Sep 13 00 by Published in: Reviews No comments yet

A simple poem, written nearly three decades ago about the Plain people of the Pennsylvania Dutch region, was the impetus and is now the centerpiece of a book by celebrated illustrator Thomas Locker.

Merle Good’s “Song of a People” was chosen to represent the Amish spirit, paired with an illustration of the Lancaster countryside, in Locker’s book, Home: A Journey Through America.

“It’s a stunning poem,” said Rachel Goldberg, an editor at the book’s publishing company. “It represents a beautiful part of the country. Mr. Locker couldn’t find anything else that captured it so well.”

Good said he is flattered to be in the company of the other authors featured in the rich collection of nature writings and landscapes. Good’s poem shares pages with writing by Willa Cather, Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. Henry David Thoreau and Eloise Greenfield also are included, as well as writing by Washington Irving and Abraham Lincoln.

Good said his inclusion in the book was serendipitous.

When visiting family near Lancaster years ago, Locker’s wife, Candace Christiansen, ran across Good’s poem in a small, self-published collection.

“It was such a beautiful little jewel,” she said. “I held onto it for years because it was so outstanding. The first opportunity we had to paint the Amish country, I wanted this to be the centerpiece.”

Song of a People
We watch the past
create the now —
And wish to plant
before we plow —
We hear “goodbye”
in each hello —
And wish to stay
When we must go —
We try to catch
the closing door —
And seek for peace
in time of war —
As day makes night
a fugitive —
The living dream,
the dreaming live.

— Merle Good

Good said he wrote the poem in 1969 as a song to accompany his first play, “Strangers at the Mill,” and at once knew he had stumbled onto something wonderful. “There’s a way in which poetry is a condensation of thought, and most of the time it seems like you’re struggling with it,” he said. “But this one, I found that it just rolled out and it worked unusually well.”

The poem was performed at the Guernsey Barn Pavilion during a summer theater run that year. After the shows, Good said he had many requests for a printed form of the poem. Those requests continued when he used the poem as part of a slide show at the People’s Place, a popular destination spot for Lancaster County tourists.

So he finally published a small book, An Amish Portrait, which included the poem. It was this book Christiansen found and held onto through the years until she could find more suitable poems and prose to inspire Locker’s illustrations.

The new book joins more than 20 others that Locker has illustrated. In this book, his lush, peaceful illustrations portray the spectrum of American landscapes, each evoking a unique sense of place. In the introduction, Locker writes that he hopes his book “will inspire readers to celebrate the special places they call home.”

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