Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

The courtship of Miles Standish, and other poems online

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COURTSHIP OF MILES STANDISH ***




Produced by Larry B. Harrison, Chuck Greif and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net











[Illustration: HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW.]

[Illustration:

Clad in doublet and hose, and book of Cordovan leather,
Strode, with a martial air, Miles Standish the Puritan Captain.]




Courtship _of_
Miles Standish

[Illustration]

Henry W. Longfellow

Minnehaha Edition

CHICAGO
THOMPSON & THOMAS

Copyright, 1905.
BY S. C. ANDREWS.




[Illustration]




THE

COURTSHIP OF MILES STANDISH




I.

MILES STANDISH.


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 a 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 the chamber, -
Cutlass and corslet 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
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 May Flower. 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
Would at this moment be mould, 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
“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, straight-forward, 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
Let them come, if they like, 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!”

[Illustration]

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:
“Yonder there, on the hill by the sea, lies buried Rose Standish; 60
Beautiful rose of love, that bloomed for me by the wayside!
She was the first to die of all who came in the May Flower!
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,
Lest they should count them and see how many already have perished!” 65
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;
Bariffe’s Artillery Guide, and the Commentaries of Cæsar,
Out of the Latin translated by Arthur Golding of London, 70

[Illustration:

Musing a moment before them, Miles Standish paused, as if doubtful
Which of the three he should choose for his consolation and comfort.]

[Illustration: THE DEPARTURE OF THE PILGRIMS FROM DELFT HAVEN. FROM AN
EARLY PAINTING.]

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,
Or the Artillery practice, designed for belligerent Christians. 75
Finally down from its shelf he dragged the ponderous Roman,
Seated himself at the window, and opened the book, and in silence
Turned o’er the well-worn leaves, where thumbmarks thick on the margin,
Like the trample of feet, proclaimed the battle was hottest.
Nothing was heard in the room but the hurrying pen of the stripling, 80
Busily writing epistles important, to go by the May Flower,
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,
Full of the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden Priscilla! 85

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




II.

LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP.


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,
Heavily on the page: “A wonderful man was this Cæsar! 5
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 skilful!”
Straightway answered and spake John Alden, the comely, the youthful:
“Yes, he was equally skilled, as you say, with his pen and his weapons.
Somewhere have I read, but where I forget, he could dictate 10
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 Caius Julius Cæsar!

[Illustration:

Better be first, he said, in little Iberian village,
Than be second in Rome, and I think he was right when he said it.]

[Illustration: ROME, THE ETERNAL CITY, VIEWED FROM THE AVENTINE HILL.]

Better be first, he said, in a little Iberian village,
Than be second in Rome, and I think he was right when he said it. 15
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!
Now, do you knew what he did on a certain occasion in Flanders, 20
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,
Calling on each by his name, to order forward the ensigns; 25
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!”

All was silent again; the Captain continued his reading. 30
Nothing was heard in the room but the hurrying pen of the stripling
Writing epistles important to go next day by the May Flower,
Filled with the name and the fame of the Puritan maiden Priscilla;
Every sentence began or closed with the name of Priscilla,
Till the treacherous pen, to which he confided the secret, 35
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:
“When you have finished your work, I have something important to tell you. 40

[Illustration]

Be not however in haste; I can wait; I shall not be impatient!”
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,
Always ready to hear whatever pertains to Miles Standish.” 45
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.
Since Rose Standish died, my life has been weary and dreary: 50
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,
Now to the grave of the dead, and now to the bed of the dying, 55
Patient, courageous, and strong, and said to myself, that if ever

[Illustration:

Till the treacherous pen, to which he confided the secret,
Seemed to betray it by singing and shouting the name of Priscilla!]

[Illustration: THE PILGRIM’S BURIAL PLACE AT PLYMOUTH.

“Yonder, there, on the hill by the sea, lies buried Rose Standish;
Beautiful rose of love, that bloomed for me by the wayside.”]

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.
Long have I cherished the thought, but never have dared to reveal it, 60
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.
Not in these words, you know, but this in short is my meaning; 65
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.”

When he had spoken, John Alden, the fair-haired, taciturn stripling, 70
All aghast at his words, surprised, embarrassed, bewildered,

[Illustration]

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,
Thus made answer and spake, or rather stammered than answered: 75
“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,
Gravely shaking his head, made answer the Captain of Plymouth: 80
“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,
But march up to a woman with such a proposal, I dare not. 85
I’m not afraid of bullets, nor shot from the mouth of a cannon,

[Illustration:

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.”]

