Wednesday, November 23

The First Proclamation

The Mayflower was not the first ship of colonists to arrive in the New World.  It was not even the first in the English domains.  Yet it retains a place of first importance in the lore and legend of this land.  

In this romantic verse by Margaret Preston, we catch a glimpse of the faith, resolve, and bold sense of providence that the passengers of that little ship brought with them from across the Atlantic—and that they then endowed upon all those who would follow them:

"Ho, Rose! "quoth the stout Miles Standish,
            As he stood on the Mayflower's deck,
And gazed on the sandy coast-line
            That loomed as a misty speck.

On the edge of the distant offing;
            See!  yonder we have in view
Bartholomew Gosnold's headlands.'
            'Twas in sixteen hundred and two

"That the Concord of Dartmouth anchored
            Just there where the beach is broad,
And the merry old captain named it
            (Half swamped by the fish)—Cape Cod.

"And so as his mighty 'headlands'
            are scarcely a league away,
What say you to landing, sweetheart,
            And having a washing-day?"

"Dear heart"—and the sweet Rose Standish
            Looked up with a tear in her eye;
She was back in the flag-stoned kitchen
            Where she watched, in the days gone by:

Her mother among her maidens
            (She should watch them no more, alas!),
And saw as they stretched the linen
            To bleach on the Suffolk grass.

In a moment her brow was cloudless,
            As she leaned on the vessel's rail,
And thought of the sea-stained garments,
            Of coif and farthingale;

And the doublets of fine Welsh flannel,
            The tuckers and homespun gowns,
And the piles of the hose knitted
            From the wool of the Devon downs.

So the matrons aboard the Mayflower
            Made ready with eager hand
To drop from the deck their baskets
            As soon as the prow touched land.

And there did the Pilgrim Mothers,
            "On a Monday," the record says,
Ordain for their new-found England
            The first of her washing-days.

And there did the Pilgrim Fathers,
            With matchlock and axe well slung,
Keep guard o'er the smoking kettles
            That propt on the crotches hung.

For the trail of the startle savage
            Was over the marshy grass,
And the glint of his eyes kept peering
            Through cedar and sassafras.

And the children were mad with pleasure
            As they gathered the twigs in sheaves,
And piled on the fire the fagots,
            And heaped up the autumn leaves.

"Do the thing that is next," saith the proverb,
            And a nobler shall yet succeed:
'Tis the motive exalts the action;
            'Tis the doing, and not the deed;

For the earliest act of the heroes
            Whose fame has a world-wide sway
Was--to fashion a crane for a kettle,
            And order a washing-day!

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