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Title: The Courtship of Miles Standish

Author: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Editor: P. H. Pearson

Release date: June 29, 2018 [eBook #57417]
Most recently updated: August 8, 2019

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Larry B. Harrison, David E. Brown, and the
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The cover image for this eBook was created by the transcriber and is placed into the public domain.

Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

On page 20, section III is missing in the original.

In the Notes section, the entry for 559 was out of numerical order in the original; it has been moved to its proper place in this eBook.

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Professor of the English Language and Literature In Bethany College


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Copyright 1905,

By Crane & Company,

Topeka, Kansas.

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Suggestions for Study14
The Courtship of Miles Standish27

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“The Courtship of Miles Standish” deals with a supreme moment in the history of our nation, the moment when the harassed and thrice-winnowed little band of Puritans began to establish themselves and their institutions on these shores. In the belief that the poem will be better understood and appreciated both as poetry and as history if some of the traits and the struggles of this people are called to mind, a few words regarding them will here be given.

Though the sovereigns of England under whose auspices the movement known as the Reformation was carried through, severed connection with the Church of Rome, they did not bring about a thorough reform in matters of faith and church service. Hence there arose in England parties holding conflicting views regarding the correctness and propriety of the practices and ceremonies still in vogue. The Established Church still retained much that, in the opinion of the more radical element, should be removed. These differences of opinion exhibited various degrees of radicalism and conservatism. Those who were unwilling to conform to the regulations of the Church of England were styled “Non-conformists,” and, on account of their efforts in the direction of further purification, they became known as “Puritans.” There were still others who believed in carrying the reform so far as to separate[Pg 6] the church from the state, and to reach independence in church government: these were the “Independents.”

The Established Church was supported by secular authority, so that in all disputes it had on its side the king and the arm of the law. In many cases it exercised its power in bitter persecution of those who showed a tendency to depart from its teachings. The Puritans were, as one historian says, “pursued into their hiding-places with relentless fury,” so that many individuals sought voluntary exile, and whole assemblages looked for some place in far countries where they could worship according to conscience and to the light they found in the Bible.

Such a party of persecuted Puritans chose as leaders one of their ministers, John Robinson, and their ruling elder, William Brewster, and resolved to seek refuge and religious liberty in Holland. This country was selected on account of its friendly attitude towards Calvinism, a view which harmonized with those of the Puritans; and also on account of the near relations which England as an ally of Holland sustained to this country.

Their first attempt at leaving England (1607) was anticipated and prevented by the magistrates; but the following spring they made a second attempt, which was so far successful that the officers of the crown succeeded only in seizing and detaining some helpless women and children. These were, however, later on set at liberty and permitted to embark. At first these Pilgrims, as they came to be called, settled in Amsterdam, but in 1609 they removed to Leyden, where their number was constantly increased by new arrivals from England. In Holland, though they gained the confidence and respect of the Dutch, their condition[Pg 7] was not entirely satisfactory. Brought up as tillers of the soil, they could not become entirely reconciled to the trades and handicrafts which they were now necessitated to learn. Moreover, they felt that the Dutch language could not become a homelike speech to them. There was also, deep in their hearts, a devout patriotism, which first led them to think of establishing themselves in some of the colonies under English rule.

The first step, they saw, was to decide on a suitable locality in the New World. After making such investigations as they could, they planned to locate in the territory which King James granted to the Plymouth Company in 1606. But before they were ready to embark, two other grave problems confronted them, and it took years before these were solved.

Would they in the king’s dominions be allowed religious freedom and be undisturbed in their worship? Representatives of their congregation visited England for the purpose of trying to get the king’s guarantee to this effect. In presenting their request they stated they were willing to promise “obedience in all things, active if the thing commanded be not against God’s word, or passive if it be.” They were disappointed of obtaining the pledge they sought; and left with nothing more encouraging or definite than an assurance that so long as they gave no offense they should not be disturbed.

The other problem was that of finding the means necessary for the enterprise. After lengthy negotiations, during which several propositions were rejected as impracticable, they formed a compact with some London merchants that had become interested in the American[Pg 8] fisheries. These merchants, in return for services to be rendered by the Pilgrims, furnished money for the passage, stipulating that all profits were to be “reserved till the end of seven years, when the whole amount, and all lands and fields, were to be divided among the share-holders according to their respective interests.”

The two vessels that had been provided could not carry the entire congregation, and so it was determined that “the youngest and strongest who freely offered themselves” should leave. Their head and leader was Brewster, the governing elder. Robinson, the spiritual elder, it was decided, should follow later with the others if the reports were favorable.

After solemn fasts and worship, in which they invoked the blessing of God and commended themselves to his guidance, the Pilgrims set sail from Holland. They touched at Southampton, England, and a fortnight later started westward for the shores of America. The two vessels on which they were embarked were the Speedwell, of sixty tons burden, and the Mayflower, of one hundred and eighty tons. After some distance at sea, the Speedwell was found to leak, and they were compelled to return to port at Dartmouth for repairs. After a delay of a week they were again under way, and once more the captain of the Speedwell signaled distress, claiming that his vessel was not in a seaworthy condition. This necessitated their return to Plymouth; the Speedwell was abandoned, and such of her passengers as could be accommodated were transferred to the Mayflower.

On the sixth day of September, 1620, the Mayflower with one hundred and two passengers besides her crew[Pg 9] started alone. After a voyage of over two months they hove in sight of the sandy shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Filled with the responsibility of their enterprise, they met in the cabin, drafted and signed the following solemn compact before going on shore:

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are here underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern part of Virginia, do, by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation, and in the furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

“In witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini 1620.”

In order still further to perfect the arrangements for governing the colony, they unanimously chose John Carver as their governor for one year.

The season was already far advanced, so that it was about the middle of November before they had begun to explore the coast or to choose a place for the settlement.[Pg 10] As the shallop was found to be in need of repair, Captain Miles Standish, Bradford and others, determined to explore the country by land. Their first attempts to “spy the country” were made during exceedingly severe weather. “It snowed and did blow all night, and froze withal.” Nothing of an encouraging nature could be found along the beach nor on the fields, which now lay half a foot thick with snow. A heap of maize which had been concealed by the Indians was discovered. It was a welcome find, as it helped to eke out the scanty stores of the Pilgrims. It must be added that, though Miles Standish took this, he scrupulously resolved to pay the owners as soon as they could be found; and six months later he found an opportunity to render payment.

On December 8, shortly after their morning prayers were finished, the party was attacked by a hostile tribe of the Nausites, “who knew the English only as kidnappers.” Fortunately, the Indians were driven off without doing any damage to the settlers. The exploring party spent four weeks in searching for a suitable place. During this time they suffered greatly from exposure to the rain, snow, and sleet. Sometimes their garments were frozen stiff like coats of mail. It was often difficult or impossible to kindle a fire on the snow-covered fields, where the fuel, whatever they found, was damp and soggy. At one time, in the midst of a violent snow-storm, the rudder of the shallop broke, and also the mast, so that they were in extreme danger of being dashed to pieces among the breakers. It was through these severe exposures that many of them contracted the diseases that carried away such a large part of them during the first winter.

[Pg 11]On December 11th the explorers landed on the historical spot of Plymouth Rock. The Mayflower, shortly afterwards, cast anchor in the harbor. The men went on shore, and set to work to build houses and to provide shelter against the winter. Their labor was made arduous by the inclement weather, and by the fact that about one-half of the settlers were sick, some of them wasting away with consumption and lung fever.

As protection against the Indians, who were occasionally seen hovering near, they formed themselves into a military organization, with Miles Standish as captain. Their relations with the Indians were, however, so fair and honest that even these must have observed some singular differences between the Pilgrims and earlier traders on the coast. Early in the spring, Samoset, an Indian, visited them with the view evidently of ascertaining whether they were disposed to form acquaintance and to establish friendship with his people. This led to a visit by the powerful chief Massasoit himself. He was received and entertained by the Pilgrims in a way that inspired his confidence, resulting finally in a sort of defensive alliance between the settlers and his tribe. He later on rendered valuable services, particularly by giving warning of the massacre planned by the Narragansetts against the settlers at Weymouth.

On the fifth of April, 1621, the Mayflower started on her return voyage to England. Notwithstanding the hardships suffered by the colonists that first and dreadful winter, not one of them returned. As spring and summer came on, conditions improved. The streams abounded with fish and the forests with game. In the autumn they[Pg 12] were again visited by Massasoit, and feasted him and ninety of his men. The Narragansetts alone were not friendly. Their chief, Canonicus, sent over a bundle of arrows wrapped in the skin of a rattlesnake, thereby avowing his intentions of war. Bradford sent back the skin stuffed with powder and shot; and it appears that this prompt acceptance of the challenge made the chief hesitate, for he became willing to sue for peace. This incident, which Longfellow has used, took place in 1622. Another incident also used took place the following year. One of the London merchants, thinking to increase his profits, sent over sixty unmarried men, who formed a settlement which they called Weymouth. These people soon found themselves in want, and intruded for a considerable time upon the people of Plymouth. They were indolent; they plundered the Indians, and these formed a plot to destroy the entire colony. But Massasoit revealed their designs to the Puritan settlers. These sent a force under the intrepid Miles Standish, who succeeded in preventing the calamity.

The Plymouth Colony and its far-reaching results have been depicted by every writer of American history. This sketch requires only that we present the general traits of the people and the merest outline of the incidents that Longfellow has brought into the poem; it is therefore not necessary for the present purpose to follow the narrative further.

“The Courtship of Miles Standish” was published in 1858. Longfellow has in this poem again made use of the hexameter; but though it is the same metre as that of[Pg 13] “Evangeline,” it presents some important differences. With the purpose of modifying the stern Puritan mood, he has given the metre a lighter movement, which also harmonizes with the touches of humor occasionally introduced. As to the content of the poem, the author has used the facts and incidents recounted in the old Puritan records, and faithfully woven them into a true historic picture, a picture none the less faithful because the poet has slightly deviated from the annals in the sequence of some events. Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla are there giving it reality by acting out the story—an old human story; but when these are allowed to drop out of sight, that which remains is the realization of a people, the Puritans, a people of indomitable determination and of uncompromising loyalty to conscience and to God.

[Pg 14]




The poem takes immediate hold of the events given in the early chronicles. The time when the story begins is stated only in a general way; but as the Mayflower began her return voyage April 5, 1621, the phrase, “In the Old Colony days,” stands for April 4th of the same year. The names of the three principal characters are mentioned in Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation as names of immigrants on the Mayflower. In regard to the instance of the rattlesnake-skin challenge sent by Canonicus, the time of its occurrence has been shifted in the poem from January, 1622, when it really took place, to the date when the poem opens. The incident is historical, and has been brought in almost in the exact form in which it is recorded. The real occasion for the Captain’s expedition (488) was to rescue the neighboring settlement of Weymouth, which was threatened by the Indians in March, 1623. The chronicles mention the details of the encounter very much as given (745-815); also the trophy brought back by the Captain (818, 819). May 12th is mentioned as the date when the first marriage in the colony took place. The poet’s description of the ceremony (936-939) is based upon Bradford’s History:

“May 12th was the first mariage in this place, which, according to ye laudable custome of ye Low Countries, in which they had lived, was thought most requisite to be performed[Pg 15] by the magistrate, as being a civill thing, upon which many questions aboute inheritances doe depende, with other things most proper to their cognizans, and most consonant to ye Scriptures, Ruth 4, and no wher found in ye Gospell to be layed on ye ministers as part of their office.”

