Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England by Felicia Hemans

The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England

The breaking waves dash'd high
On a stern and rock-bound coast,
And the woods against a stormy sky
Their giant branches toss'd;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ay, call it holy ground,
The soil where first they trod!
They have left unstain'd what there they found–
Freedom to worship God.
--Felicia Hemans

I'm not sure whether I'll get around to posting a poem tomorrow, so I thought I'd post this famous one today. As I was looking for Thanksgiving poem options, I found, as I have for many other holidays and subjects, a LOT of really lousy, forgettable poetry. I found a few good poems about autumn or the harvest in general, and lyrics to thanksgiving songs and hymns, but most of the explicitly "Thanksgiving" poems were either acrostics (which can be done well, but seldom are) or sappy sentimental dreck.

Why does this poem stand out, remembered after more than a hundred and fifty years? First, it's not a poem about a meal -- which I don't think I've ever seen turn out well (we don't have that many good words to describe how things taste, and merely listing dishes is boring). Second, it's not about which specific family members are there at the table -- which I don't like reading about, because they're not MY family members (and the people at the table are different every year anyway). Third, it's not a generalized you-ought-to-be-grateful-for-what-you-have poem -- which generally comes off as inducing guilt rather than gratitude. Now that I think about it, it's not really about Thanksgiving at all, but about the Pilgrims who we remember at Thanksgiving.

It tells, in well chosen, dramatic words, what it was that they did that was worth remembering. They came, through a lot of hardship, to a new land, not for money or adventure, or military goals, but just to have the chance to worship God as they chose. And they gave their thanks to that God for simply allowing them to survive.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I have a beautiful house, and I've finally got a handle on most of the housework (I still need to figure out how to plan meals better, but I am cooking more than before). I have a wonderful husband, Peter, who loves me to death, and takes good care of me. I am very close to my family, as spread out as we are, we all keep in touch and still like each other, which is really saying something if the TV is to be believed. Peter and I have good jobs that we enjoy doing and which pay enough to meet our needs right now. I have lots of friends at church, and I feel socially welcomed there in a way I haven't felt in a long time. Most importantly, the baby is coming soon, and that's a blessing I've been wishing and waiting and praying for for a long time.

May all of you be as blessed as I have been! Happy thanksgiving!


  1. I hope I don't love you to death, because I really like having you around!!


  2. I have a lot to be thankful for also. One of the things I am especially thankful for is that you came into Peter's life, and ours.

    Love, Kathey