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Pilgrims and Poetry

Posted By Connie Moody, Thursday, November 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, November 4, 2013

Thanksgiving is our American tradition of thanking God for His mercies and blessings.  Our Pilgrim Fathers began the tradition with a joyous harvest celebration to recognize the Hand of Providence in overcoming hardships and supplying all their needs.  Many Americans (it should be all Americans) are familiar with William Bradford, governor and historian of the Plymouth colony and his history Of Plimouth Plantation, "but very few know that he is one of the most prolific American poets of the seventeenth-century…."[1]  Add to your Thanksgiving studies and readings the poetry of William Bradford.  Be inspired to try your hand at retelling His-story through poetry and leave your contribution to the legacy of American liberty in verse.


 

     "[A]s New England gradually changed from a savage wilderness to a prosperous settlement Bradford felt more and more alone in his struggle to preserve the separatist principles that brought the Pilgrims to the new land. Many were moving away from Plymouth to become wealthy trade merchants in Boston or hungrily buying up land away from the colony. Bradford finally gave up his writing Of Plimouth Plantation in despair of a lost vision. He pursued instead the writing of poetry for the purpose of helping the separatists and puritans to remember their heritage, to warn them of worldliness and heretical groups that were trying to lead them astray and to encourage them to return to their ‘first love’—the dream and vision of building a community completely upon the principles of God’s Word and separation from the world.

     "Bradford was like a spiritual father to the Pilgrims. His fatherly love could not bear to see his ‘children’ seemingly set on destroying themselves by turning away from the truths they once held so dear. His poems, then, reflected a different dimension of Bradford than his prose. He was no longer just an historian, but a heart-broken pastor or shepherd seeing to save the lost sheep of his fold…

     "[Bradford] felt a sense of great hurt that Plymouth was pushed into the background. Plymouth was more than just a colony to the Pilgrims. It was a noble experiment and a symbol of faith, truth and liberty. They thought that if Plymouth failed, it would appear that their ideals had failed too. It was a spiritual battle between good and evil, God and Satan, and to let Plymouth fall would be to admit defeat…

     "In order to help the people to see how far they had really deviated from the beginning, Bradford wrote his lengthy poem, ‘Some Observations.’ It gave an account of New England’s history from its first encounter with the Indians in 1620, through the different stages of spiritual decline up to 1654. In this poem he tried to contrast the early years of God’s merciful providence and blessing with the later years of backsliding and carnality….


      "The poetry of William Bradford may be thought of by some as mere mechanical versification, instead of genuine poetry. Versification was very common during the early years of America as a means of recording historical events, illustrating sermons and teaching morals to children. It was true that Bradford himself called his own poetry merely ‘useful verse,’ meant to teach more than inspire. Yet his verse went beyond just arranging words in a certain meter or ending the lines with rhyme. Bradford used a variety of poetic tools to express his ideas, including metaphor, simile, alliteration, personification, apostrophe and pun. He used twenty-two poetic tools in all, and some very effectively…

      "The fact that Bradford’s poetry was virtually ignored for more than three-hundred years was probably based on the conclusion that his verse did not compare to the greater poets of his day or ours. This conclusion, whether true or not, was very unfortunate, for his poetry not only gave us a better look at Bradford the man, but also a more complete record of the Pilgrims, valuable historical background on the events in Europe which led to the separatist movement and an informative description of the various religious groups during Bradford’s time, both in Europe and America….”[2]

      Below is the second section of Bradford’s poem titled, Some Observations of Gods mercifull dealing with us in this wilderness, and his gracious protection over us these many years. Blessed be his name. In this segment of the longer poem Bradford rehearses the providence and mercy of God in the midst of great tribulation especially in the early years of the Colony. In this poem of heroic couplets, Bradford testifies of the Pilgrim faith in God and trusting His wisdom in allowing the trials of life believing that God intends good to come from the hardships and His purposes to be accomplished. Whether in poetry or prose, songs or psalms, God’s command to remember and retell remain a sustaining encouragement for the generations and help to overcome in the struggle of materialism versus spirituality.

II. The Founding of Plymouth

When we came first, we were in number small,
Not much above a hundred, in all;
And in a number, we did here arrive,
And, by God's mercy, were all brought alive.
But when we came, here was no house nor town,
Nor certain place we knew, where to sit down,
Nor any friends, of whom we could expect
Us for to help, or any way direct.
Some forth were sent, to seek a place fitting,
Where we might harbor, and make our dwelling.
But in a place, where one cold night they lay,
They were assaulted, about break of day,
By these Indians, with great clamor loud,
Whose arrows fell, like to a dropping cloud.
Yet none were hurt, though some had clothes shot through;
But them repelled, from this their rendezvous,
And, with their musket, made them fly and run;
So that long after none at us would come.
But now sharp winter storms came us upon,
So here we made our habitation;
And till such time as we could houses get,
We were exposed to much cold and wet,
With such disease as our distempers bred;
So that within the space of three months' tide,
The full half of our weak company died;
And the condition of the rest was sad,
But the Lord compassion on them had,
And them again to health and strength restored,
And cheered them up; with courage as before,
And hath enabled them for to go on,
And, with comfort, the work to lead along.
And many of them still there be,
And some their children's children married see.
Famine once we had, wanting corn and bread;
But other things God gave us in the stead,
As fish and ground-nuts, to supply our meat,
That we might learn on providence to wait,
And know, by bread man lives not in his need,
But by each word that doth from God proceed.
But a while after, plenty did come in,
From His hand only, who doth pardon sin;
And all did flourish, like the pleasant green,
Which, in the joyful spring, is to be seen.[3]


