“The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England”
Not as the conqueror comes,
They, the true-hearted came; 10
Not with the roll of stirring drums,
And the trumpet that sings of fame:
Not as the flying come,
In silence and in fear; –
They shook the depths of the desert gloom
With their hymns of lofty cheer.
Amidst the storm they sang,
And the stars heard and the sea!
And the sounding aisles of the dim woods rang
To the anthem of the free. 20
Here Hemans is presenting a romanticized view of colonialism in North America. This poem in particular was one of her most popular works in America at the time. Published in 1825, Hemans wrote this work around the time she moved into Rhyllon with her mother, sister, and many sons. Her time in Rhyllon was inspiring and joyful, fueling the creation of more positive works of poetry. Unlike most other romantic works of her time, Hemans’ “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England” has a more positive theme and looks upon colonialism, at least colonialism in America, in a more positive light.
In lines 9 and 10, the pilgrims colonizing the New World are portrayed not as “conquerors,” but as “true-hearted.” Much of colonialism was achieved through conquering of foreign lands and seizing of valuables from the natives. A good example of this would be Hernando Cortez the conquistador, whose colonization of Central America wiped out the Aztec Empire. This point is further illustrated by lines 11 and 12, which talk about a lack of war drums and songs of fame following the pilgrims to the New World. Unlike Cortez, the pilgrims weren’t there for gold and glory. They weren’t like the conquistadors, they had no interest in taking things from the natives. The pilgrims began to colonize America specifically for religious freedom and were not motivated by greed.
Lines 13 and 14 expand further on the pilgrims’ motivation. They were not bound by fear and weren’t there to flee anything. They wanted a level of freedom that western civilization couldn’t offer them at the time, and they left to find a better life in the New World. Lines 15 and 16 cut past the fear imagery with “lofty cheer” as they shake the very foundations of the Earth with how pleased they are to be there. Desert gloom here could allude to a quiet emptiness, a vid if you will that is filled by the weight of the joy and life the pilgrims are bringing in, putting emphasis on what the pilgrims bring rather than what they take.
The theme of happiness against a backdrop of despair continues to pervade in lines 17 and 18. Even against a raging storm, they sang out in joy. Though their situation appeared bleak, the prospect of freedom was far too valuable a prize to give up. Their feelings are validated when the stars and the sea hear their cries, as if they are large enough for forces of nature to take heed of. Lines 19 and 20 wrap up the patriotism toward American colonization. The “anthem” of the pilgrims, a cry for freedom, rings throughout the landscape of “dim woods.” It is almost as if, from Hemans’ point of view, that there was not really anything going on in America before the pilgrims showed up. The land almost seems devoid of civilization; ruled by nature and “conquered” by the good vibes and liberty the pilgrims are bringing over. The pilgrims here are portrayed as having something positive to add to the New World. With the focus on what they can offer as opposed to what they take away from the land, the early colonists are made out to be heroes pursuing dreams of freedom rather than conquerors fueled by a selfish desire for wealth and power.
(Word Count: 555)
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