In Poems by Presidents: The First-Ever Anthology, published by Dover Publications last week, John Quincy Adams is the indisputable star, in terms of both quality and quantity—he penned about 350 poems, more than seven times as many extant poems as any other president. In a book collecting his poems shortly after his death in 1848, the publisher’s note boasted that Adams’s hymns were “among the finest devotional lyrics in our language.” One even bears today’s date, “Hymn for the Twenty-Second of December”:
When o’er the billow-heaving deep, The fathers of our race, The precepts of their God to keep, Sought here their resting-place— That gracious God their path prepared, Preserved from every harm, And still for their protection bared His everlasting arm. His breath, inspiring every gale, Impels them o’er the main; His guardian angels spread the sail, And tempests howl in vain. For them old ocean’s rocks are smoothed; December’s face grows mild; To vernal airs her blasts are soothed, And all their rage beguiled. When Famine rolls her haggard eyes, His ever-bounteous hand Abundance from the sea supplies, And treasures from the sand. Nor yet his tender mercies cease; His overruling plan Inclines to gentleness and peace The heart of savage man. And can our stony bosoms be To all these wonders blind? Nor swell with thankfulness to thee, O Parent of mankind? All-gracious God, inflame our zeal; Dispense one blessing more; Grant us thy boundless love to feel, Thy goodness to adore.
To read twenty additional poems by John Quincy Adams, check out Poems by Presidents: The First-Ever Anthology! Don’t miss “The Wants of Man,” Adams’s most popular secular poem during his lifetime.