[1] Tim Paulsen, preface to The Poetry of William Bradford.

[2] Paulsen, introduction.

[3] Poet: William Bradford - All poems of William Bradford. Accessed November 4, 2013 at http://www.poemhunter.com/william-bradford/.

Bibliography

Paulsen, Tim, ed. The Poetry of William Bradford (Manuscript). Arcata, CA: Humboldt State University, 1981.

 

For a deeper understanding take the online course Mastering Providential History: The Pilgrim Study.

Tags:  Pilgrims  poetry  Thanksgiving  William Bradford 

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A Thanksgiving Reflection: On Being Steadfast

Posted By Connie Moody, Thursday, November 22, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012

Is your boat rocking these days—

As waves crash: election results, jobless rates, higher taxes, national debt, and fiscal cliffs;

Gales pierce: crime, war, and terrorism;

Rains soak: laws disregarded, marriage redefined, families disassembled, and national sovereignty dismantled

And storm clouds gather: separation, sickness, illness, and death?

It’s hard to keep our legs under us in times like these; it’s hard to be steadfast when the sea of troubles tosses our boat to and fro. But, steadfast we must be. It is our heritage from saints and martyrs through the ages; it is the quality of the Divine in Whose image we are created.

STEADFAST, a. [stead and fast (place and fixed)] Fast; fixed; firm; firmly fixed or established. 2. Constant; firm; resolute; not fickle or wavering.

STEADFASTNESS, n. Firmness of standing in place; fixedness in place. 2. Firmness of mind or purpose; fixedness in principle; constancy; resolution.

These definitions are inspiring enough, but consider these opposites of ‘steadfast’. If these describe our character and disposition, then we are living lives antonymous of the character of Christ:

Changeable, fickle, fluctuating, inconstant, unstable, wavering, retiring, uncertain, unsure, irresponsible, negligent, apathetic, untrustworthy, disloyal, indifferent, languid, lazy, irresolute, false, treacherous, untrue, cowardly, indulgent, moderate, tolerant, fatigued, weary, distracted, busy, surrendering, deceptive, careless, indolent, afraid, weak, undecided, shaky, undependable, complacent, laid-back, doubtful

 

Keep Thanksgiving, our American holiday, this year thanking God for His steadfastness. Thank Him also for the crashing waves of trial and stormy winds of tribulation that beset us as they give us "sea legs” and the opportunity to stand firmly in His power and strength. Read the stories of Job, Jesus, Paul, and others of our Christian history who have endured resolutely. Read Bradford’s firsthand account of our Pilgrim Fathers to be reminded of our heritage of Christian character, of steadfastness:

"I cannot but here take occasion, not only to mention, but greatly to admire the marvelous providence of God, that notwithstanding the many changes and hardships that these people went through, and the many enemies they had and difficulties they met with all, that so many of them should live to very old age!...[It] is found in experience that changing air, famine, or unwholesome food, much drinking of [tainted] water, sorrows & troubles, and etc., all of them are enemies to health, causes of many diseases, consumers of natural vigor and the bodies of men, and shorteners of life. And yet of all these things they had a large part, and suffered deeply in the same. They went from England to Holland, where they found both worse air and diet than that they came from; from thence (enduring a long imprisonment, as it were, in the ships at sea) into New England; and how it has been with them here has already been shown; and what crosses, troubles, fears, wants, and sorrows they had been liable unto, is easy to conjecture….What was it then that upheld them? It was God’s visitation that preserved their spirits….He that upheld the Apostle upheld them.

….

"God, it seems, would have all men to behold and observe such mercies
and works of his providence as these are towards his people,
that they in like cases might be encouraged to depend upon God in their trials, & also bless his name when they see his goodness towards others.

….

"God in such examples would have the world see & behold that he can do it without them; and if the world will shut their eyes, and take no notice thereof, yet he would have his people to see and consider it.”

 

Be Steadfast in Thankfulness!

Bless His Holy Name!

 

 

Tags:  Bradford  Pilgrims  steadfast  Thanksgiving 

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Trust and Thanksgiving

Posted By Connie Moody, Saturday, November 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012

ANNIVERSARY SERMON,

preached at

PLYMOUTH,

DECEMBER 22nd, 1777.

