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The Riddle of May Day in New English Canaan





First published in Early American Literature, Volume 34, #3 (1999), 283-312

Footnotes below include extensive guidance to
Native, English and Euro-American sources



“De Glauco” from Nicholas Reusner's Picta Poesis Ovidiana (Frankfort 1580), one of many influential "mythological handbooks" circulating at England’s Inns of Court


I ask the reader to excuse these rhymes if they are not as well-polished as a well-bred man would wish. They were made in haste. But nevertheless I have a wish to insert them here because they serve as a part of our history and to show that we lived joyously.


French planter & attorney Marc Lescarbot, postscript to The Theatre of Neptune, performed in New France 1606

Until recent decades, most remarks about the career of Thomas Morton of Ma-re Mount have had two points of acrimonious departure: his New England plantation's relatively personal relations with Northeastern Native Americans, and his trading guns to them for the choicest pelts of the fur-trade. [1]

Dozens of "critics and historians" are cited in the "Sampler" of Dempsey, ed., Canaan. "Antimasque" here details further examples with one of the most influential editors of "American Literature," Moses Coit Tyler, who was first a Congregational minister; like another "major critic/historian" John Gorham Palfrey, who reproduces Wm. Bradford's entire version of the Plimoth/Ma-re Mount conflict, and ferociously attacks the very idea of Native "civilizations" (1:232 for ex.). Contemporary literary historian Nina Baym found that Tyler's influential work(s) were "followed because he was himself a follower"; and Baym agrees with many views of Tyler, as the early-definitive editor of what was deemed, by minister, secular ideologue and book-publisher alike, as "fit to read" in American classrooms. Another editor of so-called "forefunners of the Pilgrims," Levermore, remarks (2:596) that Longfellow's equally Pilgrim-sanctifying Courtship (Pt. 7) "immortalized" the killings committed by Standish at Weymouth in 1622: these are strong lines of agreement round Mr. Morton across the American-critical ages.

Objections against the interracial, erotic and economic practices of Morton's small group of straggling planters, inscribed in the criminal statutes and personal writings of his contemporary Puritan rivals, and in the texts of critics and historians schooled in their values, explicitly made mortal sins of both "intermarriage" of any kind and gun-trade to "Indians": both were synonymous with subversion of Puritan-English empire. [2]

The charges against Morton are not "legal" ones but derive from Bradford's History (2:52); his Letters (56-64 to the Council for New England); and Winslow's 1635 accusation in a "Petition" (1635: Mass. Hist. Soc. Procs. 5:133). Though there is no record of a hostile act by a Native New Englander with a gun from Morton or any other trader between 1624 and 1630, a recent example of the continuing "conviction" standing against Morton and, more importantly, against Native peoples, is Vaughan's New England Frontier (Boston 1965: rpt. 1995: 89-90), which invokes C. F. Adams Jr.'s hostile 1883 edition and study of Canaan in order to reaffirm the prevailing view of "the Morton affair."
      The view has been that, while the Puritans of Plimoth supposedly would have been glad to leave Morton alone on the landscape (which they knew they did not legally govern), all the early Massachusetts planters did have "cause for apprehension" from Native survivors of the "plague" to whom Morton traded guns. Hence Plimoth's duty to behave "responsibly" as the sole party in the region capable of "interracial diplomacy" (Vaughan's phrase for keeping guns solely in European hands), "while behind the impenetrable veil of the forest," he adds, "were [also] the dreaded Narragansetts"—the peoples of what James Axtell ironically called "darkest Connecticut."

Unfortunately, the dismissal of these practices simultaneously crippled most understanding of the poetry and other kinds of performance in New English Canaan, a book that revels in the Renaissance more than most of its fellows. Erotic relations and gun-trade with Native people are central to the contexts of Canaan's "The Poem" and "The Song," which Morton's company publicly performed and "fixed" to their Maypole over Massachusetts Bay during the May Day Revels staged there in 1627. Can we solve the long-standing "riddle" that the Ma-re Mount trappers and planters ("the authors of these Revels" (135) deliberately wove into these poems? The "Poem" and "Song" are their plantation's history and celebration, and a manifesto or formula for what this company of men conceived as successful colonizing.

In order to consolidate their growing strength as a competitor for the Northeastern fur-trade, Morton and his colleagues took up discourses and popular cultural forms of the Renaissance, combined them with the most widespread practices of trade in the first 100 years of Northeast contact, and used these to address (in both self-interest and compassion) the people of Native American New England, who were then suffering the aftermath of catastrophic "plague."

English trade of guns to Native Americans had begun by the late 1500s, with the earliest West Country fishing and fur-trade ships who stayed ashore long enough to salt their catches of cod, some of them wintering in crude encampments along the northern shores of the New-Found-Land. Traffic in firearms, whether "loaned" to Native men to expedite the flow of pelts from inland trap-lines, or traded outright, apparently did bring Morton the lion's share of New England trade for a brief time, between his post-1624 takeover of "Merrymount" and his first arrest in June 1628. It was, he hinted, his way of "comply[ing]" with America's pre-existing practices in order to "carry her," or outdo New England trading-rivals (135). Quinn's "Renaissance Influences" (79) details earlier attempts in Ireland and the Northeast to purchase "a loyal nucleus" of Native trading-partners; a practice borrowed from imperial Roman policy, by way of Macchiavelli.

