Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Childhood, Poetry, and History: “The Courtship of Miles Standish”

In a box stored in the basement of our home, I have a record of my school history, grades 1 through 12. It was a box my mother kept, and kept adding to, and included everything from report cards and penmanship books to tests and notebooks. Best of all, my mother put a date on everything.

Longfellow (1859) by Matthew Brady.
And so, from 1958, I find the “November Activity Unit,” about the size of a very thin comic book. We had one of these for each month of the school year, and the units contained topical information about the month, holidays, and similar events, with every page containing illustrations to color. I suspect this was a form of busy work, something to keep the children in my second-grade class occupied while the teacher did other things. By second grade, I was familiar with Thanksgiving dinner, but it was that activity unit that introduced me to the Pilgrims.

A few years later in sixth grade, we read The Courtship of Miles Standish by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and that reading supplemented what we were learning in history. Longfellow took the names of his main characters in the poem – Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins – from the names of real people who arrived in America on the Mayflower. The poem includes events that are certainly historical – conflict with native Americans and disease – but how much of the love story is factual is open to debate.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Painting: John Alden and Miles Standish, as painted by N.C. Wyeth.

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