These are the main incidents that form the groundwork; but in addition to these there are numerous minor touches, names and facts from the old records, all which go to build up the narrative into a faithful historic picture.

Such is the portrayal of Standish and his previous service in Holland. He had fought in Flanders (25) against the Spaniards (28); he had charge of the military organization in the Colony (46-93). The Indian names mentioned in 53 are found in the chronicles. The death of Rose Standish (136) is also mentioned. Other names and facts that in one way or another are matters of historic record are the “Psalm-book of Ainsworth,” printed in Amsterdam (231, 232); the seven houses of Plymouth (392); Wat Tyler (415); the Elder and his Words (442, 443 and 457); Stephen, Richard, and Gilbert (547); the Field of the First Encounter (606). “In autumn the ships of the merchants” (825)—this refers to the Anne and the Little James, which arrived in Plymouth in the autumn of 1623. “Still may be seen” (846): the descendants of Alden still own the lands where his house stood, in Duxbury.


State what you can about the locality where the Pilgrims landed and settled. Give a description of it as you think it appeared to the immigrants in December, 1620. Could[Pg 16] it have been an inviting place? How does this locality look in the spring, say early in April?


State in what way the value of the poem as such would be changed if it were not connected with a historic event as momentous as that of the founding of the Plymouth Colony. What, then, besides the story of the three principal characters is there in the poem? State, with reasons for your views, which you regard the more significant,—the story as such, or the historic picture it presents.


Find details in the poem that you regard as particularly faithful to history. Find touches that illustrate historic statements like this: “The pioneers [Puritans] were rugged, strong, and inspired by an unshakable faith in their mission in the New World.” (People’s History of the United States.) See, for instance, line 599. Point out several examples of the customs, habits, and views depicted that are historic in the same way. Quote lines portraying the religious character of the Puritans; their faith in their mission. Cite passages depicting the hardships of the preceding winter. Find strongly visualizing touches portraying their condition as settlers. Also instances showing their relations toward the red men.


What length of time is covered by the narrative? Point out the events in the first and the last part that fix the time. What difference do you find if you take the actual history of the events as the basis for computing the time?

[Pg 17]



The poem presents an artistically finished story, in which the action begins with a statement of a definite issue, and moves on through complication and suspenses to a complete solution. Hence it is well adapted for the study of plot.

Every carefully constructed story begins with the presentation of an issue so contrived as to seize upon and arrest the attention of the reader. Something of momentous consequence to one or more of the characters is pending. The interests of the hero or the heroine are threatened by the interests of other characters. A collision between two opposing characters is unavoidable. The hero steps forward and enters upon a career clashing with the traditions and customs of his surroundings. His ambition sets up an aim and a purpose that cannot be attained without the risk of life or fortune. A struggle, at any rate, is impending and inevitable; and in the first situation of a well-constructed story the special nature of it is placed before the reader.

At this point the action begins. It seizes upon the attention of the reader by causing him to project his thoughts forward in anticipation of the action completed, the solution of the problem. As he follows the story his interest in the struggle is heightened by finding obstacles that challenge the very best powers of the hero and the heroine, and test to the utmost their strength and courage. These obstacles give rise to situations fraught with special points of interest, rousing curiosity or giving glimpses of character or the secret workings of the soul which the composure of ordinary life does not afford. In the course of[Pg 18] the story there are subtle touches or character hints which endear the hero to the reader. At this stage it is something more than a struggle waged between comparatively unknown forces—a strong human interest is added, so that the reader conceives strong wishes and consummations of his own with reference to the outcome.

In a story there are several positions that determine the plot and mark the stages of the progress. These form the basis of its structure; and in the study of the plot they are very serviceable as points of departure. Thus we may recognize the point where we have sufficient introductory data to state the problem, or in other words, to formulate the issue. At what point do we feel prompted to wish for any certain kind of result to the struggle? What is the nature of the obstacles that aggravate and complicate the struggle? Do they rise subjectively out of the hero’s character, or are they brought in through the counterplay of other characters? At what point and through what occurrences does the story seem to point to a definite outcome? Through what means is the reader again led to entertain doubts and misgivings? In what way is the main problem solved? Is the struggle ended so that we feel that everything involved in the issue is fully terminated?

In lines 85 and 86, John Alden’s hopes and desires are indicated, and we wonder, How shall he speed, and is the consummation to be such as he desires? Another step is reached in 155, where the action is complicated by an obstacle placed in his way. At this stage we have an opportunity to note a bit of the writer’s art if we observe the effect that this turn of events has. It certainly adds to the interest. But how? In the first place, we are anxious[Pg 19] to know whether this obstacle will, against our wishes, cause the hopes of Alden to be frustrated. If we are in doubt as to whether it takes hold of us in this way, we have but to note that we are not content to leave the story at this point. In the second place, we are curious to know how Alden will acquit himself pleading with Priscilla in behalf of a rival suitor. And again, How will Priscilla receive the proffers of the Captain? The situation to which we immediately look forward has many elements adapted to seize strongly upon the reader’s attention. It will primarily be momentous in the fortunes of the principal characters; and it will, further, have features that in various other ways interest people. Up to this point Alden’s character has been developed in such a way that we are sure he cannot summarily set aside or ignore his promise to the Captain. The commission entrusted to him is bound to create a violent conflict in his mind between love on one side and friendship and conscience on the other. This conflict will be visually exhibited in the coming interview with Priscilla. In whatever way the interview as such terminates, we see that a series of interesting consequences must follow from it: as, for instance, Alden’s report to the Captain, the mood induced in the latter, and his subsequent course of action. Again, it cannot pass without resulting in some sort of counteraction on the part of the other two, thereby giving rise to situations that will tax all their loyalty and resourcefulness.


What assurance have we that Alden will not attempt to ignore or evade his promise (245-248)? In what way is[Pg 20] the situation made more intense by Priscilla’s welcome (251-253)? How does the preliminary conversation increase the difficulties of Alden’s errand? In the manner of delivering his message, is he influenced mainly by a sense of his obligation to the Captain or by the sentiments he entertains towards Priscilla? What is the dramatic effect of his abrupt departure? In what respect was the interview conclusive? At the close of the situation do we feel that the difficulties in Alden’s way are lessened or increased? How did Alden seem to feel in regard to this?


What part of Alden’s report was the main cause of the Captain’s wrath? Had Alden anticipated the effect that his report would have? How does the arrival of the messenger (426) affect the plot? Is the incident of the council a part of the main action, or merely an episode? Why was it necessary at this stage that the Captain should be removed from the presence of the other two (484)? What personal interests of the various characters are pending or threatened at this point of the story?

In what way is the central action still in a state of suspense after the Captain’s departure? Show how the suspense is to be accounted for by the disposition and character of Alden. In what way are the occurrences that take place during the Captain’s absence invested with interest (824-900)?


What is the decisive moment in the story? Explain the effect it will be likely to have on Alden and his course of action. In what way is the preceding situation a preparation[Pg 21] for this moment? How does the poet make plain to us Alden’s previous sense of restraint as well as his present sense of freedom?


What is the purpose of the information given in 949—“Long had it stood there,” etc.? What difference would it have made to one of Alden’s disposition if the person had presented himself before the ceremony? Could the action be regarded as quite complete without the reconciliation of all the main characters?



Miles Standish and John Alden are introduced together, for the reason, no doubt, that the traits of the one may serve to set off those of the other. Miles Standish is a soldier by nature; and a lifetime spent in camp and field has brought out the soldier spirit in him in all its completeness. The character of John Alden is less marked, though it is made sufficiently intelligible, first by his employment as scribe and correspondent of the colonists, which leads us to infer that he was better fitted for the occupation of the scholar than for the struggles of the pioneer; secondly, his youth and delicate complexion are mentioned, and we gather that his physique is not robust nor hardened. The Puritan predominates in John Alden as the soldier does in Miles Standish. The latter attributes the saving of his life to the good steel of the breastplate, while the former attributes it to a direct interposition of the Lord in slackening the speed of the bullet. We feel that if Alden had been left to spend an anxious hour or two[Pg 22] alone, he would have turned for consolation to the Bible and not to “the ponderous Roman.”

The Captain is a man of strong personality and firm integrity. He is an organizer of the colony’s defense; his voice prevails at the council; he is a resolute and able defender, who rises equal to emergencies of sudden and imminent danger. He is also capable of entertaining sentiments of tenderness (58-60) and magnanimity (949-973). Yet the author has indicated that, in the conventional sense, he is not to be taken as the hero. The personal description of him (11) points to this; so also his almost ludicrous inconsistency (36-115 and 163-168). His avowed affection for Priscilla could not have struck deep roots in his heart, for only two or three months have passed since he sustained the loss that made his life “weary and dreary” (36). Moreover, this matter could not have been upper-most in his mind very long, for he would then have observed that Alden had frequently gone on a lover’s errand in his own behalf (252-258). Neither could his inclinations have been very ardent, for while Alden is gone he spends the hours without anxiety, absorbed in the campaigns of Cæsar. He misunderstands and underestimates the sterling nature of Priscilla when he thinks that the winning of her is largely and mainly a matter of phrases (169) and elegant language, “such as you read of in books in the pleadings and wooings of lovers.” All this helps us to become reconciled to the Captain’s discomfiture.

John Alden is the most typical Puritan of the leading characters. His tendency towards a fatalistic view of life and to self-accusation seem almost too strange to be[Pg 23] accounted for by any doctrine or belief. As a Puritan he had been brought up and trained in submission to his elders, which may partly explain his lack of self-assertion. His position as a dependent in the household of Miles Standish made him more ready than he otherwise could have been to go on the Captain’s delicate errand. There are situations in which we find Alden insufficient (182, 558, 559). He has little opportunity, in so far that the part assigned to him is mainly passive. Yet there are possibilities of stern manhood in him; and, with reference to the main issue, he is certainly strong in those very respects where Miles Standish is weak.

Priscilla presents a contrast to the other two. She is full of healthy, joyous life. Neither the sternness of her associates nor the hardships of the pioneer life that she had experienced had been able to detract from her cheerful, buoyant disposition. During the winter she had become an orphan, and yet she appears to have been potent as a ray of sunshine amid the gloom and distress incident to the condition of the colonists. The fact that she is a trifle more frank in her conversation with John Alden than strict conventional form would require detracts nothing, but rather places her among such ideals of women as Miranda, Imogen, and Elaine.


In the first eighty lines designate the means used in describing Miles Standish. Which reveals his character most effectively—the author’s direct description of him, his talk, his weapons, or his books? Are there any details in this description that you would like to see altered[Pg 24] if the Captain were to be the hero of the story? The Miles Standish of history is said to have been thirty-six years at this time; in what direction has the poet changed his age? Why?


What position of authority does Standish hold in the colony? Why has the poet made him and Alden household companions (15)? What character-contrast in 25-33? Why should the maxim of line 37 be reiterated (114)? How does the Captain’s inconsistency (164) affect the tone of the narrative? Is the reply in 168 to the point? How does the Captain’s reliance on phrases and elegant language change our opinion of him?


How does line 398 square with lines 173, 174? What had been the Captain’s state of mind during Alden’s absence? What effects measure to us the degree of his anger after having listened to Alden’s report? What motives induced the Captain to start in pursuit of hostile Indians (486)? Hoes this expedition seem to have been most likely to insure the safety of the colony? What evidence have we later on of the Captain’s magnanimity? As he is not in the conventional sense the hero of the story, what purpose, from the point of view of the action, does he serve?