As we have seen in detail already, Ma-re Mount's timing, too, was right: the demand for guns in Native southern New England had sharpened with the early 1600s and was fundamental to the Ma-re Mount settlement and early success. It does appear the case that they complied with "the occurrents of the time" (131) on both English and Native sides of transatlantic trade.

With those contexts, we come to the poetry produced there with the realization that the intercultural human behaviors most prominent in descriptions of those earliest American fish-and-trade ventures were also the most prominent Puritan charges against Morton's style of settlement. These included "irregular" trade (especially in guns); cohabitation with Native women (to Bradford "abusing the Indian women most filthily," Letters 62); and community practices often indulged by both Native peoples and Europeans "many days together," under the general terms "revels." (Bradford centered his rival's misdeeds round a "May-pole," Ford’s edition of Bradford’s History or FBH2:48; and Morton dubbed "revels" a number of different Native social gatherings, from healings to feasts to marriages (22, 29, 32 for examples).

We have reconstructed how this complex of activities evolved, where "two nations" in "traffic together...[are] endeavoring to understand the other's meaning" and try to create and speak what Morton called "a mixed language," brought about by "the covetous desire they have to commerce with our nation, and we with them" (17). And we have seen that Morton was a well-read, "Old England" West Country gentleman and Inns of Court-trained attorney, who had reached his late forties before he saw "New English" shores. To best comprehend his "Poem" and "Song," we must keep clearly in mind, then, both their practical origins in "irregular" trade, and the literary and cultural languages inscribed upon Morton by his early life.

Providing witty, magnanimous diversions to a sophisticated audience in exchange for social and economic favors was a strategy Morton learned in London's courts and practiced on the frontier, with an astute literary and cultural memory. Readers will recall his Inns tenure marked by 1594's Gesta Grayorum ("Entertainments at Gray's Inn"), a days-long and spectacular assemblage of performances for Queen Elizabeth I that included the creation of an entire mock-Court, lyricists and orators such as Thomas Campion and Sir Francis Bacon, processions and government-cavalry re-views through the streets of London, arrays of torch-lit barges on the Thames, and indoor presentations of brief poetic narratives mixed with dances, which were from this point to crystallize into the English court masque in the hands of young Ben Jonson and younger Shakespeare (Welsford 162-3).

Early in these performances for the Queen, once the mock-court had been established (of "Mighty Prince Henry, Prince of Purpoole"), offices, arms and "royal" pardons were issued, and then various bizarre orations concluded with "dancing till late," till the Queen retired. As the days of shows wore on an "altar" was set up for "sacrifices" and incense to the "Goddess Amity," round which "ladies" danced as "Nymphs and Fairies, with instruments of musick, and...very pleasant melody with viols and voices...hymns and praises to her deity" (18). Again an array of "counselors" delivered ridiculous orations on "learned mysteries" and the secrets of "Trismegistus" (24); and by midway through the its proceedings came the performance most relevant to Morton's poetry, "Proteus and the Adamantine Rock."

Its wisp of a story concerned the Renaissance figure of change and of human potential, the seaside Greek demigod Proteus (Homer's "Old Man of the Sea," Odyssey IV), and his magical island, with whose written-in "mag-netic" powers he had imprisoned the Prince and his "seven knights." An "Esquire" arrived to rescue the men and delivered a speech proving to the willful Proteus that the "true attractive Rock of Hearts" was Elizabeth herself (46).

Proteus admitted himself outmatched and, with no choice but to set her seven knights free, he struck the island-scenery with his staff. And as he looked on (with his "attendants" including one named "Amphitrite," below), the men emerged from within it "in a very stately mas[que] couples, and before every couple came two pigmies with torches....[They] danced a new-devised measure....After which, they took unto them ladies; and with them they danced their galliards, courants....And they danced another new measure" (49). This performance-adjourning-to-dance is the structure of Canaan's "Revels" chapter too. Gesta then shifted its shape again: an "Antimas[que] of Mountebanks" took form in which "The greatest master of medicine Aesculapius" appeared with his "fellow artists of severall nations" (60), to perform a healing by means of "musical charms," songs sung with a "Chorus":

What is't you lacke, what would you buy,

What is it that you need;

Come to me, gallants, taste and buy,

Heer's that will doe the deed

Ailments addressed included old age, "Lost maidenhead," "greife of the spleene": verses spoke to each ailment with a comic incantation of cure, and the Chorus cautioned at last, "Yet let us not [in] too much lyccor delight" (62), a fine pun somewhere between "liquor" and Homer's ichor, the substance of divine beings. In Gesta this referred to a "powder" mixture distributed by the healer that "preserved" one from "fate" (60): "Nectar" was to be Morton's term for such a substance in his "Song," the second half of Ma-re Mount's Revels performance.

Finally in Gesta, a "player" named "Parradox" appeared, to mock virtually everything from the learned circles of ancient Athens to current religious factions ("my father a Jesuite, my mother an Annabaptist...." 65). So closed this generation-and-more's most impressive Inns of Court entertainment, with a few short lyrical songs in honor of "the Kinge of Love and Pleasure" and the raising of a "May-pole" onstage. Players were to "circle it with your caprians [fertility-related] daunces" in honor of the "Feast of Venus Citherea" (72), "Parradox" in the lead with "his Disciples." Canaan's rich intertextual relation with all this will emerge.

