Reflections

Johnny Appleseed, folk hero, orchardist, poet

Eleanor Deckert

Although facts are hard to sift from folklore, John Chapman was a real person


who was born in 1774 and died in 1845. Records show that he owned land in several places and his apple orchard nurseries supplied strong saplings to settlers arriving in new lands. Preserved in oral stories as Johnny Appleseed, other than these facts, variations in the telling cannot be readily verified.

Still, he's my favourite because he walked through the wilderness of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, unafraid of man or beast because he himself was a man who lived at peace. He spread his faith as openly as he did the apple seedling.

What a surprise it was to find this collection, edited by D. Snider, Johnny Appleseed Rhymes, published in 1895.

“His style was to employ question and answer,” Snyder explains. “He frequently interrogates himself like an oracle and then gives a response, which is also oracular at times in its covert meaning. It must be remembered that his life is mainly a solitary one, so he often soliloquizes as a dialogue, both of whom persons are himself.”

Let loose the Lord into the world, That all may find who search;

Too long has He been kept a thrall, Inside the high-walled church.

And though the priests will fight, To keep Him in their might,

To secularize the Lord, Is now the poets word.


***

 

When I need to be consoled, I comfort another;

I can best myself uphold, Supporting my brother.


I share his birthday, his love of the wilds, a desire to work with growing plants and an eagerness to bring to others a common-sense approach and lifestyle based on faith.

As I read through this collection of poems, I became aware that his influence is much greater than the children's stories would show, as these rhymes have been collected from up and down and Mississippi and Ohio Rivers out onto the prairies and through the forests and farmlands.

Why would one wandering, barefoot, do-gooder have such far reaching and lasting effect? I think the factors are: a) There was a shortage of printed matter, therefore storytelling; b) People were moving around, therefore stories travelled; c) There was an interest in new ideas and religious freedom; d) He believed he was an instrument of the Lord's Providence, spreading an important message to the common man.

Echoes of Johnny Appleseed's courage and a common sense faith is still a recognizable part of mid-western values and American culture to this day.

 

#15

Rain and sunshine together, Make the world's weather;

But men will whine, If they have no shine,

And they complain, If they have no rain.

Yet, rain and shine do never satisfy,

Man wants the sky!


#17

Be not held by what thou art, But by what thou art to be;

Break the limit of this deed, And reach over destiny.


Editor Snider continues his commentary. “One has to think of the wandering Jew, of being driven by some supernatural necessity, to roam through the world, homeless, undying, compelled to show himself in certain localities or certain occasions, and then resume his endless pilgrimage.”

Yet, unanswered questions remain. Is he Fact or Fiction? Myth? Unnatural? Impossible? Could there have been more than one bare-foot orchardist? Has the original Johnny Appleseed borne a crop of imitators? Do the legends give one name to a great individual who actually stands for many?

Do the answers matter? Or is it more valuable to preserve the story and repeat the rhymes?

The eye was made a sun-seeker, Else we would not know light.

The soul was made a God-seeker, Else we would not know right.

- John Chapman