In the character portrayal of 1-86, which are the main points of contrast between Miles Standish and John Alden? What appears to be the age of Alden? In describing him, why does the author use more poetic terms (17-20) than[Pg 25] he does in the case of Standish? Was Alden commissioned by others of the colonists to write letters for them? What single fact makes clear the sentiments he entertains towards Priscilla? Had they been acquainted before they left England?


How can we account for Alden’s yielding to the Captain’s request? What other courses of action were open to him? “Then made answer John Alden” (181)—continue here, and in half a dozen lines write the answer you think he should have made. After leaving the Captain, what motives hold him to the fulfillment of his promise (185-248)? Was his blunt manner of delivering the message (288) deliberate, or was he so overcome that he could not do it otherwise?


What exactly is the cause of his distress as told in 339-342? Comment on the frankness of the report he submits. Should he not have attempted to explain and to set himself right? Interpret the mood visualized in 558, 559. Does he seem to have a sufficient reason for “thinking to fly from despair” (562)? Would it be a better story if Alden had been given an opportunity for active heroism? What in his character is most admirable?


Did Priscilla belong to those Puritans that had lived for some years in Holland (269)? What suggestions have we regarding Priscilla before lines 223-238? In the description (223-238) what traits are made most prominent?[Pg 26] Explain in what respect her disposition seems to be in sharp contrast to that of Alden (293-338). At what point and under what conditions does Priscilla’s influence show itself most powerful? What do we learn of her from her words in 667-680? At what point in the story and in what way is her character most exquisitely drawn? Which of the three characters had passed through the saddest experiences since the landing at Plymouth?

[Pg 27]



In the Old Colony days, in Plymouth the land of the Pilgrims,
To and fro in a room of his simple and primitive dwelling,
Clad in doublet and hose, and boots of Cordovan leather,
Strode, with martial air, Miles Standish the Puritan Captain.
Buried in thought he seemed, with his hands behind him, and pausing 5
Ever and anon to behold his glittering weapons of warfare,
Hanging in shining array along the walls of his chamber,—
Cutlass and corselet of steel, and his trusty sword of Damascus,
Curved at the point and inscribed with its mystical Arabic sentence,
While underneath, in a corner, were fowling-piece, musket and matchlock. 10
Short of stature he was, but strongly built and athletic,
Broad in the shoulders, deep-chested, with muscles and sinews of iron;
Brown as a nut was his face, but his russet beard was already
[Pg 28]
Flaked with patches of snow, as hedges sometimes in November.
Near him was seated John Alden, his friend and household companion, 15
Writing with diligent speed at a table of pine by the window;
Fair-haired, azure-eyed, with delicate Saxon complexion,
Having the dew of his youth, and the beauty thereof, as the captives
Whom Saint Gregory saw, and exclaimed, “Not Angles but Angels.”
Youngest of all was he of the men who came in the Mayflower. 20
Suddenly breaking the silence, the diligent scribe interrupting,
Spake, in the pride of his heart, Miles Standish the Captain of Plymouth.
“Look at these arms,” he said, “the warlike weapons that hang here
Burnished and bright and clean, as if for parade or inspection!
This is the sword of Damascus I fought with in Flanders; this breastplate,—25
Well I remember the day!—once saved my life in a skirmish;
Here in front you can see the very dint of the bullet
Fired point-blank at my heart by a Spanish arcabucero.
Had it not been of sheer steel, the forgotten bones of Miles Standish
[Pg 29]
Would at this moment be mold, in their grave in the Flemish morasses.” 30
Thereupon answered John Alden, but looked not up from his writing:
“Truly the breath of the Lord hath slackened the speed of the bullet;
He in his mercy preserved you, to be our shield and our weapon!”
Still the Captain continued, unheeding the words of the stripling:
“See, how bright they are burnished, as if in an arsenal hanging; 35
That is because I have done it myself, and not left it to others.
Serve yourself, would you be well served, is an excellent adage;
So I take care of my arms, as you of your pens and your inkhorn.
Then, too, there are my soldiers, my great, invincible army,
Twelve men, all equipped, having each his rest and his matchlock, 40
Eighteen shillings a month, together with diet and pillage,
And, like Cæsar, I know the name of each of my soldiers!”
This he said with a smile, that danced in his eyes, as the sunbeams
Dance on the waves of the sea, and vanish again in a moment.
Alden laughed as he wrote, and still the Captain continued: 45
[Pg 30]
“Look! you can see from this window my brazen howitzer planted
High on the roof of the church, a preacher who speaks to the purpose,
Steady, straightforward, and strong, with irresistible logic,
Orthodox, flashing conviction right into the hearts of the heathen.
Now we are ready, I think, for any assault of the Indians: 50
And the sooner they try it the better,—
Let them come if they like, be it sagamore, sachem, or pow-wow,
Aspinet, Samoset, Corbitant, Squanto, or Tokamahamon!”
Long at the window he stood, and wistfully gazed on the landscape,
Washed with a cold gray mist, the vapory breath of the east-wind, 55
Forest and meadow and hill, and the steel-blue rim of the ocean,
Lying silent and sad, in the afternoon shadows and sunshine.
Over his countenance flitted a shadow like those on the landscape,
Gloom intermingled with light; and his voice was subdued with emotion,
Tenderness, pity, regret, as after a pause he proceeded:60
“Yonder there, on the hill by the sea, lies buried Rose Standish;
[Pg 31]
Beautiful rose of love, that bloomed for me by the wayside!
She was the first to die of all who came in the Mayflower!
Green above her is growing the field of wheat we have sown there,
Better to hide from the Indian scouts the graves of our people, 65
Lest they should count them and see how many already have perished!”
Sadly his face he averted, and strode up and down, and was thoughtful.
Fixed to the opposite wall was a shelf of books, and among them
Prominent three, distinguished alike for bulk and for binding:
Barriffe’s Artillery Guide, and the Commentaries of Cæsar, 70
Out of the Latin translated by Arthur Goldinge of London,
And, as if guarded by these, between them was standing the Bible.
Musing a moment before them, Miles Standish paused, as if doubtful
Which of the three he should choose for his consolation and comfort,
Whether the wars of the Hebrews, the famous campaigns of the Romans, 75
Or the Artillery practice, designed for belligerent Christians.
Finally down from its shelf he dragged the ponderous Roman,
[Pg 32]
Seated himself at the window, and opened the book, and in silence
Turned o’er the well-worn leaves, where thumb-marks thick on the margin,
Like the trample of feet, proclaimed the battle was hottest. 80
Nothing was heard in the room but the hurrying pen of the stripling,
Busily writing epistles important, to go by the Mayflower,
Ready to sail on the morrow, or next day at latest, God willing!
Homeward bound with the tidings of all that terrible winter,
Letters written by Alden, and full of the name of Priscilla, 85
Full of the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden Priscilla!


Nothing was heard in the room but the hurrying pen of the stripling,
Or an occasional sigh from the laboring heart of the Captain,
Reading the marvelous words and achievements of Julius Cæsar.
After a while he exclaimed, as he smote with his hand, palm downwards, 90
Heavily on the page: “A wonderful man was this Cæsar!
You are a writer, and I am a fighter, but here is a fellow
Who could both write and fight, and in both was equally skillful!”
[Pg 33]
Straightway answered and spake John Alden, the comely, the youthful:
“Yes, he was equally skilled, as you say, with his pen and his weapons. 95
Somewhere have I read, but where I forget, he could dictate
Seven letters at once, at the same time writing his memoirs.”
“Truly,” continued the Captain, not heeding or hearing the other,
“Truly a wonderful man was this Caius Julius Cæsar!
‘Better be first,’ he said, ‘in a little Iberian village, 100
Than be second in Rome,’ and I think he was right when he said it.
Twice was he married before he was twenty, and many times after;
Battles five hundred he fought, and a thousand cities he conquered;
He, too, fought in Flanders, as he himself has recorded;
Finally he was stabbed by his friend, the orator Brutus!105
Now, do you know what he did on a certain occasion in Flanders,
When the rear guard of his army retreated, the front giving way too,
And the immortal Twelfth Legion was crowded so closely together
There was no room for their swords? Why, he seized a shield from a soldier,
Put himself straight at the head of his troops, and commanded the captains, 110
Calling on each by his name, to order forward the ensigns;
[Pg 34]
Then to widen the ranks, and give more room for their weapons;
So he won the day, the battle of something-or-other.
That’s what I always say; if you wish a thing to be well done,
You must do it yourself, you must not leave it to others!” 115
All was silent again; the Captain continued his reading.
Nothing was heard in the room but the hurrying pen of the stripling
Writing epistles important to go next day by the Mayflower,
Filled with the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden Priscilla;
Every sentence began or closed with the name of Priscilla, 120
Till the treacherous pen, to which he confided the secret,
Strove to betray it by singing and shouting the name of Priscilla!
Finally closing his book, with a bang of the ponderous cover,
Sudden and loud as the sound of a soldier grounding his musket,
Thus to the young man spake Miles Standish the Captain of Plymouth: 125
“When you have finished your work, I have something important to tell you.
Be not, however, in haste; I can wait; I shall not be impatient!”
[Pg 35]
Straightway Alden replied, as he folded the last of his letters,
Pushing his papers aside, and giving respectful attention:
“Speak; for whenever you speak, I am always ready to listen, 130
Always ready to hear whatever pertains to Miles Standish.”
Thereupon answered the Captain, embarrassed, and culling his phrases:
“’Tis not good for a man to be alone, say the Scriptures.
This I have said before, and again and again I repeat it;
Every hour in the day, I think it, and feel it, and say it. 135
Since Rose Standish died, my life has been weary and dreary;
Sick at heart have I been, beyond the healing of friendship.
Oft in my lonely hours have I thought of the maiden Priscilla.
She is alone in the world; her father and mother and brother
Died in the winter together; I saw her going and coming, 140
Now to the grave of the dead, and now to the bed of the dying,
Patient, courageous, and strong, and said to myself, that if ever
There were angels on earth, as there are angels in heaven,
Two have I seen and known; and the angel whose name is Priscilla
Holds in my desolate life the place which the other abandoned.145
[Pg 36]
Long have I cherished the thought, but never have dared to reveal it,
Being a coward in this, though valiant enough for the most part.
Go to the damsel Priscilla, the loveliest maiden of Plymouth,
Say that a blunt old Captain, a man not of words but of actions,
Offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. 150
Not in these words, you know, but this in short is my meaning;
I am a maker of war, and not a maker of phrases.
You, who are bred as a scholar, can say it in elegant language,
Such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers,
Such as you think best adapted to win the heart of a maiden.” 155
When he had spoken, John Alden, the fair-haired, taciturn stripling,
All aghast at his words, surprised, embarrassed, bewildered,
Trying to mask his dismay by treating the subject with lightness,
Trying to smile, and yet feeling his heart stand still in his bosom,
Just as a timepiece stops in a house that is stricken by lightning,160
[Pg 37]
Thus made answer and spake, or rather stammered than answered:
“Such a message as that, I am sure I should mangle and mar it;
If you would have it well done,—I am only repeating your maxim,—
You must do it yourself, you must not leave it to others!”
But with the air of a man whom nothing can turn from his purpose, 165
Gravely shaking his head, made answer the Captain of Plymouth:
“Truly the maxim is good, and I do not mean to gainsay it;
But we must use it discreetly, and not waste powder for nothing.
Now, as I said before, I was never a maker of phrases.
I can march up to a fortress and summon the place to surrender, 170
But march up to a woman with such a proposal, I dare not.
I’m not afraid of bullets, nor shot from the mouth of a cannon,
But of a thundering ‘No!’ point-blank from the mouth of a woman,
That, I confess, I’m afraid of, nor am I ashamed to confess it!
So you must grant my request, for you are an elegant scholar, 175
Having the graces of speech, and skill in the turning of phrases.”
[Pg 38]
Taking the hand of his friend, who still was reluctant and doubtful,
Holding it long in his own, and pressing it kindly, he added:
“Though I have spoken thus lightly, yet deep is the feeling that prompts me;
Surely you cannot refuse what I ask in the name of our friendship!” 180
Then made answer John Alden: “The name of friendship is sacred;
What you demand in that name, I have not the power to deny you!”
So the strong will prevailed, subduing and molding the gentler,
Friendship prevailed over love, and Alden went on his errand.