            Gesta was a rainbow of literary genres and rhetorical styles, of symbolic actions and powerful displays of language that commanded attention and respect. The compelling exhilaration of performing/watching it came from its being as an "emblem" of actual Elizabethan power, as an often-daring dialogue with as well as entertainment for the ruling class. With no overarching "plot," its unity lay in its manifold skillful approaches along the frontiers between celebration and satire; and the young men both performing and watching it were exhorted by Gesta to "make emblems" of their own (21). In this sense, Gesta shared what William Keach has shown to be a part of much Inns of Court poetic production for this period—a kind of poetry densely woven from mythology and esoterica but, nonetheless, rooted in an "articulated consciousness of the immediate historical context" (Elizabethan Erotic Narratives 40). [3]

Queen Elizabeth, a royal woman with years of receiving lavish court-spectacles such as at Kenilworth, was impressed by the "Proteus" performance so that, when the "lesser courtiers" joined the players to dance, she exclaimed "What! Shall we have bread and cheese after a banquet?" (Gesta 49).

 In this dynamic and learned atmosphere Morton gained his mythic vocabulary, and to make "emblems" from them of people and events near at hand. For example, he inscribed his and his indentured servants' American situation in Gesta's terms. Like "Prince Henry" stranded with seven knights on an "attractive" yet confining "rock," Morton had found himself by 1626 in New England with seven servants of an original company of 30: he then reorganized this failing "Mt. Wollaston" into his own successful "Ma-re Mount" by means described above (voyage-documents in Holly). By 1627's Revels, the youths had grown seasoned enough to want to settle down, desiring to have wives "brought over to them, [which] would save them a voyage" (Canaan 134; and on the early, widespread practice of cohabitation and/or intermarriage see Canny "Permissive").

As his fur-trade profited further from those youths' close relations with Native women, Morton smiled in a phrase no longer so cryptic—that "He that played Proteus (with the help of Priapus) put their noses [at Plimoth] out of joynt." He had set those seven knights "free" to pursue their desires for life and wife, and this (with the gun-trade) had spelled Ma-re Mount's success as a plantation. [4]

The concept of intermarriage as the most advisable way for Europeans to colonize America was old by this time. Many documents in the collection Early Images of the Americas (Williams and Lewis, eds., 1993) testify that the English (such as Sir Thomas More with his Utopia) kept abreast of ideas such as those of the early Spanish colonizer Las Casas; who, in a memorial de remedios ("brief of appeals") to the Spanish Crown, proposed a plan for the creation of colonies/communities where "Indians" and "ennobled" Spanish "peasants" were to intermarry and share the coast of "Cumana" (now Venezuela). At the opposite geographic end of Europe, Scotsman Sir William Alexander praised John Rolfe's marriage to Virginia's Pocahontas because he believed that "by admitting equality" one might help to "remove contempt" from the attitudes of some English (qtd. in Kupperman Settling With the Indians 104).
     Morton writes that these poetic works were "performed" (133), including such signs of significant organization as a "Chorus"; and Bradford's account of these activities by "all the scum of the country" (FBH2:77) at least agrees that the poetry was made quite "public."  Scottow ("Narrative" 1629: 289) wrote that servant Edward Gibbons had some experience of letters, be-ing only "divinely illiterate." It will appear that Native Americans present could have comprehended the poems. They were at least half of the most crucial audience being addressed.

Together, these general elements—firearms, rivalry for Native American trade-partnership, England's Inns culture, intercultural/interpersonal attractions in America—equip us to read Ma-re Mount's sophisticated productions in context; and to perceive Morton's training in what attorneys do, appropriate all available means (here, young men's desires, Native demands and life-ways, one's cultural education) for winning ends.

What ends? And how does "The Poem" speak to and involve its hearers to achieve them? As we explore this baffling esoteric oration, we notice the sudden clarity of its final couplet, which breaks away from that pied language into a "proclamation" for all to hear and understand. [5]   Indeed, the "Poem" is more than concerned with "some contemporary occurrence": it is constructed to address immediate realities, and what in 1627 appeared to be America's very malleable future, both its promise and the threats to it. You, the colonist/reveler/reader, are the one who must "Rise Oedipus," and grasp, even practice the mysterious subtleties read aloud, danced, and "fixed to the Maypole"—that embodiment of long-standing colonial formulas for life and prosperity in New England. (Text modernized from Canaan 131-2.)

Morton both follows and departs from usages (incl. mythical Niobe and Proteus) in Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calendar (1579) and Faerie Queene (1590s). Like Spenser, Morton's impulse is to both "make a poem" and "persuade and move" people toward his idea of a "virtuous and gentle discipline," and considers it "So much more profitable and gratious" to present "doctrine by ensample, [rather than] by rule" (Spenser qtd. in Maclean ed., 427, 2). Where they chiefly differ is on the nature of "Proteus" in human nature in relation to humanity’s best interests. For Spenser, Proteus is "father of false prophecies" (Faerie Queene III, viii) and, as in Boccaccio's influential De Genealogia Deorum, a symbol of a "changefulness," associated "with forces opposed to order and harmonious unity" (Maclean 297). The reader can easily compare Morton's applications as this reading unfolds. “Change” through choice is at the heart of the America-to-be in “The Poem.”

