Thursday, 5 November 2009

Felicia Dorothea Hemans' Pilgrim Fathers

Poet-in-Residence discovered Felicia Dorothea Hemans' poem The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England in Bill Bryson's entertaining and informative book Made in America with which he is currently engrossed. Only the first two verses of the poem appear in Bryson's book. There's a lot to cram into 470-odd pages of Made in America and therefore Bryson is quite right merely to point the reader in a direction from where he can undertake his own research should he wish to do so.

Hemans, the daughter of a Liverpool merchant, wrote her poem, or as Bryson says: 'dashed it off', in 1826 after reading of the Founders' Day celebrations on a piece of newspaper from Massachusetts which had found its way to North Wales and in which her groceries were wrapped. The style of the poem written by the 'mediocre poet' ,as Bryson labels Hemans, is in his words, 'vigorously grandiloquent'. Mediocre or not, the poet counted William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott amongst her friends and sponsors, it fired the American public's imagination and became: 'an instant classic and formed the image of the Mayflower landing that most Americans carry with them to this day,'

The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England

The breaking waves dashed high
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods against a stormy sky
Their giant branches tossed;

And the heavy night hung dark,
The hills and waters o'er,
When a band of exiles moored their bark
On the wild New England shore.

Not as the conqueror comes
They, true-hearted, came;
Not with the roll of stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame;

Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear;
They shook the depths of the desert gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.

Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard and the sea:
And the sounding aisles of the dim wood rang
To the anthem of the free!

The ocean eagle soar'd
From his nest by the white wave's foam
And the rocking pines of the forest roared -
This was their welcome home!

There were men with hoary hair
Amidst that pilgrim band: -
Why had they come to wither there,
Away from their childhood's land?

There was woman's fearless eye,
Lit by her deep love's truth;
There was manhood's brow serenly high,
And the fiery heart of youth.

What sought they thus afar?
Bright jewels of the mine?
The wealth of seas, the spoils of war? -
They sought a faith's pure shrine!

Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where they first trod.
They have left unstained, what there they found -
Freedom to worship God.

Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793-1835)

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