So the strong will prevailed, and Alden went on his errand,185
Out of the street of the village, and into the paths of the forest.
Into the tranquil woods, where bluebirds and robins were building
Towns in the populous trees, with hanging gardens of verdure,
Peaceful, aerial cities of joy and affection and freedom.
All around him was calm, but within him commotion and conflict, 190
Love contending with friendship, and self with each generous impulse.
[Pg 39]
To and fro in his breast his thoughts were heaving and dashing,
As in a foundering ship, with every roll of the vessel,
Washes the bitter sea, the merciless surge of the ocean!
“Must I relinquish it all,” he cried with a wild lamentation,—195
“Must I relinquish it all, the joy, the hope, the illusion?
Was it for this I have loved, and waited, and worshiped in silence?
Was it for this I have followed the flying feet and the shadow
Over the wintry sea, to the desolate shores of New England?
Truly the heart is deceitful, and out of its depths of corruption 200
Rise, like an exhalation, the misty phantoms of passion;
Angels of light they seem, but are only delusions of Satan.
All is clear to me now; I feel it, I see it distinctly!
This is the hand of the Lord; it is laid upon me in anger,
For I have followed too much the heart’s desires and devices, 205
Worshiping Astaroth blindly, and impious idols of Baal.
This is the cross I must bear; the sin and the swift retribution.”
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand;
Crossing the brook at the ford, where it brawled over pebble and shallow,
Gathering still, as he went, the mayflowers blooming around him, 210
[Pg 40]
Fragrant, filling the air with a strange and wonderful sweetness,
Children lost in the woods, and covered with leaves in their slumber.
“Puritan flowers,” he said, “and the type of Puritan maidens,
Modest and simple and sweet, the very type of Priscilla!
So I will take them to her; to Priscilla the mayflower of Plymouth, 215
Modest and simple and sweet, as a parting gift will I take them;
Breathing their silent farewells, as they fade and wither and perish,
Soon to be thrown away as is the heart of the giver.”
So through the Plymouth woods John Alden went on his errand;
Came to an open space, and saw the disk of the ocean,220
Sailless, somber and cold with the comfortless breath of the east-wind;
Saw the new-built house, and people at work in a meadow;
Heard, as he drew near the door, the musical voice of Priscilla
Singing the hundredth Psalm, the grand old Puritan anthem,
Music that Luther sang to the sacred words of the Psalmist, 225
Full of the breath of the Lord, consoling and comforting many.
Then, as he opened the door, he beheld the form of the maiden
[Pg 41]
Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift
Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle,
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion. 230
Open wide on her lap lay the well-worn psalm-book of Ainsworth,
Printed in Amsterdam, the words and the music together.
Rough-hewn, angular notes, like stones in the Avail of a churchyard,
Darkened and overhung by the running vine of the verses.
Such was the book from whose pages she sang the old Puritan anthem, 235
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of homespun
Beautiful with her beauty, and rich with the wealth of her being!
Over him rushed, like a wind that is keen and cold and relentless,
Thoughts of what might have been, and the weight and woe of his errand; 240
All the dreams that had faded, and all the hopes that had vanished,
All his life henceforth a dreary and tenantless mansion,
Haunted by vain regrets, and pallid, sorrowful faces.
Still he said to himself, and almost fiercely he said it,
“Let not him that putteth his hand to the plow look backwards; 245
[Pg 42]
Though the plowshare cut through the flowers of life to its fountains,
Though it pass o’er the graves of the dead and the hearths of the living,
It is the will of the Lord; and his mercy endureth forever!”
So he entered the house; and the hum of the wheel and the singing
Suddenly ceased; for Priscilla, aroused by his step on the threshold, 250
Rose as he entered, and gave him her hand, in signal of welcome,
Saying, “I knew it was you, when I heard your step in the passage;
For I was thinking of you, as I sat there singing and spinning.”
Awkward and dumb with delight, that a thought of him had been mingled
Thus in the sacred psalm, that came from the heart of the maiden, 255
Silent before her he stood, and gave her the flowers for an answer,
Finding no words for his thought. He remembered that day in the winter,
After the first great snow, when he broke a path from the village,
Reeling and plunging along through the drifts that encumbered the doorway,
Stamping the snow from his feet as he entered the house, and Priscilla 260
[Pg 43]
Laughed at his snowy locks, and gave him a seat by the fireside,
Grateful and pleased to know he had thought of her in the snow-storm.
Had he but spoken then, perhaps not in vain had he spoken!
Now it was all too late; the golden moment had vanished!
So he stood there abashed, and gave her the flowers for an answer. 265
Then they sat down and talked of the birds and the beautiful springtime;
Talked of their friends at home, and the Mayflower that sailed on the morrow.
“I have been thinking all day,” said gently the Puritan maiden,
“Dreaming all night, and thinking all day, of the hedgerows of England,—
They are in blossom now, and the country is all like a garden; 270
Thinking of lanes and fields, and the song of the lark and the linnet,
Seeing the village street, and familiar faces of neighbors
Going about as of old, and stopping to gossip together,
And, at the end of the street, the village church, with the ivy
Climbing the old gray tower, and the quiet graves in the churchyard. 275
Kind are the people I live with, and dear to me my religion;
[Pg 44]
Still my heart is so sad, that I wish myself back in Old England.
You will say it is wrong, but I cannot help it: I almost
Wish myself back in Old England, I feel so lonely and wretched.”
Thereupon answered the youth: “Indeed I do not condemn you; 280
Stouter hearts than a woman’s have quailed in this terrible winter.
Yours is tender and trusting, and needs a stronger to lean on;
So I have come to you now, with an offer and proffer of marriage
Made by a good man and true, Miles Standish the Captain of Plymouth!”
Thus he delivered his message, the dexterous writer of letters,—285
Did not embellish the theme, nor array it in beautiful phrases,
But came straight to the point, and blurted it out like a schoolboy;
Even the Captain himself could hardly have said it more bluntly.
Mute with amazement and sorrow, Priscilla the Puritan maiden
Looked into Alden’s face, her eyes dilated with wonder,290
Feeling his words like a blow, that stunned her and rendered her speechless;
[Pg 45]
Till at length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence:
“If the great Captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me,
Why does he not come himself, and take the trouble to woo me?
If I am not worth the wooing, I surely am not worth the winning!” 295
Then John Alden began explaining and smoothing the matter,
Making it worse as he went, by saying the Captain was busy,—
Had no time for such things;—such things! the words grating harshly
Fell on the ear of Priscilla; and swift as a flash she made answer:
“Has he no time for such things, as you call it, before he is married, 300
Would he be likely to find it, or make it, after the wedding?
That is the way with you men; you don’t understand us, you cannot.
When you have made up your minds, after thinking of this one and that one,
Choosing, selecting, rejecting, comparing one with another,
Then you make known your desire, with abrupt and sudden avowal, 305
And are offended and hurt, and indignant perhaps, that a woman
Does not respond at once to a love that she never suspected,
[Pg 46]
Does not attain at a bound to the height to which you have been climbing.
This is not right nor just; for surely a woman’s affection
Is not a thing to be asked for, and had for only the asking. 310
When one is truly in love, one not only says it, but shows it.
Had he but waited a while, had he only showed that he loved me,
Even this Captain of yours—who knows?—at last might have won me,
Old and rough as he is; but now it never can happen.”
Still John Alden went on, unheeding the words of Priscilla,315
Urging the suit of his friend, explaining, persuading, expanding;
Spoke of his courage and skill, and of all his battles in Flanders,
How with the people of God he had chosen to suffer affliction,
How, in return for his zeal, they had made him Captain of Plymouth;
He was a gentleman born, could trace his pedigree plainly 320
Back to Hugh Standish of Duxbury Hall, in Lancashire, England,
Who was the son of Ralph, and the grandson of Thurston de Standish;
Heir unto vast estates, of which he was basely defrauded,
Still bore the family arms, and had for his crest a cock argent
[Pg 47]
Combed and wattled gules, and all the rest of the blazon. 325
He was a man of honor, of noble and generous nature;
Though he was rough, he was kindly; she knew how during the winter
He had attended the sick, with a hand as gentle as woman’s;
Somewhat hasty and hot, he could not deny it, and headstrong,
Stern as a soldier might be, but hearty, and placable always, 330
Not to be laughed at and scorned, because he was little of stature;
For he was great of heart, magnanimous, courtly, courageous;
Any woman in Plymouth, nay, any woman in England,
Might be happy and proud to be called the wife of Miles Standish!
But as he warmed and glowed, in his simple and eloquent language, 335
Quite forgetful of self, and full of the praise of his rival,
Archly the maiden smiled, and, with eyes overrunning with laughter,
Said, in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”