The  Poem

Rise Oedipus, and if thou canst, unfold

What means Charybdis underneath the mould,

When Scilla, solitary on the ground

(sitting in form of Niobe) was found;

Till Amphitrite's Darling did acquaint

Grim Neptune with the tenor of her plaint,

And caused him send forth Triton, with the sound

Of trumpet loud; at which the seas were found

So full of Protean forms that the bold shore

Presented Scilla a new paramour,

So strong as Samson, and so patient

As Job himself—directed thus, by Fate

To comfort Scilla so unfortunate.

I do profess, by Cupid's beauteous mother,

Here's Scogan's choice for Scilla, and none other;

Though Scilla's sick with grief, because no sign

Can there be found of virtue masculine.

Aesculapius, come: I know right well

His labor's lost when you may ring Her knell,

The Fatal Sisters' Doom none can withstand

—Nor Citherea's Power; Who points to land

With proclamation that the first of May

At Ma-re Mount shall be kept hollyday.


A few chief aspects: "The Poem" consists of three complete sentences (of 13, 4 and 6 lines), and is laced with many "triplicities" that show these authors involving their audience by playing upon many different traditions and kinds of written and spoken language (including Native American ones). We must bear in mind that "The Poem" was written to be read and perhaps acted-out, before a multicultural crowd on a hilltop overlooking the sea; and that its first words demonstrate to that crowd why they (and we) are assembled—to call upon a "spirit," for information on a matter "underneath the mould," literally at the feet of the person declaiming. (No doubt this was done with the Inns' special blend of true formality and pure play.)

Some of those "threes" in "The Poem" would have evoked, then, a seance or public consultation of an oracle. Its rising pitch and ardor, as it calls upon figure after figure for an answer to its question, makes "The Poem" something of a three-part incantation or prayer (in whose Christian, "pagan" and Native American traditions the number 3 is of endless significance). There is also a narrative here that moves in threes: its story-aspect unfolds spatially, from sea to shore to land (Scilla was found by speaker “I,” and then...); and from past to present to future time (she was found; here is a choice; we shall keep this day).

Further, "The Poem" invokes three famous healers for the world of human troubles it describes (Oedipus vs. "plague" in Thebes; "forms" of "Proteus," who gave remedy for a diseased ancient-world plantation; and Asklepios, whose cult in Rome began with his help against epidemic: more on each below). These "threes" that make up the three main sentences, a structure not unlike the good riddle asked of Oedipus himself, work together to drive "The Poem" toward a "comfort," if not exactly a cure, for the "sick." They build up and bear their rhetorical fruit in a couplet which is also a very understandable proclamation. Thus, "The Poem," as a piece of written/ spoken form, appropriates many kinds of shared language-acts, toward inspiring further human actions. It entices and would order those actions according to long-prevailing customs of literal and figurative coupling, within springtime's "hollyday" tradition. [6]

These Revels' most obvious appropriation of tradition to attract/engage with New Englanders is of course the "fertility rite" aspect of May Day tradition. Marcus (2): "May Day had been an official feast day of the Catholic and Anglican churches. It carried associations of fertility  [healthy increase of children, crops and livestock], renewal, frolicks in the green-wood, and restored community." Thomas (61, 65) elucidates the English sense of "fertility rite" within folk-customs: the term has been a familiar one in existing Morton studies, beginning with Bradford's likening these Revels to the "beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians" celebrating the "Roman Goddess Flora" (FBH2-48). Marcus lists a wealth of Renaissance texts (pro-sports and con) linking these agriculture-centered customs back to Classical and pagan-European cultural sources. Adams' 1883 Canaan adopted the Puritan critique of them (18) found in Phillip Stubbes' 1583 Anatomie of Abuses, while Slotkin, Zuckerman and Shea have each explored some aspects/concerns listed above.
     It would have been easy, useful, and important to a central reason for the Revels, for a person with a few Eastern Algonquian words at his command to relate what was "in the attempt" of these various "speech acts" within "The Poem." Citations below and easily available will show Native New Englanders practicing and interested in such actions (of religious, political and other function) performed upon significant land-forms such as this hill. For ex-amples and overviews see Bragdon "'Emphaticall Speech,'" and Mavor & Dix's 1991 Manitou: The Sacred Landscape of New England's Native Civilization 160-1.
     The latter and Vastokas' Sacred Art of the Algonkians (1973: 107, passim) have collated numerous archaeological and other evidences of marked "fertility" and erotic "concerns" (among many others) in Eastern Algonquian artifacts, from petroglyphs to the many unmistakably phallic "effigy pestles" in Mass. Archaeological Society (Middleboro) and private collections. The careful anatomical detail in these "grinding tools" is obvious, and one example dates from a Paleolithic site at Squibnocket (Martha's Vineyard) c. 6-4000 B.C.E. — long before much agricultural “grinding.” Fruitlands Museum (Harvard MA) has also exhibited a small stone  "fertility figurine" discovered in southern Connecticut.