[Illustration: CLARK’S ISLAND, WHERE THE PILGRIMS SPENT THEIR FIRST
SABBATH IN PLYMOUTH.]

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,
Having the graces of speech, and skill in the turning of phrases.” 90
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!”
Then made answer John Alden: “The name of friendship is sacred; 95
What you demand in that name, I have not the power to deny you!”
So the strong will prevailed, subduing and moulding the gentler,
Friendship prevailed over love, and Alden went on his errand.

[Illustration]




[Illustration]




III.

THE LOVER’S ERRAND.


So the strong will prevailed, and Alden went on his errand,
Out of the street of the village, and into the paths of the forest,
Into the tranquil woods, where blue-birds and robins were building
Towns in the populous trees, with hanging gardens of verdure,

[Illustration]

Peaceful, aerial cities of joy and affection and freedom. 5
All around him was calm, but within him commotion and conflict,
Love contending with friendship, and self with each generous impulse.
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! 10
“Must I relinquish it all,” he cried with a wild lamentation,
“Must I relinquish it all, the joy, the hope, the illusion?
Was it for this I have loved and waited, and worshipped 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? 15
Truly the heart is deceitful, and out of its depths of corruption
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, 20
For I have followed too much the heart’s desires and devices,
Worshipping 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, 25
Gathering still, as he went, the May-flowers blooming around him,
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! 30
So I will take them to her; to Priscilla the May-flower of Plymouth,

[Illustration]

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; 35
Came to an open space, and saw the disk of the ocean,
Sailless, sombre 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, 40
Music that Luther sang to the sacred words of the Psalmist,
Full of the breath of the Lord, consoling and comforting many.
Then, as he opened the door, he beheld the form of the maiden
Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift
Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle, 45
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion.
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 wall of a churchyard,
Darkened and overhung by the running vine of the verses. 50
Such was the book from whose pages she sang the old Puritan anthem,
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of home-spun
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, 55
Thoughts of what might have been, and the weight and woe of his errand;
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, 60
“Let not him that putteth his hand to the plough look backwards;
Though the ploughshare 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 for ever!”

[Illustration]

So he entered the house; and the hum of the wheel and the singing 65
Suddenly ceased; for Priscilla, aroused by his step on the threshold,
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 70
Thus in the sacred psalm, that came from the heart of the maiden,
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, 75
Stamping the snow, from his feet as he entered the house, and Priscilla
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! 80
So he stood there abashed, and gave her the flowers for an answer.

[Illustration]

Then they sat down and talked of the birds and the beautiful Spring-time,
Talked of their friends at home, and the May Flower that sailed on the morrow.

[Illustration:

Now it was all too late; the golden moment had vanished!
Silent he stood there abashed, and gave her the flowers for an answer.]

[Illustration:

“Dreaming all night, and thinking all day, of the hedge-rows of England,
They are in blossom now, and the country is all like a garden.”]

“I have been thinking all day,” said gently the Puritan maiden,
“Dreaming all night, and thinking all day, of the hedge-rows of England, - 85
They are in blossom now, and the country is all like a garden;

[Illustration]

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 90
Climbing the old gray tower, and the quiet graves in the churchyard.
Kind are the people I live with, and dear to me my religion;
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.” 95

Thereupon answered the youth: - “Indeed I do not condemn you;
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!” 100

Thus he delivered his message, the dexterous writer of letters, -
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.

[Illustration]

[Illustration:

“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.”]

[Illustration: “He was a gentleman born, could trace his pedigree
plainly Back to Hugh Standish of Duxbury Hall, in Lancashire,
England.”]

Mute with amazement and sorrow, Priscilla the Puritan maiden 105
Looked into Alden’s face, her eyes dilated with wonder,
Feeling his words like a blow, that stunned her and rendered her speechless;
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!”
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: 115
“Has he no time for such things, as you call it, before he is married,
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, 120
Then you make known your desire, with abrupt and sudden avowal,
And are offended and hurt, and indignant perhaps, that a woman
Does not respond at once to a love that she never suspected,
Does not attain at a bound the height to which you have been climbing.


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Online LibraryHenry Wadsworth LongfellowThe courtship of Miles Standish, and other poems → online text (page 1 of 5)