Into the open air John Alden, perplexed and bewildered,
[Pg 48]
Rushed like a man insane, and wandered alone by the seaside; 340
Paced up and down the sands, and bared his head to the east-wind,
Cooling his heated brow, and the fire and fever within him.
Slowly, as out of the heavens, with apocalyptical splendors,
Sank the City of God, in the vision of John the Apostle;
So, with its cloudy walls of chrysolite, jasper, and sapphire, 345
Sank the broad red sun, and over its turrets uplifted
Glimmered the golden reed of the angel who measured the city.
“Welcome, O wind of the East!” he exclaimed in his wild exultation,
“Welcome, O wind of the East, from the caves of the misty Atlantic!
Blowing o’er fields of dulse, and measureless meadows of seagrass, 350
Blowing o’er rocky wastes, and the grottoes and gardens of ocean!
Lay thy cold, moist hand on my burning forehead, and wrap me
Close in thy garments of mist, to allay the fever within me!”
Like an awakened conscience, the sea was moaning and tossing,
Beating remorseful and loud the mutable sands of the seashore. 355
[Pg 49]
Fierce in his soul was the struggle and tumult of passions contending;
Love triumphant and crowned, and friendship wounded and bleeding,
Passionate cries of desire, and importunate pleadings of duty!
“Is it my fault,” he said, “that the maiden has chosen between us?
Is it my fault that he failed,—my fault that I am the victor?” 360
Then within him there thundered a voice, like the voice of the Prophet:
“It hath displeased the Lord!”—and he thought of David’s transgression,
Bathsheba’s beautiful face, and his friend in the front of the battle!
Shame and confusion of guilt, and abasement and self-condemnation,
Overwhelmed him at once; and he cried in the deepest contrition: 365
“It hath displeased the Lord! It is the temptation of Satan!”
Then, uplifting his head, he looked at the sea, and beheld there
Dimly the shadowy form of the Mayflower riding at anchor,
Rocked on the rising tide, and ready to sail on the morrow;
Heard the voices of men through the mist, the rattle of cordage 370
[Pg 50]
Thrown on the deck, the shouts of the mate, and the sailors’ “Aye, aye, sir!”
Clear and distinct, but not loud, in the dripping air of the twilight.
Still for a moment he stood, and listened, and stared at the vessel,
Then went hurriedly on, as one who, seeing a phantom,
Stops, then quickens his pace, and follows the beckoning shadow. 375
“Yes, it is plain to me now,” he murmured, “the hand of the Lord is
Leading me out of the land of darkness, the bondage of error,
Through the sea, that shall lift the walls of its waters around me,
Hiding me, cutting me off, from the cruel thoughts that pursue me.
Back will I go o’er the ocean, this dreary land will abandon, 380
Her whom I may not love, and him whom my heart has offended.
Better to be in my grave in the green old churchyard in England,
Close by my mother’s side, and among the dust of my kindred;
Better be dead and forgotten, than living in shame and dishonor!
Sacred and safe and unseen, in the dark of the narrow chamber 385
With me my secret shall lie, like a buried jewel that glimmers
[Pg 51]
Bright on the hand that is dust, in the chambers of silence and darkness,—
Yes, as the marriage ring of the great espousal hereafter!”
Thus as he spake, he turned, in the strength of his strong resolution,
Leaving behind him the shore, and hurried along in the twilight, 390
Through the congenial gloom of the forest silent and somber,
Till he beheld the lights in the seven houses of Plymouth,
Shining like seven stars in the dusk and mist of the evening.
Soon he entered his door, and found the redoubtable Captain
Sitting alone, and absorbed in the martial pages of Cæsar, 395
Fighting some great campaign in Hainault or Brabant or Flanders.
“Long have you been on your errand,” he said with a cheery demeanor,
Even as one who is waiting an answer, and fears not the issue.
“Not far off is the house, although the woods are between us;
But you have lingered so long, that while you were going and coming 400
I have fought ten battles and sacked and demolished a city.
Come, sit down, and in order relate to me all that has happened.”
[Pg 52]
Then John Alden spake, and related the wondrous adventure
From beginning to end, minutely, just as it happened;
How he had seen Priscilla, and how he had sped in his courtship, 405
Only smoothing a little, and softening down her refusal,
But when he came at length to the words Priscilla had spoken,
Words so tender and cruel: “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
Up leaped the Captain of Plymouth, and stamped on the floor, till his armor
Clanged on the wall, where it hung, with a sound of sinister omen. 410
All his pent-up wrath burst forth in a sudden explosion,
E’en as a hand-grenade, that scatters destruction around it.
Wildly he shouted, and loud: “John Alden! you have betrayed me!
Me, Miles Standish, your friend! have supplanted, defrauded, betrayed me!
One of my ancestors ran his sword through the heart of Wat Tyler; 415
Who shall prevent me from running my own through the heart of a traitor?
Yours is the greater treason, for yours is a treason to friendship!
You, who lived under my roof, whom I cherished and loved as a brother;
You, who have fed at my board, and drunk at my cup, to whose keeping
[Pg 53]
I have intrusted my honor, my thoughts the most sacred and secret,— 420
You too, Brutus! ah, woe to the name of friendship hereafter!
Brutus was Cæsar’s friend, and you were mine, but henceforward
Let there be nothing between us save war, and implacable hatred!”
So spake the Captain of Plymouth, and strode about in the chamber,
Chafing and choking with rage; like cords were the veins on his temples. 425
But in the midst of his anger a man appeared at the doorway,
Bringing in uttermost haste a message of urgent importance,
Rumors of danger and war and hostile incursions of Indians!
Straightway the Captain paused, and, without further question or parley,
Took from the nail on the wall his sword with its scabbard of iron, 430
Buckled the belt round his waist, and, frowning fiercely, departed.
Alden was left alone. He heard the clank of the scabbard
Growing fainter and fainter, and dying away in the distance.
Then he arose from his seat, and looked forth into the darkness,
[Pg 54]
Felt the cool air blow on his cheek, that was hot with the insult, 435
Lifted his eyes to the heavens, and, folding his hands as in childhood,
Prayed in the silence of night to the Father who seeth in secret.
Meanwhile the choleric Captain strode wrathful away to the council,
Found it already assembled, impatiently waiting his coming;
Men in the middle of life, austere and grave in deportment, 440
Only one of them old, the hill that was nearest to heaven,
Covered with snow, but erect, the excellent Elder of Plymouth.
God had sifted three kingdoms to find the wheat for this planting,
Then had sifted the wheat, as the living seed of a nation;
So say the chronicles old, and such is the faith of the people! 445
Near them was standing an Indian, in attitude stern and defiant,
Naked down to the waist, and grim and ferocious in aspect;
While on the table before them was lying unopened a Bible,
Ponderous, bound in leather, brass-studded, printed in Holland,
And beside it outstretched the skin of a rattlesnake glittered, 450
[Pg 55]
Filled, like a quiver, with arrows: a signal and challenge of warfare,
Brought by the Indian, and speaking with arrowy tongues of defiance.
This Miles Standish beheld, as he entered, and heard them debating
What were an answer befitting the hostile message and menace,
Talking of this and of that, contriving, suggesting, objecting; 455
One voice only for peace, and that the voice of the Elder,
Judging it wise and well that some at least were converted,
Rather than any were slain, for this was but Christian behavior!
Then out spake Miles Standish, the stalwart Captain of Plymouth,
Muttering deep in his throat, for his voice was husky with anger, 460
“What! do you mean to make war with milk and the water of roses?
Is it to shoot red squirrels you have your howitzer planted
There on the roof of the church, or is it to shoot red devils?
Truly the only tongue that is understood by a savage
Must be the tongue of fire that speaks from the mouth of the cannon!” 465
Thereupon answered and said the excellent Elder of Plymouth,
Somewhat amazed and alarmed at this irreverent language:
[Pg 56]
“Not so thought St. Paul, nor yet the other Apostles;
Not from the cannon’s mouth were the tongues of fire they spake with!”
But unheeded fell this mild rebuke on the Captain, 470
Who had advanced to the table, and thus continued discoursing:
“Leave this matter to me, for to me by right it pertaineth.
War is a terrible trade; but in the cause that is righteous,
Sweet is the smell of powder; and thus I answer the challenge!”
Then from the rattlesnake’s skin, with a sudden, contemptuous gesture, 475
Jerking the Indian arrows, he filled it with powder and bullets
Full to the very jaws, and handed it back to the savage,
Saying, in thundering tones: “Here, take it! this is your answer!”
Silently out of the room then glided the glistening savage,
Bearing the serpent’s skin, and seeming himself like a serpent, 480
Winding his sinuous way in the dark to the depths of the forest.


Just in the gray of the dawn, as the mists uprose from the meadows,
There was a stir and a sound in the slumbering village of Plymouth;
Clanging and clicking of arms, and the order imperative, “Forward!”
[Pg 57]
Given in tone suppressed, a tramp of feet, and then silence. 485
Figures ten, in the mist, marched slowly out of the village.
Standish the stalwart it was, with eight of his valorous army,
Led by their Indian guide, by Hobomok, friend of the white men,
Northward marching to quell the sudden revolt of the savage.
Giants they seemed in the mist, or the mighty men of King David; 490
Giants in heart they were, who believed in God and the Bible,—
Aye, who believed in the smiting of Midianites and Philistines.
Over them gleamed far off the crimson banners of morning;
Under them loud on the sands, the serried billows, advancing,
Fired along the line, and in regular order retreated. 495
Many a mile had they marched, when at length the village of Plymouth
Woke from its sleep, and arose, intent on its manifold labors.
Sweet was the air and soft; and slowly the smoke from the chimneys
Rose over roofs of thatch, and pointed steadily eastward;
Men came forth from the doors, and paused and talked of the weather, 500
[Pg 58]
Said that the wind had changed, and was blowing fair for the Mayflower;
Talked of their Captain’s departure, and all the dangers that menaced,
He being gone, the town, and what should be done in his absence.
Merrily sang the birds, and the tender voices of women
Consecrated with hymns the common cares of the household. 505
Out of the sea rose the sun, and the billows rejoiced at his coming:
Beautiful were his feet on the purple tops of the mountains;
Beautiful on the sails of the Mayflower riding at anchor,
Battered and blackened and worn by all the storms of the winter.
Loosely against her masts was hanging and flapping her canvas, 510
Rent by so many gales, and patched by the hands of the sailors.
Suddenly from her side, as the sun rose over the ocean,
Darted a puff of smoke, and floated seaward; anon rang
Loud over field and forest the cannon’s roar, and the echoes
Heard and repeated the sound, the signal-gun of departure! 515
Ah! but with louder echoes replied the hearts of the people!
Meekly, in voices subdued, the chapter was read from the Bible,
[Pg 59]
Meekly the prayer was begun, but ended in fervent entreaty!
Then from their houses in haste came forth the Pilgrims of Plymouth,
Men and women and children, all hurrying down to the seashore, 520
Eager, with tearful eyes, to say farewell to the Mayflower,
Homeward bound o’er the sea, and leaving them here in the desert.
Foremost among them was Alden. All night he had lain without slumber,
Turning and tossing about in the heat and unrest of his fever.
He had beheld Miles Standish, who came back late from the council, 525
Stalking into the room, and heard him mutter and murmur,
Sometimes it seemed a prayer, and sometimes it sounded like swearing.
Once he had come to the bed, and stood there a moment in silence;
Then he had turned away, and said: “I will not awake him;
Let him sleep on, it is best; for what is the use of more talking!” 530
Then he extinguished the light, and threw himself down on his pallet,
Dressed as he was, and ready to start at the break of the morning,—
[Pg 60]
Covered himself with the cloak he had worn in his campaigns in Flanders,—
Slept as a soldier sleeps in his bivouac, ready for action.
But with the dawn he arose; in the twilight Alden beheld him 535
Put on his corselet of steel, and all the rest of his armor,
Buckle about his waist his trusty blade of Damascus,
Take from the corner his musket, and so stride out of the chamber.
Often the heart of the youth had burned and yearned to embrace him,
Often his lips had essayed to speak, imploring for pardon; 540
All the old friendship came back with its tender and grateful emotions;
But his pride overmastered the nobler nature within him,—
Pride, and the sense of his wrong, and the burning fire of the insult.
So he beheld his friend departing in anger, but spake not,
Saw him go forth to danger, perhaps to death, and he spake not! 545
Then he arose from his bed, and heard what the people were saying,
Joined in the talk at the door, with Stephen and Richard and Gilbert,
Joined in the morning prayer, and in the reading of Scripture,
And, with the others, in haste went hurrying down to the seashore,
[Pg 61]
Down to the Plymouth Rock, that had been to their feet as a doorstep 550
Into a world unknown,—the corner-stone of a nation!
There with his boat was the Master, already a little impatient
Lest he should lose the tide, or the wind might shift to the eastward,
Square-built, hearty, and strong, with an odor of ocean about him,
Speaking with this one and that, and cramming letters and parcels 555
Into his pockets capacious, and messages mingled together
Into his narrow brain, till at last he was wholly bewildered.
Nearer the boat stood Alden, with one foot placed on the gunwale,
One still firm on the rock, and talking at times with the sailors,
Seated erect on the thwarts, all ready and eager for starting. 560
He too was eager to go, and thus put an end to his anguish,
Thinking to fly from despair, that swifter than keel is or canvas,
Thinking to drown in the sea the ghost that would rise and pursue him.
But as he gazed on the crowd, he beheld the form of Priscilla
[Pg 62]
Standing dejected, among them, unconscious of all that was passing. 565
Fixed were her eyes upon his, as if she divined his intention,
Fixed with a look so sad, so reproachful, imploring, and patient,
That with a sudden revulsion his heart recoiled from its purpose,
As from the verge of a crag, where one step more is destruction.
Strange is the heart of man, with its quick, mysterious instincts! 570
Strange is the life of man, and fatal or fated are moments,
Whereupon turn, as on hinges, the gates of the wall adamantine!
“Here I remain!” he exclaimed, as he looked at the heavens above him,
Thanking the Lord whose breath had scattered the mist and the madness,
Wherein, blind and lost, to death he was staggering headlong. 575
“Yonder snow-white cloud, that floats in the ether above me,
Seems like a hand that is pointing and beckoning over the ocean.
There is another hand, that is not so spectral and ghostlike,
Holding me, drawing me back, and clasping mine for protection.
Float, O hand of cloud, and vanish away in the ether! 580
[Pg 63]
Roll thyself up like a fist, to threaten and daunt me; I heed not
Either your warning or menace, or any omen of evil!
There is no land so sacred, no air so pure and so wholesome,
As is the air she breathes, and the soil that is pressed by her footsteps.
Here for her sake will I stay, and like an invisible presence. 585
Hover around her forever, protecting, supporting her weakness;
Yes! as my foot was the first that stepped on this rock at the landing,
So, with the blessing of God, shall it be the last at the leaving!”
Meanwhile the Master alert, but with dignified air and important,
Scanning with watchful eye the tide and the wind and the weather, 590
Walked about on the sands, and the people crowded around him
Saying a few last words, and enforcing his careful remembrance.
Then, taking each by the hand, as if he were grasping a tiller,
Into the boat he sprang, and in haste shoved off to his vessel.
Glad in his heart to get rid of all this worry and flurry, 595
[Pg 64]
Glad to be gone from a land of sand and sickness and sorrow,
Short allowance of victual, and plenty of nothing but Gospel!
Lost in the sound of oars was the last farewell of the Pilgrims.
O strong hearts and true! not one went back in the Mayflower!
No, not one looked back, who had set his hand to this plowing! 600
Soon were heard on board the shouts and songs of the sailors
Heaving the windlass round, and hoisting the ponderous anchor.
Then the yards were braced, and all sails set to the west-wind,
Blowing steady and strong; and the Mayflower sailed from the harbor,
Rounded the point of the Gurnet, and leaving far to the southward 605
Island and cape of sand, and the Field of the First Encounter,
Took the wind on her quarter, and stood for the open Atlantic,
Borne on the send of the sea, and the swelling hearts of the Pilgrims.
Long in silence they watched the receding sail of the vessel,
[Pg 65]
Much endeared to them all, as something living and human; 610
Then, as if tilled with the spirit, and wrapt in a vision prophetic,
Baring his hoary head, the excellent Elder of Plymouth
Said, “Let us pray!” and they prayed, and thanked the Lord and took courage.
Mournfully sobbed the waves at the base of the rock, and above them
Bowed and whispered the wheat on the hill of death, and their kindred 615
Seemed to awake in their graves, and to join in the prayer that they uttered.
Sun-illumined and white, on the eastern verge of the ocean
Gleamed the departing sail, like a marble slab in a graveyard;
Buried beneath it lay forever all hope of escaping.
Lo! as they turned to depart, they saw the form of an Indian, 620
Watching them from the hill; but while they spake with each other,
Pointing with outstretched hands, and saying, “Look!” he had vanished.
So they returned to their homes; but Alden lingered a little,
Musing alone on the shore, and watching the wash of the billows
Round the base of the rock, and the sparkle and flash of the sunshine, 625
Like the spirit of God, moving visibly over the waters.