Prayer, riddle, story, healing, proclamation—These kinds of speech, these most-evident appeals and concerns can guide us through the next step of piecing-together the chief components of "The Poem," its many symbolic fragments and allusions, which now demand of us information about a number of humans and demigods of myth, history and folk-culture

Morton says he "raised" Oedipus as "the absolute reader of riddles" (135). Oedipus is also, in Ovid's Metamorphoses (VII, 176; as in older works by Sophocles and Apollodorus) triumphant against two "plagues" of disease afflicting his city. Morton's Oedipus seems called upon to read a riddle concerning epidemic. He and (by identification) the speaker on the hill want to know "What means" that "whirlpool" of the mortal body's dissolution, death "underneath the mould"—with reference to conditions "Here," and at this time ("When" this "Scilla" was "found" and it led to May Day's "proclamation"). [7]

The other obvious way to read Oedipus might be as a figure of parricide/incest; though how that would mesh with all the other figures in "The Poem" in a reasonable coherence of meaning (granting Morton intelligence), or in consistency with historical and other contexts, remains to be shown. On "the mould" and "Charybdis" as death: Morton was apparently told by Native New Englanders that, in their cosmology, at least some deceased or "destroyed" human beings "went to Sanaconquam, who feeds upon them," and as he heard this his informants were "pointing to the Center of the Earth" (42). Charybdis was a mid-ocean whirlpool avoided by Odysseus' ship (but not by others') in Homer's Odyssey.

But the answer, though "we" are led on with all the implicit gratifications of "hollyday," will be known one step at a time: without " form of Niobe" we cannot begin to learn what this epidemic "means" for us, as a crowd of different peoples atop the hill. The "order" promised by this "hollyday" is to be neither brutish nor anarchical: to get there, she must be our first concern. Who is "Scilla-Niobe," and why does she sit "solitary" in grief? [8]  The "authors of these Revels" needed Renaissance imagery to address the 1627 character and condition of Native America.

The word "solitary" is a first identification of this woman with a natural and a human landscape: see The Bible's Jeremiah, Lamentations (1:1)—"How the city doth sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become a widow!""

Morton and company, in their effort to understand Native peoples at least enough to enlist their help, noticed and responded in these Revels and poems to the most catastrophic human event in 17th-century New England: the "Great Mortality" of "plague" and/or other diseases that between 1616 and 1619 killed as many as ninety percent of an estimated 90-135,000 Native Americans inhabiting lands from Maine to Connecticut. [9] This grieving woman is inscribed "in threes" herself, as attractive "nymph" (like Scilla, below), as widow (gloss [136], and as mother Niobe): indeed both Scilla and Niobe resonate strikingly with the colonial events that brought mass death by epidemic from England to the Northeast. [10]

Many recent population estimates are reviewed in Salisbury Manitou (36) and Bragdon (Peoples 25). On what disease these "plagues" were, see Spiess and Spiess: for many specific reasons Cronon (87) suggests not bubonic plague but chicken pox. In any case, Higginson (1630: in Force II, 16) agreed with Bradford (FBH2:208) that epidemic had left scarcely "one in a hundred" Native New England people alive by about 1620.

A number of textual sources, besides long-standing oral traditions shared with this writer by numerous living Native scholars, agree that a matrilineal and/or matrifocal social structure was the rule in Morton's southern New England. Sources include Salisbury's and Bragdon's careful studies of primary evidences as well as those by Grumet, Etienne and Leacock, Simmons ("Narragansett" and Spirit), Salwen (170), Allen (Hoop 30-42), and Leland. The oldest-known limestone carving found in the region, too (now in Harvard's Peabody Museum) represents a mother with a child on her back (Davis 2-5) and "probably served as some sort of ceremonial object." The "Great Squa Sachem" mentioned in Canaan [131] had powers real enough to bestow upon her three land-granting "Sachem" sons in the 1620s-30s: Morton's one sample of Native oratory was Chikatawbak's anger over desecration of his mother's grave (Canaan 107); and before Morton, William Morrell's poem New-England described Native women as important go-betweens among feuding tribal groups. Typically, Morrell wrote, their methods of diplomacy led to intermarriage ("Hymen" was his word for this, and it was Morton's too in "The Song" that followed performance of "The Poem").

In Canaan, Natives "it seems boasting of their strength" to some resentful French captives, "said that they were so many that God could not kill them" (19). This "innocent arrogance" resembles Niobe's claim in Greek myth. This "loveliest of women" in Ovid's Roman telling, boasted that her wealth and many beautiful children rivaled those of the Gods; and Niobe lived to lament their loss. [11]  This woman's "first name," however, is Scilla: we must turn back to Classical myth, to Thomas Lodge and the Inns, and to the Native American landscape for help on how to read this fundamental first sentence of the three.

