Monument Mountain is now an open-space reservation in Great Barrington, Mass. But it looms large not only in the topography of the Berkshire Mountains, but also in the art and literature of this region in Western Massachusetts.
In late August, while on vacation in the Berkshires, I took this photo of the mountain from a distance—to be exact, from the back porch Chesterwood, the summer home of Daniel Chester French, the renowned sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, in the town of Stockbridge. It surely inspired French to behold this site every day while he was here.
Well before French lived in this region, though, this mountain had fired the imagination of writers. In the early 19th century, for instance, the American Romantic poet William Cullen Bryant wrote “Monument Mountain,” which told the sad tale of a young Native American woman who, because of tribal disapproval of the man she loved, threw herself from what is now called Squaw’s Peak. This portion of the Bryant poem gives a sense of what this sublime landscape was like in its wilder years:
“…Thou shalt look
Upon the green and rolling forest tops,
And down into the secrets of the glens,
And streams, that with their bordering thickets strive
To hide their windings. Thou shalt gaze, at once,
Here on white villages, and tilth, and herds,
And swarming roads, and there on solitudes
That only hear the torrent, and the wind,
And eagle's shriek.”
More famously, Herman Melville developed a friendship with older writer Nathaniel Hawthorne as a result of a picnic with mutual friends on the mountain in 1850. The relationship between the two authors fired the imagination of Melville, who plunged more intensely into the manuscript that became Moby Dick.