[Pg 66]


Thus for a while he stood, and mused by the shore of the ocean,
Thinking of many things, and most of all of Priscilla;
And as if thought had the power to draw to itself, like the loadstone,
Whatsoever it touches, by subtle laws of its nature, 630
Lo! as he turned to depart, Priscilla was standing beside him.
“Are you so much offended, you will not speak to me?” said she.
“Am I so much to blame, that yesterday, when you were pleading
Warmly the cause of another, my heart, impulsive and wayward,
Pleaded your own, and spake out, forgetful perhaps of decorum? 635
Certainly you can forgive me for speaking so frankly, for saying
What I ought not to have said, yet now I can never unsay it;
For there are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion,
That if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble
Drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret, 640
Spilt on the ground like water, can never be gathered together.
[Pg 67]
Yesterday I was shocked, when I heard you speak of Miles Standish,
Praising his virtues, transforming his very defects into virtues,
Praising his courage and strength, and even his fighting in Flanders,
As if by fighting alone you could win the heart of a woman, 645
Quite overlooking yourself and the rest, in exalting your hero.
Therefore I spake as I did, by an irresistible impulse.
You will forgive me, I hope, for the sake of the friendship between us,
Which is too true and too sacred to be so easily broken!”
Thereupon answered John Alden, the scholar, the friend of Miles Standish: 650
“I was not angry with you, with myself alone I was angry,
Seeing how badly I managed the matter I had in my keeping.”
“No!” interrupted the maiden, with answer prompt and decisive;
“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 655
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
[Pg 68]
Running through caverns of darkness, unheard, unseen, and unfruitful, 660
Chafing their channels of stone, with endless and profitless murmurs.”
Thereupon answered John Alden, the young man, the lover of women:
“Heaven forbid it, Priscilla; and truly they seem to me always
More like the beautiful rivers that watered the garden of Eden,
More like the river Euphrates, through deserts of Havilah flowing, 665
Filling the land with delight, and memories sweet of the garden!”
“All, by these words, I can see,” again interrupted the maiden,
“How very little you prize me, or care for what I am saying.
When from the depths of my heart, in pain and with secret misgiving,
Frankly I speak to you, asking for sympathy only and kindness, 670
Straightway you take up my words, that are plain and direct and in earnest,
Turn them away from their meaning, and answer with flattering phrases.
This is not right, is not just, is not true to the best that is in you;
For I know and esteem you, and feel that your nature is noble,
Lifting mine up to a higher, a more ethereal level. 675
[Pg 69]
Therefore I value your friendship, and feel it perhaps the more keenly
If you say aught that implies I am only as one among many,
If you make use of those common and complimentary phrases
Most men think so fine, in dealing and speaking with women,
But which women reject as insipid, if not as insulting.”680
Mute and amazed was Alden; and listened and looked at Priscilla,
Thinking he never had seen her more fair, more divine in her beauty.
He who but yesterday pleaded so glibly the cause of another,
Stood there embarrassed and silent, and seeking in vain for an answer.
So the maiden went on, and little divined or imagined 685
What was at work in his heart, that made him so awkward and speechless.
“Let us, then, be what we are, and speak what we think, and in all things
Keep ourselves loyal to truth, and the sacred professions of friendship.
It is no secret I tell you, nor am I ashamed to declare it:
I have liked to be with you, to see you, to speak with you always. 690
So I was hurt at your words, and a little affronted to hear you
[Pg 70]
Urge me to marry your friend, though he were the Captain Miles Standish.
For I must tell you the truth: much more to me is your friendship
Than all the love he could give, were he twice the hero you think him.”
Then she extended her hand, and Alden, who eagerly grasped it, 695
Felt all the wounds in his heart, that were aching and bleeding so sorely,
Healed by the touch of that hand, and he said, with a voice full of feeling:
“Yes, we must ever be friends; and of all who offer you friendship
Let me be ever the first, the truest, the nearest, and dearest!”
Casting a farewell look at the glimmering sail of the Mayflower 700
Distant, but still in sight, and sinking below the horizon,
Homeward together they walked, with a strange, indefinite feeling,
That all the rest had departed and left them alone in the desert.
But, as they went through the fields in the blessing and smile of the sunshine,
Lighter grew their hearts, and Priscilla said very archly:705
“Now that our terrible Captain has gone in pursuit of the Indians,
Where he is happier far than he would be commanding a household,
[Pg 71]
You may speak boldly, and tell me of all that happened between you,
When you returned last night, and said how ungrateful you found me.”
Thereupon answered John Alden, and told her the whole of the story,— 710
Told her his own despair, and the direful wrath of Miles Standish.
Whereat the maiden smiled, and said between laughing and earnest,
“He is a little chimney, and heated hot in a moment!”
But as he gently rebuked her, and told her how much he had suffered,—
How he had even determined to sail that day in the Mayflower, 715
And had remained for her sake, on hearing the dangers that threatened,—
All her manner was changed, and she said with a faltering accent,
“Truly I thank you for this: how good you have been to me always!”
Thus, as a pilgrim devout, who toward Jerusalem journeys,
Taking three steps in advance, and one reluctantly backward, 720
Urged by importunate zeal, and withheld by pangs of contrition;
Slowly but steadily onward, receding yet ever advancing,
Journeyed this Puritan youth to the Holy Land of his longings,
Urged by the fervor of love, and withheld by remorseful misgivings.

[Pg 72]