Wherever I turn my eyes, everywhere throughout my home, I see unlimited wealth. Moreover, I am as beautiful as any goddess. Add to all this my seven sons and seven daughters....Can you still ask what cause I have for pride?" (Metamorphoses VI, 139)

In Ovid's influential telling, young woman Scilla's seaside refusals of many suitors' advances were not a reason to punish her: when "paramour" Glaucus made his bid (himself "only recently" a man of the sea, 309), Scilla went her way, with less fortunate friend Galatea noting that "at least the men who seek your love are not ruthless...and you can refuse them, as you do, with impunity" (305). Scilla's own interests and "interiority" consisted mainly of enjoying her pleasant natural surroundings, and Ovid gave us this uncomplicated life as neither idyllic nor doomed. It simply went on, until Glaucus sought out sorceress Circe for a love-charm. Circe herself fell in love with Glaucus and, when refused, she spitefully made Scilla "monstrous" by poisoning her favorite tidal pool. This created a circle of fierce "dogs" about Scilla's lower abdomen. And she, in sympathetically-rendered anger of her own, became a danger to passing sailors such as Odysseus' crew. At last, for her attacks on sailors who were still nonetheless drawn to her, Scilla was transformed into a great stone land-form by the sea. [12]

It is integral to "The Poem" that this mortal woman Scilla-Niobe's triple-aspect as nymph, mother and widow corresponds to the poem's three invocations of  the Goddess of Love Venus/ Aphrodite—as "Amphitrite's Darling" (nymph), "Cupid's...mother," and as an aspect of The Parcae or "Fatal Sisters." Such a divine-mortal linkage is carried further in "The Song" with its invitation to share in "Nectar."

A redoubtable woman, victimized by others' needs and problems, with respectable feelings of her own: a danger, affiliated with "fierce animals" yet irresistible to those neophyte sailors who all wanted something from her—The metaphor grows clearer in light of the earliest encounters in the region (well-documented in relation to Champlain, Capt. Thos. Hunt, Plimothers et als in Carpenter), which were increasingly characterized by violence, kidnap and "poisonous" liquors and disease, as Morton's American decade wore on.

Morton's Scilla is also in keeping (and more) with Thomas Lodge's epyllion about her at the Inns. For as Keach has shown, where Inns writers might have been expected to produce "frivolous" and "decadently Italianate" poetic reactions against Petrarchan and neoChristian valuations of Scilla's story (such as is found in Ovide Moralise), Lodge and others displayed "sensitivity to the violent pathos and psychic torment" in Scilla's mistreatment. Lodge's treatment, and Morton's after him, went beyond any simply-crude "parody of orthodox moralizing" (Keach 43, 50). This distinction fostering sensitivity was, Keach writes, Lodge's aim: his send-up of the self-absorbed Glaucus was the "dig" he aimed at the Inns' very audience of "penny-knaves," with their cynical sexual mores. It is notable also that while in Lodge's telling, Scilla sits at first coyly displaying her attractions before a gathered company, in "The Poem" she sits grieving and impassive, sick and silent except perhaps for her "plaint" taken up by others. Her emotions are the first things told of her; they originate in independent events before the speaker's arrival; and her silence speaks, because we revelers/readers know the stories of Scilla and Niobe. "Oedipus" must discover the cosmic "reason" for her sufferings.

Finally, we note other versions of Niobe's tale. For example, within Sophocles' Antigone, the latter heroine is told that, like Niobe, "your self-sufficiency has brought you down"—and Niobe here is turned to stone after weeping for her lost children (lines 872-5: qtd. in Grant 213). In several sources available to Morton's generation, Niobe's final fate is as a statue that "still weeps" (primary texts listed in Graves Myths 1:259). But these variants resonate not only with Morton's Renaissance.

A half-morning's walk north of the site of Ma-re Mount in Quincy, facing the islands of Boston Bay at the very end of the peninsula called Squantum, stands Squa Rock, an imposing 35-foot high granite outcrop with an unmistakable likeness to a woman's high-cheeked features. (See illustration 21: and/or, follow the beach-side trail at low tide, or the waters rise high enough to obscure this "face" in the cliff.) A number of Native and other legends relate how it became known as "Weeping Rock" or "Squa Tumble," after a Native woman who "fell" into the sea there. [13]

According to Horner ("Squantum" 1), the word Squantum is "derived from Musquantum, a place of awesome significance now known as Squantum Head....In 1635 the prefix Mu was dropped, at least from the recording of the land deeds": Horner continues that Native residents there told of "a most awesome male/female spirit" by that name. In Higginson (13) Squantum is "their evill god."
     For other possible influences on Morton's imagery here, see the "Ditchley" portrait of Queen Elizabeth, shown standing upon/identified with (a map of) England; and the Belphoebe-like Native figure on John Smith's 1612 map of Virginia (rpt. in Arber, Travels), both pointed out to me by Paul Caton of Brown University. A visual identification of Scilla with a seaside standing rock appears in Keach (41): this is de Glauco from Nicholas Reusner's Picta Poesis Ovidiana (Frankfort 1580), one of many influential "mythological handbooks" circulating at the Inns. That Morton was influenced by such manuals will further appear below. He also seems repeatedly taken with widowed or grieving women: witness his brief  marriage to widow Alice Miller (documents in Banks) and his "curative" writings on and to the melancholy "Barren Doe of Virginia."

