: “Over the River and Through the Wood” (aka “The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day”)

Lydia Maria Child (1870)

Lydia Maria Child (1870)

Over the river and through the wood: We all know the words, but most of us think of this as a Christmas song. In actuality, it was written as a Thanksgiving poem by a strong nineteenth-century woman: Lydia Maria Child (1802–1880), novelist, abolitionist, author, entrepreneur, and activist for the rights of women, Native Americans, and slaves.

It is a wonder that we don’t know more about this polymath, who was so far ahead of her time, and maybe even ahead of ours. She edited America’s first magazine for children, The Juvenile Miscellany. She published books of advice for homemakers, mothers, and children, all as a way of keeping her husband and her intellectual and advocacy interests solvent. She did all this while working as a teacher and writing novel after novel, most of them championing Native Americans and citizens of African origin. According to the Poetry Foundation, Child’s Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833) is the first scholarly American overview of the history of slavery and the first major study of that institution in the United States.

If we think about her poem at all, it is as a somewhat corny song, but it came from the mind of a woman who was a leading thinker of her time and a forger of the future of her country, a protector of freedom, and someone who clearly understood where gratitude resides.

And anyway—what holiday guest, young or old, doesn’t delight in joining the kids in singing this exuberant ditty on Thanksgiving Day?


The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood—
oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes and bites the nose
as over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
With a clear blue winter sky,
The dogs do bark,
And children hark,
As we go jingling by.

Over the river, and through the wood —
No matter for winds that blow;
Or if we get
The sleigh upset,
Into a bank of snow . . .

Over the river, and through the wood—
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for everyone.”

Over the river, and through the wood—
now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!


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  • Diane Dettmann November 23, 2014 at 8:59 am

    I remember singing “Over the River and Through the Woods” in elementary school, but never knew the background. Thanks so much for sharing Lydia Maria Child’s story. As a writer, I found it very interesting!