A Poem on Johnny Appleseed

A poem on the life and times of Johnny Appleseed who spent some of his life in western Pennsylvania.

A Poem on Johnny Appleseed

Recently I learned that Johnny Appleseed was a real person, and not just an American tall tale.

Born John Chapman near Boston, Massachusetts in 1774, he spent much of his young adulthood in western Pennsylvania. He  walked with his brother from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh over the course of three weeks.

When they arrived there in 1792, Pittsburgh consisted of about 75 cabins scattered on the hillsides. It was in PA that he learned how to raise apple trees. Apples combined with his missionary work for the Swedenborgian religion for the rest of his life. He traveled through out PA, Ohio, and Indiana planting apple trees and sharing his faith.

This poem In Praise of Johnny Appleseed by Vachel Lindsay tells of Johnny Appleseed's life:

In the days of President Washington,

The glory of the nations,

Dust and ashes,Snow and sleet,

And hay and oats and wheat,

Blew west,Crossed the Appalachians,

Found the glades of rotting leaves, the soft deer-pastures,

In the forest.

Colts jumped the fence,

Snorting, ramping, snapping, sniffing,

With gastronomic calculations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

The east walls of our citadel,

And turned to gold-horned unicorns,

Feasting in the dim, volunteer farms of the forest.

Stripedest, kickingest kittens escaped,

Caterwauling “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”

Renounced their poor relations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to tiny tigers

In the humorous forest.

Chickens escaped

From farmyard congregations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to amber trumpets

On the ramparts of our Hoosiers’ nest and citadel,

Millennial heralds

Of the foggy mazy forest.

Pigs broke loose, scrambled west,

Scorned their loathsome stations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Turned to roaming, foaming wild boarsOf the forest.

The smallest, blindest puppies toddled west

While their eyes were coming open,

And, with misty observations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Barked, barked, barked

At the glow-worms and the marsh lights and the lightning-bugs,

And turned to ravening wolves

Of the forest.

Crazy parrots and canaries flew west,

Drunk on May-time revelations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to delirious, flower-dressed fairies

Of the lazy forest.

Haughtiest swans and peacocks swept west,

And, despite soft derivations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to blazing warrior souls

Of the forest,Singing the ways

Of the Ancient of Days.

And the “Old Continentals

In their ragged regimentals,

”With bard’s imaginations,

Crossed the Appalachians.


A boy

Blew west,

And with prayers and incantations,

And with “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”

Crossed the Appalachians,

And was “young John Chapman,”

Then“Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,”

Chief of the fastnesses, dappled and vast,

In a pack on his back,

In a deer-hide sack,

The beautiful orchards of the past,

The ghosts of all the forests and the groves–

In that pack on his back,In that talisman sack,

To-morrow’s peaches, pears and cherries,

To-morrow’s grapes and red raspberries,

Seeds and tree-souls, precious things,

Feathered with microscopic wings,

All the outdoors the child heart knows,

And the apple, green, red, and white,

Sun of his day and his night–

The apple allied to the thorn,

Child of the rose.

Porches untrod of forest houses

All before him, all day long,

“Yankee Doodle” his marching song;