The earliest meanings of Squantum itself, however, take us back to tales of the gigantic "Indian" couple, Maushop and Old Squant/Granny Squant (Crosby 35; Simmons Spirit, passim). They say that Maushop (for several "reasons") devoured and/or transformed all their children; and that Granny Squant, in grief for them, was herself changed into a tearful stone beside the ocean. Morton did not miss the rock-formations called "Squanto's Chapel" at Moswetusett near his home (noted earlier), and he cannot have missed Squa Rock so close to his plantation. Scilla-Niobe "is" America, its land and peoples: these are figured also in Canaan's "Author's Prologue" as attractive bride and widow grieving "fruitlessly" over a "tomb" that was her "womb" (Canaan 7). [14]

Given the strong clues that Morton came from West Country Devonshire, he may have been interested by peculiar and historic land-forms, Devon itself being thickly "inscribed" with them, from Neolithic barrow-tomb petroglyphs to the markers left by Vespasian's 2nd Roman Legion (Hoskins 9; Whitlock 106; Fox Chs. 1, 2, 7). Sachem Chikatawbak's Neponsets moved there just as Morton arrived, and may well have shown their new trade-partner around. Long exposure to such non-English landforms and pre-English cultural ideas would help a man of the Renaissance to appreciate the same things in his New Canaan neighborhood.

All this represents an unsurpassed inclusion of Native history and experience in four lines of early English-American poetry. These things, Ma-re Mount's "authors" tell us, happened before ("Till") the work of "Amphitrite's Darling" in the next line, who carried Scilla-Niobe's "plaint" to "Grim Neptune." [15] He, in turn, filled New England's "bold shore" with "Protean forms" (multilingual fishermen, trappers and traders, lone planters, would-be missionaries, et als); out of whose midst Scilla's "new paramour" had stepped when he "found" her sitting "solitary on the ground."

"Amphitrite's Darling" is Roman poet Virgil's nickname for the sea-born Goddess of Love, Venus/Aphrodite (Aeneid Book V: Arner 161), who was attended by many sea-nymphs such as Amphitrite. In the same verse-chapter Venus is also dubbed "Citherea" after the Greek island long-known for her worship. "Venus" as a synonym/signifier for "Love" Morton may have borrowed from (among hundreds of sources since Classical times) Spenser's 1595 Colin Clout's Come Home Again: other examples of this equation follow
     "Neptune" was the force forbidding, then allowing (thanks to Venus) the hero Aeneas to reach his intermarital, nation-founding destiny in the new-found-land of Italy (Aeneid Book V). For Morton Neptune may signify James I, figured thus in Ben Jonson's unperformed 1624 masque Neptune's Triumph for the Return of Albion (in which a "Proteus" and other characters "solicit the ladies" with "strange obsession"; Fumerton 169). Or Neptune may be Morton's more immediate colonial employer Sir Ferdinando Gorges, who also "filled" the seas with ships before Morton's Unity in 1624; and whose Council for New England built a vessel for Gorges' use called The Great Neptune in the 1630s (Preston 247-8).
     "Triton" was a benign seahorse-like "river god" and herald of Greek sea-king Poseidon (the Roman Neptune: see Graves Myths 1-44, 59). In New France planter Marc Lescarbot's 1606 Theatre of Neptune, the boat bearing his masque's main character is drawn by "six tritons" with "trumpets" (Richardson ed., 17, 19). Grafton (64) reprints a woodcut showing Triton in Johannes Galle's Speculum diversarum imaginum speculativarum (Antwerpt 1638); which in turn represents Columbus on a ship surrounded by such fish-tailed beings, themselves much like the Glaucus-figure in Keach (41) noted above. In "The Poem" Triton seems a reference to the numerous musters of Devonshire men wanted for service in American enterprises, since the 1580s days of Sir Humphrey Gilbert. Details of Morton's exit to America out of his 1622-24 legal embroilments are presented in Ch. 4 of Dempsey, Thomas Morton.
     Robert Graves' 2-vol. Greek Myths remains the best reference-work on the subject, with its lucid listings of primary-textual variants for each myth and their historical and other contexts. For every mythological figure used in Morton's "Poem" and "read" in these pages, I have taken primary-source variants and Renaissance handbooks into account including Charles Stephanus' popular 1553 Dictionarium Historicam, Starnes' and Talbot's Classical Myth and Legend in Renaissance Dictionaries; Ovid moralise; Tottell's 1557 Miscellany; Natales Comes; works by Boccaccio; and the broad selection of handbooks in Kermode.

And what does this learned counsel posted on the Maypole immediately say about the winning qualities needed ("to carry" America) by any hopeful New World paramour? Not surprisingly for poetic offspring of the Inns, this hero's strength must be his weakness. Samson, first, stands where one expects an example of power; but in Morton's words, the new American man must have "Samson's strength to deal with a Delilah" (136). In Morton's own day, Samson was most often an example of how not to behave in racial, religious, cultural and marital affairs (Kermode 1396): the wonderful irony behind this Biblical strongman is that he could not resist the women of Philistine and Canaanite races, who (like the Native Americans still in control of New England, [114]) in ancient times had "dominion" over the landscape (Judges 13). Samson was a precariously rash and transgressive figure on the cultural frontier called Old Canaan—and he enjoyed the challenge of being "bound" and made vulnerable to Delilah, caring little that his elders disliked his choice in love ("she pleaseth me," he shrugs to them; Judges 14: 3-4).

