Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I remember reading a lot of poetry in 7th grade when Mrs. Coates required that each student put together a poetry scrapbook. I recall cutting out pictures from my parents magazines and gluing them to lined notebook paper on which I then hand-copied poems from library books. Most of the work was done the night before the project was due, and the photos were as random as the poems. For the slapdash effort, I did not get as high a grade as I usually earned. I am sure that with a word processing program and photos from the Internet I could do a much better job now. In minutes.

Around this time I was introduced to the long historical piece "The Courtship of Miles Standish" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which at least has a story, unlike some of the poems that we read. It dramatises the early days of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts when Standish, the commander of the colony's small militia, asked his friend John Alden to communicate the commander's love to orphaned beauty Priscilla Mullins, whose family members had died just before or after the landing of the Mayflower. Standish was sure that the bookish Alden could find better words to win the heart of the young lady. Many readers will remember that Priscilla turns the tables and said to the messenger, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?"

I found an illustrated edition of Longfellow's poem in our collection. The verso says copyright 1903 below dates of 1858, 1886, 1883, and 1888, in that order. The paintings and drawings by Howard Chandler Christy have very hard to read dates by the signatures. One looks like 1923. Maybe it is 1903. It is a handsome book. Even the text has a subtle background design.

I was surprised to find no rhyming, but I am not surprised to find 19th century attitudes toward women and American Indians. I'll bet this is not taught in many schools today. It probably should be (in context) so students can understand how attitudes have changed. It could be paired with an unedited The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Another funny thing is that is more about John and Priscilla than about Standish. Check it out yourself and see what you think.

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