In grateful Memory of the first Landing of

our pious

NEW-ENGLAND ANCESTERS

In that Place, A.D. 1620.


By Samuel West, A.M.

Pastor of the CHURCH in DARTMOUTH.


 

ISAIAH lxvi 5, 9.

Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word: your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my names sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified;  but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.  A voice of noise from the city, a voice from the temple, a voice of the LORD that rendereth recompense to his enemies.  Before she travailed she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man child.  Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such a thing?  Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day, or shall a nation be born at once?  For as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children.  Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? Saith the LORD; Shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? Saith thy God.

"A

s the end of our assembling together at time, is to commemorate the goodness of God towards our forefathers, in conducting them from their native land, into this American wilderness, and providing for them here a safe retreat from the rage and malice of prelatical bigotry;---and he has, by numerous train of surprising events, remarkably shown himself to be our God, as he was the God of our fathers....

....

"Being then, my hearers, animated with the glorious encouragement and promises set before us, let us with holy confidence look to him who has been both our God and our fathers God, and who will never leave nor forsake his covenant people while they put their trust in him: Our Fathers trusted in him, and were delivered; and will he not deliver us, if we like them firmly rely upon him in the faithful discharge of our duty?  With what chearfulness then may we endure our present calamities, when we have the word of a faithful God; that he will appear to our joy, and that our enemies shall be ashamed; and that he has caused our Zion to bring forth children for her defence, so he will continue to raise up sons for her protection, until her deliverance is compleated.  Let us then be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, let us quit ourselves like men engaged in the most noble and glorious cause; let us behave like the true sons of freedom and the faithful sons of Zion; let us imitate the patience and fortitude of our pious fore-fathers, which they exhibited under all their hardships and terrible sufferings that they endured; and if at any time we feel depressed or discouraged with the prospect before us, let us for a moment consider their situation, and we shall find enough to stop our mouths, if not to make us ashamed;---let us behold them landing in an uncultivated wilderness, inhabited by savages, destitute of many of the comforts and even the necessaries of life, exposed to the inclemencies of the season, on half of them perishing in a few months through the hardships which they endured….A most deplorable situation indeed;---but through their patience and fortitude they were supported under all these sufferings; for they committed their cause to God, and were not forsaken.  Are there any among us that are ready to murmer because they are deprived of a few luxuries, or because they cannot have all the elegancies which they formerly enjoyed?  Let them consider, that when our fathers for want of the conveniences of life were obliged to live upon ground-nuts and shell fish, they did not murmer nor repine at their situation, but gratefully acknowledged the goodness of God towards them:…one of them having dined upon clams, very devoutly gave thanks to God, that he had fed him of the abundance of the seas, and with treasures hid in the sand.  What a truly christian temper, is here discovered?  They had learned the Apostle Paul’s lesson, Whatever state they were in, therewith to be content. And as they were resigned to the Divine Will, so he appeared to their safety and protection, and the heathen were cast our before them.  And as Divine Providence appeared for the protection of our fathers in the first settling of this land, so has he continued to protect both them and us their posterity unto the present day."

 

Note the date of this sermon, December 22, 1777; the same winter as Valley Forge.  Rev. West was preaching to a congregation embroiled in the travail and calamities of war, yet he was exhorting them to trust and thanksgiving—to lean into their heritage of Christian character from their Pilgrim Fathers.  His message speaks to us today to lean into our heritage of our Pilgrim and Founding Fathers—to be His people of Trust and Thanksgiving. Let us proclaim with William Bradford, Governor and Historian of the Plymouth Colony:

"May not & ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our faithers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willderness; but they cried unto ye Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, &c.  Let them therfore praise ye Lord, because he is good, & his mercies endure for ever.  Yea, let them which have been redeemed of ye Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from ye hand of ye oppressour.  When they wandered in ye deserte willderness out of ye way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, & thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them.  Let them confess before ye Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderfull works before ye sons of men."

Trust in the Lord and give Him thanks.

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Tags:  Pilgrims  sermon  Thanksgiving 

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Happy Thanksgiving

Posted By Connie Moody, Friday, November 18, 2011

Rejoicing Together with You

In a letter written, 11th December 1621 (exactly one year from the day on which the shallop landed on the shore of Plymouth), Edward Winslow shared this account of the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation:

          "Our harvest being gotten, our governor sent four men on fowling; so that we might, after a more special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.”1

We hope this post finds you "rejoicing together” with friends and family, in person or in spirit, and accounting God's goodness and Providence in this season of thanksgiving. We must all be reminded that "we are so far from want” because we have the Bread of Life.

"…Man doth not live by bread only,
but by every word that proceedeth
out of the mouth of the Lord
doth man live.”

Deuteronomy 8:3

 

Giving Thanks to the Holy One,

The Foundation for American Christian Education

1 Fiore, Jordan D. Ed. Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims of Plymouth. Plymouth, MA: Plymouth Rock
          Foundation, 1985, p. 72.

Tags:  Pilgrims  Plymouth Plantation  Thanksgiving 

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