Meanwhile the stalwart Miles Standish was marching steadily northward, 725
Winding through forest and swamp, and along the trend of the seashore,
All day long, with hardly a halt, the fire of his anger
Burning and crackling within, and the sulphurous odor of powder
Seeming more sweet to his nostrils than all the scents of the forest.
Silent and moody he went, and much he revolved his discomfort; 730
He who was used to success, and to easy victories always,
Thus to be flouted, rejected, and laughed to scorn by a maiden,
Thus to be mocked and betrayed by the friend whom most he had trusted!
Ah! ’twas too much to be borne, and he fretted and chafed in his armor!
“I alone am to blame,” he muttered, “for mine was the folly. 735
What has a rough old soldier, grown grim and gray in the harness,
Used to the camp and its ways, to do with the wooing of maidens?
’Twas but a dream,—let it pass,—let it vanish like so many others!
What I thought was a flower, is only a weed, and is worthless;
[Pg 73]
Out of my heart will I pluck it, and throw it away, and henceforward 740
Be but a fighter of battles, a lover and wooer of dangers!”
Thus he revolved in his mind his sorry defeat and discomfort,
While he was marching by day or lying at night in the forest,
Looking up at the trees and the constellations beyond them.
After a three days’ march he came to an Indian encampment 745
Pitched on the edge of a meadow, between the sea and the forest;
Women at work by the tents, and the warriors, horrid with warpaint,
Seated about a fire, and smoking and talking together;
Who, when they saw from afar the sudden approach of the white men,
Saw the flash of the sun on breastplate and saber and musket, 750
Straightway leaped to their feet, and two, from among them advancing,
Came to parley with Standish, and offer him furs as a present;
Friendship was in their looks, but in their hearts there was hatred.
Braves of the tribe were these, and brothers, gigantic in stature,
Huge as Goliath of Gath, or the terrible Og, king of Bashan; 755
[Pg 74]
One was Pecksuot named, and the other was called Wattawamat.
Round their necks were suspended their knives in scabbards of wampum,
Two-edged trenchant knives, with points as sharp as a needle.
Other arms had they none, for they were cunning and crafty.
“Welcome, English!” they said,—these words they had learned from the traders760
Touching at times on the coast, to barter and chaffer for peltries.
Then in their native tongue they begun to parley with Standish,
Through his guide and interpreter, Hobomok, friend of the white man,
Begging for blankets and knives, but mostly for muskets and powder,
Kept by the white man, they said, concealed, with the plague, in his cellars, 765
Ready to be let loose, and destroy his brother the red man!
But when Standish refused, and said he would give them the Bible,
Suddenly changing their tone, they began to boast and to bluster.
Then Wattawamat advanced with a stride in front of the other,
And, with a lofty demeanor, thus vauntingly spake to the Captain: 770
[Pg 75]
“Now Wattawamat can see, by the fiery eyes of the Captain,
Angry is he in his heart; but the heart of the brave Wattawamat
Is not afraid at the sight. He was not born of a woman,
But on a mountain, at night, from an oak-tree riven by lightning,
Forth he sprang at a bound, with all his weapons about him, 775
Shouting, ‘Who is there here to fight with the brave Wattawamat?’”
Then he unsheathed his knife, and, whetting the blade on his left hand,
Held it aloft and displayed a woman’s face on the handle,
Saying, with bitter expression and look of sinister meaning:
“I have another at home, with the face of a man on the handle; 780
By-and-by they shall marry; and there will be plenty of children!”
Then stood Pecksuot forth, self-vaunting, insulting Miles Standish;
While with his fingers he patted the knife that hung at his bosom,
Drawing it half from its sheath, and plunging it back, as he muttered,
“By-and-by it shall see; it shall eat; ah, ha! but shall speak not! 785
This is the mighty Captain the white men have sent to destroy us!
He is a little man; let him go and work with the women!”
[Pg 76]
Meanwhile Standish had noted the faces and figures of Indians
Peeping and creeping about from bush to tree in the forest,
Feigning to look for game, with arrows set on their bowstrings, 790
Drawing about him still closer and closer the net of their ambush.
But undaunted he stood, and dissembled and treated them smoothly;
So the old chronicles say, that were writ in the days of the fathers.
But when he heard their defiance, the boast, the taunt, and the insult,
All the hot blood of his race, of Sir Hugh and of Thurston de Standish, 795
Boiled and beat in his heart, and swelled in the veins of his temples.
Headlong he leaped on the boaster, and, snatching his knife from its scabbard,
Plunged it into his heart, and, reeling backward, the savage
Fell with his face to the sky, and a fiendlike fierceness upon it.
Straight there arose from the forest the awful sound of the war-whoop, 800
And, like a flurry of snow on the whistling wind of December,
Swift and sudden and keen came a flight of feathery arrows.
[Pg 77]
Then came a cloud of smoke, and out of the cloud came the lightning,
Out of the lightning thunder; and death unseen ran before it.
Frightened, the savages fled for shelter in swamp and in thicket, 805
Hotly pursued and beset; but their sachem, the brave Wattawamat,
Fled not; he was dead. Unswerving and swift had a bullet
Passed through his brain, and he fell with both hands clutching the greensward,
Seeming in death to hold back from his foe the land of his fathers.
There on the flowers of the meadow the warriors lay, and above them 810
Silent, with folded arms, stood Hobomok, friend of the white man.
Smiling at length he exclaimed to the stalwart Captain of Plymouth:
“Pecksuot bragged very loud, of his courage, his strength, and his stature,—
Mocked the great Captain, and called him a little man; but I see now
Big enough have you been to lay him speechless before you!” 815
Thus the first battle was fought and won by the stalwart Miles Standish.
[Pg 78]
When the tidings thereof were brought to the village of Plymouth,
And as a trophy of war the head of the brave Wattawamat
Scowled from the roof of the fort, which at once was a church and a fortress,
All who beheld it rejoiced, and praised the Lord, and took courage. 820
Only Priscilla averted her face from this specter of terror,
Thanking God in her heart that she had not married Miles Standish;
Shrinking, fearing almost, lest, coming home from his battles,
He should lay claim to her hand, as the prize and reward of his valor.


Month after month passed away, and in autumn the ships of the merchants825
Came with kindred and friends, with cattle and corn for the Pilgrims.
All in the village was peace; the men were intent on their labors,
Busy with hewing and building, with garden plot and with merestead,
Busy with breaking the glebe, and mowing the grass in the meadows,
Searching the sea for its fish, and hunting the deer in the forest. 830
All in the village was peace; but at times the rumor of warfare
[Pg 79]
Filled the air with alarm, and the apprehension of danger.
Bravely the stalwart Miles Standish was scouring the land with his forces,
Waxing valiant in fight and defeating the alien armies,
Till his name had become a sound of fear to the nations. 835
Anger was still in his heart, but at times the remorse and contrition
Which in all noble natures succeed the passionate outbreak,
Came like a rising tide, that encounters the rush of a river,
Staying its current a while, but making it bitter and brackish.
Meanwhile Alden at home had built him a new habitation, 840
Solid, substantial, of timber rough-hewn from the firs of the forest.
Wooden-barred was the door, and the roof was covered with rushes;
Latticed the windows were, and the window-panes were of paper,
Oiled to admit the light, while wind and rain were excluded.
There too he dug a well, and around it planted an orchard: 845
Still may be seen to this day some trace of the well and the orchard.
Close to the house was the stall, where, safe and secure from annoyance,
Raghorn, the snow-white bull, that had fallen to Alden’s allotment
In the division of cattle, might ruminate in the nighttime
[Pg 80]
Over the pastures he cropped, made fragrant by sweet pennyroyal. 850
Oft when his labor was finished, with eager feet would the dreamer
Follow the pathway that ran through the woods to the house of Priscilla,
Led by illusions romantic and subtile deceptions of fancy,
Pleasure disguised as duty, and love in the semblance of friendship.
Ever of her he thought, when he fashioned the walls of his dwelling; 855
Ever of her he thought, when he delved in the soil of his garden;
Ever of her he thought, when he read in his Bible on Sunday
Praise of the virtuous woman, as she is described in the Proverbs,—
How the heart of her husband doth safely trust in her always,
How all the days of her life she will do him good, and not evil, 860
How she seeketh the wool and the flax and worketh with gladness,
How she layeth her hand to the spindle and holdeth the distaff,
How she is not afraid of the snow for herself or her household,
Knowing her household are clothed with the scarlet cloth of her weaving!
[Pg 81]
So as she sat at her wheel one afternoon in the autumn, 865
Alden, who opposite sat, and was watching her dexterous fingers,
As if the thread she was spinning were that of his life and his fortune,
After a pause in their talk, thus spake to the sound of the spindle:
“Truly, Priscilla,” he said, “when I see you spinning and spinning,
Never idle a moment, but thrifty and thoughtful of others, 870
Suddenly you are transformed, are visibly changed in a moment;
You are no longer Priscilla, but Bertha the Beautiful Spinner.”
Here the light foot on the treadle grew swifter and swifter; the spindle
Uttered an angry snarl, and the thread snapped short in her fingers;
While the impetuous speaker, not heeding the mischief, continued: 875
“You are the beautiful Bertha, the spinner, the queen of Helvetia;
She whose story I read at a stall in the streets of Southampton,
Who, as she rode on her palfrey, o’er valley and meadow and mountain,
Ever was spinning her thread from a distaff fixed to her saddle.
[Pg 82]
She was so thrifty and good, that her name passed into a proverb. 880
So shall it be with your own, when the spinning-wheel shall no longer
Hum in the house of the farmer, and fill its chambers with music.
Then shall the mothers, reproving, relate how it was in their childhood,
Praising the good old times, and the days of Priscilla the spinner!”
Straight uprose from her wheel the beautiful Puritan maiden, 885
Pleased with the praise of her thrift from him whose praise was the sweetest,
Drew from the reel on the table a snowy skein of her spinning,
Thus making answer, meanwhile, to the flattering praises of Alden:
“Come, you must not be idle; if I am a pattern for housewives,
Show yourself equally worthy of being the model of husbands. 890
Hold this skein on your hands, while I wind it, ready for knitting;
Then who knows but hereafter, when fashions have changed and the manners,
Fathers may talk to their sons of the good old times of John Alden!”
Thus, with a jest and a laugh, the skein on his hands she adjusted,
He sitting awkwardly there, with his arms extended before him, 895
[Pg 83]
She standing graceful, erect, and winding the thread from his fingers,
Sometimes chiding a little his clumsy manner of holding,
Sometimes touching his hands, as she disentangled expertly
Twist or knot in the yarn, unawares—for how could she help it?—
Sending electrical thrills through every nerve in his body. 900
Lo! in the midst of this scene, a breathless messenger entered,
Bringing in hurry and heat the terrible news from the village.
Yes; Miles Standish was dead!—an Indian had brought them the tidings,—
Slain by a poisoned arrow, shot down in the front of the battle,
Into an ambush beguiled, cut off with the whole of his forces; 905
All the town would be burned, and all the people be murdered!
Such were the tidings of evil that burst on the hearts of the hearers.
Silent and statue-like stood Priscilla, her face looking backward
Still at the face of the speaker, her arms uplifted in horror;
But John Alden, upstarting, as if the barb of the arrow 910
Piercing the heart of his friend had struck his own, and had sundered
[Pg 84]
Once and forever the bonds that held him bound as a captive,
Wild with excess of sensation, the awful delight of his freedom,
Mingled with pain and regret, unconscious of what he was doing,
Clasped, almost with a groan, the motionless form of Priscilla, 915
Pressing her close to his heart, as forever his own, and exclaiming:
“Those whom the Lord hath united, let no man put them asunder!”
Even as rivulets twain, from distant and separate sources,
Seeing each other afar, as they leap from the rocks, and pursuing
Each one its devious path, but drawing nearer and nearer, 920
Rush together at last, at their trysting-place in the forest;
So these lives that had run thus far in separate channels,
Coming in sight of each other, then swerving and flowing asunder,
Parted by barriers strong, but drawing nearer and nearer,
Rushed together at last, and one was lost in the other.925


