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Mayflower


ISSUE:  Spring 1945

Listen: the ancient voices hail us from the farther shore:
now, more than ever, in the New England spring, we hear from the sea once more
the ghostly leavetakings, the hawser falling, the anchor weighing,
cries and farewells, the weeping on the quayside, and the praying;
and the devout fathers, with no thought to fail,
westward to unknown waters set joyless sail,
and at length, “by God’s providence,” “by break of day espied
land, which we deemed to be Cape Cod.”
“It caused us to rejoice together and praise God,
seeing so goodly a land, and wooded to the brink of the sea.”
And still we share that providential tide,
the pleasant bay, wooded on every side
with “oaks, pines, juniper, sassafras,” and the wild fowl rising
in clouds and numbers past surmising.
Yes: the ancient voices speak once more,
as spring, praised then by Will and Ben,
winds up our country clock again:
their spring, still living, now
when caterpillars tent the bough,
and seagulls speak
over the alewives running in Payne Creek.
The lyre-tree, seven-branched, the ancient plum, has cast
her sterile bloom, and the soft skin is cast
to glisten on the broken wall,
where the new snake sleeps in altered light;
and before sunup, and late at night,
the pinkwinks shrill, the pinkwinks trill, crying from the bog’s edge to lost Sheepfold Hill.
Spring, spring, spring, spring, they cry,
water voice and reed voice,
spring, spring, spring, spring, they rejoice,
we who never die, never die!
But already the mayflower on the sidehill is brown and dry,
Dry Hill is dry, the bog is drained, and although for weeks it has not rained, and the quick plough breaks dust,
yet towards summer the goldenrod and wormwood thrust.
The woodchuck is in the peas. And on his log, the whip-poor-will shrieks and thumps in the bright May-morning fog.
Three hundred years from Will and Ben,
and the crab-apple sage at Hawthornden;
and now they wind our country clock again,
themselves, whose will it was that wound it then.
Three hundred years of snow and change,
the Mermaid voices growing lost and strange;
heard at first clearly on this yellow sand,
ghost voices, shadow of ghost and whisper of ghost,
haunting us briefly in the bright and savage land,
heard in the sea-surf, then sunk in silence, lost.
Yet not lost wholly:
in deed, in charter, and in covenant sweetly kept,
in laws and ordinances, in the Quaker’s Thee and Thou,
in the grave rites of death and birth, the marriage vow,
and the ballad’s melancholy.
Sung by the driftwood fire or behind the plough,
in the summer-kitchen to the loud cricket-song,
sung at maying sung at haying,
shouted at husking to the fiddle’s playing,
murmured to the cradle’s rocking.
the wheel humming, the treadle knocking.
And in the names kept too: sorrel and purslane, ground ivy, catnip, elecampane,
burdock and spurge and sultry tansy,
woad-waxen, and the Johnny-jump-up pansy.
Yet even so, though in the observance kept,
here most of all where first our fathers stept,
was something of the spirit that became idle, and at last
lost all that love; and heard no more
the voices singing from a distant shore.
Intricately, into the present, sank the past:
or, dreaming only of the future, slept.

II

God’s Acres once were plenty, the harvest good: five churchyards, six, in this sparse neighborhood, each with its huddled parish of straight stones, green rows of sod above neat rows of bones.
The weeping-willow grieves above the urn, the hour-glass, winged, awaits its immortal turn: on every slab a story and a glory, the death’s head grinning his memento mori.
All face the sunset, too—all face the west.
What dream was this, of a more perfect rest? One would have thought the east, that the first ray might touch them out of darkness into day.
Or were they sceptics, and perforce, in doubt, wistful to watch the last of light go out?
And in the sunset the names look westward, names like eyes!
The sweet-sounding and still watchful names.
Here lies
Mercy or Thankful, here Amanda Clark,
the wife of Rufus; nor do they dread the dark,
but gaily now step down the road past Stony Brook,
call from the pasture as from the pages of a book,
their own book, by their own lives written,
each look and laugh and heartache, nothing forgotten.
Rufus, it was, who cleared of bullbriar the Long Field,
walled it with fieldstone, and brought to fabulous yield the clay-damp corner plot, where wild grape twines.
Amanda planted the cedars, the trumpet-vines,
mint-beds, and matrimony vine, and columbines.
Each child set out and tended his own tree,
to each his name was given.
Thus, they still live, still see:
Mercy,
Deborah,
Thankful,
Rufus and Amanda Clark,
trees that praise sunlight, voices that praise the dark.
The houses are gone: the little shops are gone.
Squirrels preach in the chapel. A row of stone
all now that’s left of the cobbler’s, or in tall grass
a scrap of harness where once the tannery was.
And the blue lilacs, the grey laylocks, take possession
round every haunted cellar-hole, like an obsession:
keep watch in the dead houses, on vanished stairs,
where Ephraim or Ahira mended chairs:
sneak up the slope to where the smokehouse stood,
and herrings bronzed in smoke of sweet fern wood.
Lost, lost, lost, lost—the bells from Quivett Neck
sing through the Sabbath fog over ruin and wreck,
roofs sinking, walls falling, ploughland grown up to wood.
Five churchyards, six, in this sparse neighborhood:
God’s Acres once were plenty, the harvest good.

III

Three hundred years: in time’s eye only a moment.
Time only for the catbird’s wail,
from one June to another, flaunting his tail,
the joyful celebrant with his own mournful comment.
Time only for the single dream,
as, in this misty morning, all our generations seem,—
seem only one, one face, one hope, one name:
those who first crossed the sea, first came,
and the newborn grandchild, crying, one and the same.
Yes now, now most of all, in the fateful glare
of mankind’s hatred everywhere,
time yields its place, with its own bell uncharms and then recharms its spell: and time is gone, but everything else is here, all is clear, all is one day, one year, the many generations seem,
and are, one single purpose, one single name and dream.
Three hundred years from Will and Ben
our country clock’s wound up again.
And as it chimes, we hear ourselves still saying
the living words that they said then—
words for haying, words for maying,
love of earth, love of love, love of God,
but most the strong-rooted and sweet-smelling love of sod,
earth natural and native in the clay-red heart,
ourselves like pines in the sand growing, part
of the deep water underground,
the wild rose in the mouth, the sound
of leaves in surf and surf in leaves,
wind suffering in the chimney and round the eaves,
forgetfulness in the running brook, sleepiness in the sand,
forget-me-nots in the eyes, moonlight in the palm of the hand.
All’s here, all’s kept, for now spring brings back that selfsame apple bough that crossed the sea three hundred years ago.
It is our heart, our love, which we had lost, our very ghost, ,
forgotten in trouble on an alien coast.
Now, in the many-voiced country lane
which parts the fields of poverty grass and clover,
as the loud quail repeats twice over
Hob White, not quite, not quite,
Bob White,

see it again and say it again,
world without end to love and have it,
bee-blossom heart to love and live it,
this holy land, our faith itself, to share again
with our godfathers,
Will and Ben.

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