Pocahontas, and Other Poems/Pocahontas Notes

Pocahontas, and Other Poems (1841) by Lydia Sigourney
Pocahontas Notes
2310149Pocahontas, and Other Poems — Pocahontas Notes1841Lydia Sigourney


Stanza iii., line 4.

Their tassel'd corn.

To those not familiar with the appearance of the Indian corn, on whose cultivation the aborigines of America relied as a principal article of subsistence, it may be well to say that a silky fibre, sometimes compared to a tassel, is protruded from the extremity of the sheath which envelopes the golden ear or sheaf of that stately and beautiful vegetable.

Stanza vi., line 1.

Spring robes the vales.

The ships which bore the Virginian colonists—the founders of our nation—entered the Chesapeake, April 26, 1607; and on the 13th of May, five months from the time of setting sail from England, which was December 19, 1606, a permanent embarkation was effected at Jamestown, fifty miles up that noble river, to which the name of James was given, in honour of the reigning monarch.

Stanza vii., line 3.

Their lily-handed youths essay the toil.

"The axe frequently blistered their tender fingers, so that many times, every third blow had a loud oath to drown its echo."—Hillard's Life of Captain Smith.

Stanza ix., line 8.

England, sweet mother.

"Lord, bless England, our sweet native country," was the morning and evening prayer in the church at Jamestown, the first church erected in our western world.

Stanza xi., line 2.

The fragrant offspring of the genial morn
They duly brought.

"At the beginning of each day they assembled in the little church, which was kept neatly trimmed with the wild flowers of the country."—Bancroft, vol. 1, page 141.

Stanza xiii., line 3.

Spoil'd youths.

"A great part of the new company, who came out in 1609," says the historian Stith, "consisted of unruly sparks, packed off by their friends, to escape worse destinies at home. The rest were chiefly made up of poor gentlemen, broken tradesmen, footmen, and such others as were much fitter to spoil and ruin a commonwealth than to help to raise and maintain one. 'When you send again,' Captain Smith was constrained to write to the Corporation in London, 'I entreat you, rather send but thirty carpenters, husbandmen, gardeners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons, and diggers up of trees' roots, than a thousand of such as we have.'"

Stanza xiv., line 1.

Here, in his surplice white, the pattor stood.

"The morning-star of the church was the Rev. Mr. Hunt, sent out by the London company in 1606, among the leaders of the infant colony. It was he who administered the sacrament of the Lord's supper for the first time in Virginia, at Jamestown, the first permanent habitation of the English in America, and the site of the first Christian temple. He was a man of a truly humble, meek, and peaceful spirit; and it is impossible now to estimate the value of the beneficent influence he exercised upon the fortunes of the colony. His kind offices, as peace-maker, were frequently interposed to harmonize differences which would have been fatal to the enterprise; and his example of suffering affliction, and of patience in sickness, in poverty, in peril, cheered his drooping companions—inspiring them with such fortitude, and stimulating them to such efforts, as, with the blessing of Providence, enabled them to maintain their difficult positions."—Rev. Philip Slaughter.

Stanza xvi., line 2.

The mighty monarch of the tribes that roam
A thousand forests.

Powhatan, the king of the country where the founders of Virginia first chose their residence, was said to hold dominion over thirty nations, or tribes, who inhabited that region; and, being possessed both of arbitrary power and much native talent, his enmity was dreaded, and pains taken by the colonists to conciliate his friendship.

Stanza xvii., line 1.

A forest-child, amid the flowers at play.

"Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, a girl of ten or twelve years of age, who, not only for feature, countenance, and expression, much exceeded any of the rest of her people, but for wit and spirit was the only nonpareil of the country."—Capt. John Smith.

Stanza xix., line 9.

And bade the victim live, and be his servant still.

"Live! live!" said the softened monarch, "and make hatchets for me, and necklaces for Pocahontas."

Stanza xxi., line 6.

Dauntless to rule, or patient to endure.