Forth from the curtain of clouds, from the tent of purple and scarlet,
Issued the sun, the great High-Priest, in his garments resplendent,
[Pg 85]
Holiness unto the Lord, in letters of light, on his forehead,
Round the hem of his robe the golden bells and pomegranates.
Blessing the world he came, and the bars of vapor beneath him 930
Gleamed like a grate of brass, and the sea at his feet was a laver!
This was the wedding morn of Priscilla the Puritan maiden.
Friends were assembled together; the Elder and Magistrate also
Graced the scene with their presence, and stood like the Law and the Gospel,
One with the sanction of earth and one with the blessing of heaven. 935
Simple and brief was the wedding, as that of Ruth and of Boaz.
Softly the youth and the maiden repeated the words of betrothal,
Taking each other for husband and wife in the Magistrate’s presence,
After the Puritan way, and the laudable custom of Holland.
Fervently then and devoutly, the excellent Elder of Plymouth 940
Prayed for the hearth and the home, that were founded that day in affection,
Speaking of life and of death, and imploring Divine benedictions.
[Pg 86]
Lo! when the service was ended, a form appeared on the threshold,
Clad in armor of steel, a somber and sorrowful figure!
Why does the bridegroom start and stare at the strange apparition? 945
Why does the bride turn pale, and hide her face on his shoulder?
Is it a phantom of air,—a bodiless, spectral illusion?
Is it a ghost from the grave, that has come to forbid the betrothal?
Long had it stood there unseen, a guest uninvited, unwelcomed;
Over its clouded eyes there had passed at times an expression 950
Softening the gloom and revealing the warm heart hidden beneath them,
As when across the sky the driving rack of the rain-cloud
Grows for a moment thin, and betrays the sun by its brightness.
Once it had lifted its hand, and moved its lips, but was silent,
As if an iron will had mastered the fleeting intention. 955
But when were ended the troth and the prayer and the last benediction,
Into the room it strode, and the people beheld with amazement
Bodily there in his armor Miles Standish, the Captain of Plymouth!
Grasping the bridegroom’s hand, he said with emotion, “Forgive me!
I have been angry and hurt,—too long have I cherished the feeling; 960
[Pg 87]
I have been cruel and hard, but now, thank God! it is ended.
Mine is the same hot blood that leaped in the veins of Hugh Standish,
Sensitive, swift to resent, but as swift in atoning for error.
Never so much as now was Miles Standish the friend of John Alden.”
Thereupon answered the bridegroom: “Let all be forgotten between us,— 965
All save the dear old friendship, and that shall grow older and dearer!”
Then the Captain advanced, and, bowing, saluted Priscilla,
Gravely, and after the manner of old-fashioned gentry in England,
Something of camp and of court, of town and of country, commingled,
Wishing her joy of her wedding, and loudly lauding her husband. 970
Then he said with a smile: “I should have remembered the adage,—
If you would be well served, you must serve yourself, and, moreover,
No man can gather cherries in Kent at the season of Christmas!”
Great was the people’s amazement, and greater yet their rejoicing,
Thus to behold once more the sunburnt face of their Captain, 975
Whom they had mourned as dead; and they gathered and crowded about him,
[Pg 88]
Eager to see him and hear him, forgetful of bride and of bridegroom,
Questioning, answering, laughing, and each interrupting the other,
Till the good Captain declared, being quite overpowered and bewildered,
He had rather by far break into an Indian encampment, 980
Than come again to a wedding to which he had not been invited.
Meanwhile the bridegroom went forth and stood with the bride at the doorway,
Breathing the perfumed air of that warm and beautiful morning.
Touched with autumnal tints, but lonely and sad in the sunshine,
Lay extended before them the land of toil and privation; 985
There were the graves of the dead, and the barren waste of the seashore,
There the familiar fields, the groves of pine, and the meadows;
But to their eyes transfigured, it seemed as the Garden of Eden,
Filled with the presence of God, whose voice was the sound of the ocean.
Soon was their vision disturbed by the noise and stir of departure, 990
Friends coming forth from the house, and impatient of longer delaying,
[Pg 89]
Each with his plan for the day, and the work that was left uncompleted.
Then from a stall near at hand, amid exclamations of wonder,
Alden, the thoughtful, the careful, so happy, so proud of Priscilla,
Brought out the snow-white bull, obeying the hand of its master, 995
Led by a cord that was tied to an iron ring in its nostrils,
Covered with crimson cloth, and a cushion placed for a saddle.
She should not walk, he said, through the dust and heat of the noonday;
Nay, she should ride like a queen, not plod along like a peasant.
Somewhat alarmed at first, but reassured by the others,1000
Placing her hand on the cushion, her foot in the hand of her husband,
Gayly, with joyous laugh, Priscilla mounted her palfrey.
“Nothing is wanting now,” he said with a smile, “but the distaff;
Then you would be in truth my queen, my beautiful Bertha!”
Onward the bridal procession now moved to their new habitation, 1005
Happy husband and wife, and friends conversing together.
Pleasantly murmured the brook, as they crossed the ford in the forest,
Pleased with the image that passed, like a dream of love through its bosom,
[Pg 90]
Tremulous, floating in air, o’er the depths of the azure abysses,
Down through the golden leaves the sun was pouring his splendors, 1010
Gleaming on purple grapes, that, from branches above them suspended,
Mingled their odorous breath with the balm of the pine and fir-tree,
Wild and sweet as the clusters that grew in the valley of Eshcol.
Like a picture it seemed of the primitive pastoral ages,
Fresh with the youth of the world, and recalling Rebecca and Isaac, 1015
Old and yet ever new, and simple and beautiful always,
Love immortal and young in the endless succession of lovers,
So through the Plymouth woods passed onward the bridal procession.

[Pg 91]


3. Cordovan. From the city of Cordoba, Spain, noted for the leather prepared there.

8. Corselet. A breastplate and backpiece forming a protection for the upper part of the body.

Sword of Damascus. Damascus in Syria is one of the oldest cities in the world. The swords made here were once famous not only for their remarkably fine temper, but for the artistic figures and mystic characters wrought in the blade. The secret of their make is now largely a lost art.

1-20. Miles Standish was at this time about thirty-six years of age, though the description seems to make him older. He had evidently left England for the Netherlands to fight with the Dutch against Spain. In Holland he had met his compatriots, the Puritans, cast his fortunes with them, and embarked as one of their number for the New World. John Alden, at this time about twenty-one, had joined the Pilgrims when their vessel touched at the port of Southampton.

19. “While yet an abbot, Gregory’s interest had been awakened by the fair faces and flaxen hair of a group of Saxon youths exposed for sale in the slave-market at Rome. ‘Who are they?’ he asked. ‘Angles,’ was the reply. ‘It suits them well,’ he said; ‘with faces so angel-like.’” (Painter, History of English Literature.)

20. The Mayflower. The name of the vessel that carried the Pilgrims to America.

28. Arcabucero. A Spanish word, originally meaning archer, now generally equivalent to musketeer.

22-33. The pictures given of their personal appearance is completed and reinforced by the first words the two men speak. Compare the character indications of 25-30 and 32, 33.

52. Sagamore, sachem. These words are the titles of Indian chiefs, the former being a subordinate, the latter a principal chief.

Pow-wow, an Indian medicine-man.

53. Indian names.

[Pg 92]61. Rose Standish. “In Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrims, Boston, 1841, is a note thus: ‘Jan. 29, dies Rose, the wife of Captain Standish.’ In William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation is recorded: ‘Captain Standish his wife dyed in the first sickness, and he maried againe and hath 4 sones lieving, and some are dead.’” Cited by Malfroy.

69. Barriffe’s Artillery Guide. An early work on military tactics, written by a Puritan, William Barriffe.

83. The Mayflower started on her return voyage, April 5, 1621.

85. Priscilla. “Mr. Molines [Mullen] and his wife, his sone and his servant dyed the first winter. Only his dougter Priscilla survived, and maried with John Alden.” (Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation.)

100. Iberian. Iberia, Spain. This was, however, an Alpine village. As Cæsar and his companions were passing through the place, they were struck with its poverty and wretchedness. Some one mockingly asked whether there were any canvassing for offices there. To this Cæsar replied: “For my part, I would rather be the first among these fellows than the second man in Rome.” The account is given in Plutarch’s Life of Caesar.

104. Flanders. Allusion to Cæsar’s campaign against the Nervii, who occupied that part of the Netherlands known as Flanders.

113. This battle is depicted in Cæsar’s Commentaries, Book II, chapter 25.

136. Since Rose Standish died. See note on line 61.

140. The loss of her father, mother and brother is mentioned in Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Plantation. See note, line 85.

206. Astaroth, Baal. Divinities of ancient Syria, mentioned in the Old Testament. Milton refers to them:

“With these came they, who, from the bordering flood
Of old Euphrates to the brook that parts
Egypt from Syrian ground, had general names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth,—those male,
These feminine.”
Paradise Lost, Bk. I, 419-423.

210. Mayflowers. In England this name is applied to the hawthorn; in America to a trailing plant “having white or rose-colored flowers.” “The trailing arbutus or mayflower grows abundantly in the vicinity of Plymouth, and was the first flower that greeted the Pilgrims after their fearful winter.” (Whittier.)

[Pg 93]212. Children lost in the woods. The pathetic story of the cruel destruction of two children by exposure and desertion is told in an ancient English ballad:

“No burial this pretty pair
Of any man receives,
Till Robin-red-breast piously
Did cover them with leaves.”
—From Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.

224. The hundredth Psalm. The music to which the words were being sung was the same as “Old Hundred.”

232. Many English books and translations were printed by the early Dutch printers of Amsterdam and Leyden, notably by the Elzivirs of the latter place.

245. Compare Luke ix: 62.

248. Jeremiah xxxiii: 11.

321. In Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrims we read that the ancestors of Miles Standish were of a warlike spirit, and that the family record can be traced back as far as to Ralph de Standish, 1221.

324. Crest. The distinguishing mark worn by a knight, usually upon the helmet or above the shield.

Argent. Silver, or resembling silver.

325. Gules. Of a red color.

344. Reference to Revelation xxi.

362. The account is given in 2 Samuel, xi and xii.

415. Wat Tyler. The leader of an insurrection in London, slain by Jean Standuich. This happened under Richard II., about 1381.

421. You too, Brutus! Notwithstanding the friendship existing between them, Brutus conspired against the life of Cæsar. It is stated that when Brutus advanced to strike him, Cæsar said, “And you too, my son!”

442. Elder of Plymouth. William Brewster (1560-1644).

481. In this dramatic incident the poet has used the facts as they occurred, with very little change. The incident of the rattlesnake-skin and the challenge is historic; it took place in 1622.

496. The plot requires that the choleric Captain should at this stage be removed from the presence of Alden and Priscilla, leaving the issue in a state of suspense. For this purpose the author finds the material of the annals almost ready shaped. The only alteration required was to change the time when the expedition under Standish[Pg 94] started to relieve the threatened Weymouth Colony. This took place in March, 1623, but in the poem it is made to happen in April, 1621.

559. Alden’s position with one foot on the gunwale and one on the rock is a striking visualization of a mood.

572. Adamantine. “By him forbidden to unlock these adamantine gates.” (Paradise Lost, Book II, 853.)

597. The shipmaster, like Standish, is not a devout Puritan.

601. Songs. Not songs, but rather a series of rhythmic sounds accompanying their work.

605. Gurnet Point. A headland at the entrance to Plymouth harbor, on the north side.

606. Before landing at Plymouth the Pilgrims had spent some time in looking for a suitable locality. A party of them had gone on shore and examined the environs here. They had then met some Indians; hence the name, “First Encounter.”

607. Took the wind on her quarter. Holding a course such that the wind struck the vessel at a point “between abeam and astern.” What must have been the exact course of the vessel?

626. Like the spirit of God. Reference to Genesis i: 2.

657. Dissolves the spell of its silence. Old superstition. So in Hamlet, (Act I, sc. 1, l. 44,) where Bernardo says, “It [the ghost] would be spoke to.”

665. Havilah. Genesis ii: 10-14.

755. Goliath of Gath. 1 Sam. xvii: 14.

Og, king of Bashan. Numbers xxi: 33.

815. The details of this expedition and the resulting encounter are taken from Winslow’s Relation of Standish’s Expedition as given in Dr. Young’s Chronicles. Here we are informed that such an expedition took place in 1623, under command of Captain Standish. Other details worked into the poem are also mentioned here: the defiance of Wattawmat (771-781); Pecksuot (783-787); the observation of Hobomak (813-815); and the grim trophy placed by the Captain on the roof of the fort when he returned to the colony.

828. Merestead. “Meer” and “mear” are old terms, meaning boundary. Hence, the plot of ground inclosed by boundaries.

829. Glebe. Sod or turf.

846. The original homestead is still owned by the descendants of[Pg 95] John Alden. It is in Duxbury, on the coast, a short distance southeast from Boston.

858-864. An almost literal rendering of verses 11, 12, 13, and 21 of Proverbs xxxi.

872. Bertha the Beautiful Spinner. According to one account she was the daughter of Burkhard of Swabia. In 921 she became the wife of Rudolph II., king of Burgundy beyond Jura. She is represented on the monuments of the time as sitting on her throne, spinning.

927. A complete description of the garb of a Hebrew high priest is given in Exodus, xxviii: 4-43.

936. Ruth and Boaz. Ruth iv: 10-12.

943. Lo! when the service was ended. It will be interesting to note what difference it would have made with respect to a satisfactory outcome if the Captain had appeared before the service began.

1013. The valley of Eshcol. It was the part of the Promised Land from which the spies brought back a cluster of grapes of marvelous size. Numbers xiii: 23, 24.