And the evening breezeJoined his psalms of praiseAs he sang the waysOf the Ancient of Days. Leaving behind august Virginia,Proud Massachusetts, and proud Maine,Planting the trees that would march and trainOn, in his name to the great Pacific,Like Birnam wood to Dunsinane,Johnny Appleseed swept on,Every shackle gone,Loving every sloshy brake,Loving every skunk and snake,Loving every leathery weed,Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,Master and ruler of the unicorn-ramping forest,The tiger-mewing forest,The rooster-trumpeting, boar-foaming, wolf-ravening forest,The spirit-haunted, fairy-enchanted forest,Stupendous and endless,Searching its perilous waysIn the name of the Ancient of Days. Hear him asking his friends the eaglesTo guard each planted seed and seedling.While the late snow blew from bleak Lake Erie,Scourging rock and river and reed,For Jonathan Chapman,Johnny Appleseed,Johnny Appleseed,As though his heart were a wind-blown wheat-sheaf,As though his heart were a new-built nest,As though their heaven house were his breast,In swept the snow-birds singing glory.And I hear his bird heart beat its story,Hear yet how the ghost of the forest shivers,Hear yet the cry of the gray, old orchards,Dim and decaying by the rivers,And the timid wings of the bird-ghosts beating.By the hour of dawn he was proud and stark,Went forth to live on roots and bark,Sleep in the trees, while the years howled by–Calling the catamounts by name,And buffalo bulls no hand could tame,Slaying never a living creature,Joining the birds in every game,With the gorgeous turkey gobblers mocking,With the lean-necked eagles boxing and shouting;Sticking their feathers in his hair,–Turkey feathers,Eagle feathers,–Trading hearts with all beasts and weathersHe swept on, winged and wonder-crested,Bare-armed, barefooted, and bare-breasted. The maples, shedding their spinning seeds,Called to his appleseeds in the ground,Vast chestnut-trees, with their butterfly nations,Called to his seeds without a sound.And the chipmunk turned a “summer-set,”And the foxes danced the Virginia reel;Hawthorne and crab-thorn bent, rain-wet,And dropped their flowers in his night-black hair;And the soft fawns stopped for his perorations;And his black eyes shone through the forest-gleam,And he plunged young hands into new-turned earth,And prayed dear orchard boughs into birth;And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream,And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream,And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream.In the days of President Washington. (Hear the hoof-beats of deer in the snow.And see, by their track, bleeding footprints we know.See conventions of deer go by;The bucks toss their horns, the fuzzy fawns fly.Faint hoof-beats of fawns long goneFrom respectable pasture, and park and lawn,And heartbeats of fawnsThat are coming againWhen the forest, once more,Is the master of men.) Long, long after,When settlers put up beam and rafter,They asked of the birds: “Who gave this fruit?Who watched this fence till the seeds took root?Who gave these boughs?” They asked the sky,And there was no reply.But the robin might have said,“To the farthest West he has followed the sun,His life and his empire just begun.”Self-scourged, like a monk, with a throne for wages,Stripped like the iron-souled Hindu sages,Draped like a statue, in strings like a scarecrow,His helmet-hat an old tin pan,But worn in the love of the heart of man,More sane than the helm of Tamerlane,Hairy Ainu, wild man of Borneo, Robinson Crusoe–Johnny Appleseed;And the robin might have said,“Sowing, he goes to the far, new West,With the apple, the sun of his burning breast–The apple allied to the thorn,Child of the rose.” Washington buried in Virginia,Jackson buried in Tennessee,Young Lincoln, brooding in Illinois,And Johnny Appleseed, priestly and free,Knotted and gnarled, past seventy years,Still planted on in the woods alone.Ohio and young Indiana–These were his wide altar-stone,Where still he burnt out flesh and bone.At last his own trees overtook him, at last his own trees hurried past him.Many cats were tame again,Many ponies tame again,Many pigs were tame again,Many canaries tame again;And the real frontier was his sun-burnt breast.From the fiery core of that apple, the earth,Sprang apple-amaranths divine.Love’s orchards climbed to the heavens of the West,And snowed the earthly sod with flowers.Farm hands from the terraces of the blestDanced on the mists with their ladies fine;And Johnny Appleseed laughed with his dreams,And swam once more the ice-cold streams.And the doves of the spirit swept through the hours,With doom-calls, love-calls, death-calls, dream-calls;And so once more his youth began,Johnny Appleseed.


The sun was his turned-up broken barrel,Out of which his juicy apples rolled,Thumping across the gold,An angel in each apple that touched the forest mold,Each red, rich, round, and bouncing moonThat touched the forest mold.He saw the fruits unfold,And all our expectations in one wild-flower-written dream,Confusion and death sweetness, and a thicket of crab-thorns,Heart of a hundred midnights, heart of the merciful morns.Heaven’s boughs bent down with their alchemy,Perfumed airs, and thoughts of wonder.And the dew on the grass and his own cold tearsWere one in brooding mystery,Though death’s loud thunder came upon him,Though death’s loud thunder struck him down–The boughs and the proud thoughts swept through the thunder,The vista of ten thousand years, flower-lighted and complete.Hear the lazy weeds murmuring, bays and rivers whispering,Listen to the eagles, screaming, calling,“Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,”There by the doors of old Fort Wayne. In the four-poster bed Johnny Appleseed built,Autumn rains were the curtains, autumn leaves were the quilt.He laid him down sweetly, and slept through the night,There by the doors of old Fort Wayne.

Johnny Appleseed’s life inspired our ancestors. What was inspiring exactly? To me it seems to be his combination of hard work, generosity, and religious faith. A message I certainly take to heart today.

For further reading:

“Exhibit on Johnny Appleseed aims to dispel myths about folk hero,” by Lisa Cornwell, The Star, Toronto, Canada, 19 July 2014 (https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/07/19/exhibit_on_johnny_appleseed_aims_to_dispel_myths_about_folk_hero.html)

Pershing, Henry A., Johnny Appleseed and His Time, Shenadoah Publishing House, 1938, (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/102102874).

© 2019–2023 PA Ancestors L.L.C. and Denys Allen. All Rights Reserved.