The extraordinary features in the character of Capt. John Smith, and the strange incidents which made almost the whole of his life a romance, are exhibited by many historians. Hillard, in his biography of him, says, "We see him performing at the same time the offices of a provident governor, a valiant soldier, an industrious labourer, capable alike of commanding and of executing. He seemed to court the dangers from which other men shrank, or which they encountered only from a sense of duty. As the storm darkens around him, his spirit grows more bright and serene. That which appals and disheartens others only animates him. He had a soul of fire, encased in a frame of adamant. Thus was he enabled to endure and accomplish all the promptings of his adventurous spirit." "He was the father of Virginia," says Bancroft, in his history, "the true leader who first planted the Saxon vine in the United States."

Stanza xxii., line 7.

Their baskets teeming with the golden ear.

When the colony was in danger of utter extinction from the want of food, her zeal and benevolence never slumbered. Accompanied by her companions, the child Pocahontas came every few days to the fort, with baskets of corn for the starving garrison. Smith, in his letter to Queen Anne, writes, "She, next under God, was the instrument to preserve this colony from death, famine, and utter confusion, which, if in those times had once been dissolved, Virginia might have lain as it was, at our first arrival, unto this day."

Stanza xxvi., line 9.

And, with that warning voice, the guardian-angel fled.

"Notwithstanding, the eternal, all-seeing God did prevent the plot of Powhatan, and by a strange means. For Pocahontas, his dearest jewel and daughter, came through the irksome woods in that dark night, and told us that great cheer might be sent us by and by, but that the king, and all the power he could make, would afterwards come and kill us all. Therefore, if we would live, she wished us presently to be gone. Such things as she delighted in we would have given her, but, with tears running down her cheeks, she said she durst not be seen to have them, for, if Powhatan should know it, she were but dead. And so she ran away by herself, as she came."—Capt. Smith.

Stanza xxix., line 7.

Held as a hostage.

The object of the capture and detention of the princess seems to have been to bring her father to such terms as the colonists desired, or to extort from him a large ransom; both of which designs were frustrated.

Stanza xxxv., line 9.

Where weds the new-born West with Europe's lordly race.

The marriage of Mr. Rolfe with Pocahontas took place in the church at Jamestown, in the month of April, 1613, and gave great delight to Powhatan and his chieftains, who were present at the ceremony, and also to the English, and proved a bond of peace and amity between them, as lasting as the life of the Indian king.

Stanza xxxvii., line 9.

But from their blended roots the rose of Sharon bloom'd.

The rose striped with white and red, sometimes called the rose of Sharon, has been said in some ancient legend to have been first seen in England after the marriage of Henry VII. to Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV., when the civil war which had so long raged with bitterness was terminated, and the Red Rose of Lancaster, and the White Rose of York, ceased to be the unnatural symbols of bloodshed.

Stanza xli., line 3.

'Twas nobly done, thou queen of Stuart's line.

On the 12th of June, 1616, Mr. Rolfe, with his Indian wife, who, after her baptism, was known by the name of the Lady Rebecca, arrived in England. Her merits had preceded her, and secured for her the attentions and hospitality of persons of rank and influence. The queen of James I., the reigning monarch, treated her with affability and respect. "It pleased both the king's and queen's majesties," writes Captain Smith, "honourably to esteem her, accompanied with that honourable lady, the Lady Delaware, and that honourable lord, her husband, and divers other persons of good quality, both publicly, and at the masks and concerts, to her great satisfaction and content."

Stanza xliii., line 8.

Notching his simple calendar.

The mode of computation by cutting notches upon a stick prevailed among many of our aboriginal tribes. One of the council of Powhatan, who accompanied Pocahontas, was directed in this manner to mark the number of the people he might meet. He obtained a very long cane on his landing, and commenced the task. But he soon became weary of this manner of taking the census, and, on his return home, said to his king, "count the stars in the sky, the leaves on the trees, the sands on the seashore,—but not the people of England."

Stanza 1., line 9.

And then, her arm unclasps, and she is of the dead.

Early in the year 1617, while preparing to return to her native land, she was taken sick, and died, at the age of twenty-two. She was buried at Gravesend. Her firmness and resignation proved the sincerity of her piety; and, as Bancroft eloquently observes, "she was saved, as if by the hand of mercy, from beholding the extermination of the tribes from which she sprang, leaving a spotless name, and dwelling in memory under the form of perpetual youth."