Wednesday, May 07, 2008

From "The Courtship of Miles Standish"

"No; you were angry with me, for speaking so frankly and freely.
It was wrong, I acknowledge; for it is the fate of a woman
Long to be patient and silent, to wait like a ghost that is speechless,
Till some questioning voice dissolves the spell of its silence.
Hence is the inner life of so many suffering women
Sunless and silent and deep, like subterranean rivers
Running through caverns of darkness, unheard, unseen, and unfruitful,
Chafing their channels of stone, with endless and profitless murmurs."

Now how did Longfellow know that? What woman did he know to tell him that? I shall guess his wife.

I read The Courtship of Miles Standish for the first time tonight and found it a fast and enjoyable poem, with nice description and unexpected insights here and there. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote it in 1858, basing it on the history of the Pilgrims. About 102 of them arrived in Massachusetts in the fall of 1620 and half of them died that first terrible winter. Every family lost at least one member. In spring the Mayflower (which had stayed anchored at Plymouth) finally returned to England with its crew, but all of the surviving Pilgrims chose to stay in America. The bereft families combined, widowers marrying the widows. They met Indians who helped them and in fall of 1621 they had a good harvest and thanked God with a feast you've probably heard of. This poem is set right after the first winter. Longfellow uses three actual members of the colony-- Miles Standish, John Alden and Priscilla Mullins-- as main characters in his poem. The text is here, but don't read the paragraph at the top if you don't want the story spoiled for you!

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