Job, too, was then widely read and "performed" as a figure of "despair and impatience," rather than as a man who bore patiently with sufferings beyond his understanding (Lewalski 189). These were both "flawed protagonists" whose very imperfections were part of the "deliberate allegory" created among men by God, to serve his edifying ends in the world (Astell 179, 189: this partly describes Milton's later Samson Agonistes as well). Each figure's "fall" was part of the show in morality plays, giving "fallen nature its due" by voicing (for example) Job's "What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient?"—thus enlisting more powerfully the audience's "undisciplined" energies, for safe-return to "normative" standards of behavior. To wander was still to be headed home.

Thus, a young planter of Morton's company, like him nominally Christian but without the will or compulsion to "fetch" over an English wife (and with a Native "lass" close by), might feel encouraged to enjoy what Marcus called "a condition of happy ambiguity in which the license and lawlessness [sic] associated with [May] customs could be interpreted as submission to authority" (3). Hence too the happy moral ambiguity in the final phrase of the poem's first sentence: one is "directed thus, by Fate/To comfort Scilla." "Comfort"— "whatever form it may take between you," smiles Morton the trader and chief poet—is moral, appropriate, "heroic" action in such circumstances of mutual need. As "The Song" to follow agrees: "Nectar is a thing assigned/By the Deity's own mind/To cure the heart oppressed with grief...."

Indeed, at this point in performance of "The Poem," the speaker (likely Morton as the highest-ranked" gentleman" present) emerges as "I," as if to demonstrate the way to complete this unfolding narrative, the poem's "cure" and its proclamatory "manifesto of Ma-re Mount." With a ceremonious oath to Venus and Love itself, "Here" is made an emphatic choice or decision to "court" the New World. Yet, why is this important gesture rendered in terms of a "fool"?

John "Scogan" was one of the best-known English court harlequins or fools; and of his many "squibs" the only one Morton refers to (136) was his clever evasion of a death-sentence from his king. Sentenced to hang, Scogan "failed" to find a gallows-tree to his "liking" (Adams lists several sources, Prince Society Canaan 278). This "fool" not only dared offend, but used a form of tradition, the last wish, to play up a pretense that he had a "choice" at all; and the fiction turned (his) death back into life. Morton and his audience knew that "Scogan's Choice" meant virtually none—such a predicament amounted to about the same nothing as the average human being's will to deny or resist the almost-universal "destinies" of "marriage" (sex-relations of some kind); and "unjust death," represented by "hanging," doom at the hands of overwhelming power, political, natural or other. (See Whiting 189, Harvey 276 on this proverb quoted in Canaan's "gloss" to "The Poem": consider that "where one settles down is also where one meets doom.")

So, while there appear to be virtually no options for the "choice" required of Ma-re Mount's company, there is an enticement here, suggesting that by practicing "Scogan's" wit, one may elude any consequence of the social taboos being broken. But with the enticement, "The Poem" gives a warning, to embrace here and now what choice there is: it reminds readers then and now that each man (including Morton) had, no doubt, less attractive options back home than here, and that each stood relatively blessed with opportunity from the "Fate" and/or "Love" which had "directed" their lives to New England. It might seem foolish formality to insist on affirming, by (pretense of) choice, one's American lot; but this could make all the difference in a life here. The soon-to-arrive poet of Andover Anne Bradstreet learned this, after feeling her "heart rise" at first sight of the "wilderness."

This choice and "cultural courting," however, must be performed "Though Scilla's sick." This line says many things; but note first that the poem's final sentence calls out suddenly for help—as if things may fail—to a third and "ultimate" (in the "pagan" world) healer, Asklepios. Virgil's Aeneas is an aspect (ironic and otherwise) of our poem's speaker—who at Ma-re Mount is trying, as Aeneas did, to organize a new "country" in humble circumstance. But here in New England the possible "new community" is on the edge of doom from epidemic. Ma-re Mount reaches further into early Rome for help: "Aesculapius" and his cultus saved the capital in 292 B.C.E. (Kerenyi Asklepios 5-9; and he was thanked with a waterside-temple on the Tiber). This anxious summons of a doctor was also to draw upon standard English mummers'-play tradition, by which, near the end of plays involving preChristian themes of death-and-rebirth, he was called to restore "dying" players (Arner 158; James 273-5; Thomas 72).

            We have seen Asklepios' appearance in Gesta Grayorum above; and in Morton's well-thumbed Cicero, Asklepios was one who "healed with his oratory, not medicine" (De Oratore 159). If each indentured "paramour" fails to make Native American Scilla-Niobe recover and respond, warns "The Poem" (with refreshing candor for both a male and a colonizer), "His" New World "labor" will be as "lost" as this woman to the forces of mortality—to "the mould." She is "now to be taken up[,] or laid down" (Canaan 136).

Scilla's final disposition either will or will not enable the poem's ultimate proclamation to become human action. But we see by now that Morton learned his lessons at the Inns. For "The Poem" enlists its audience with skillful appeals: now it "brings them to the edge" by voicing human anxieties beneath the overwhelming forces of "doom," which all can "relate to" because "none can withstand." And, straight into this moment before the void, comes an enjambment which, like "the nick of time," brings resurrection.

"Doom" is met with "Citherea's Power"; and, via that tiny equating conjunction "Nor," "The Poem" yokes together death and desire. "None" can withstand either force. "Venus" is an equal power among the Parcae or "Fatal Sisters." And, though Death began this oration, now it is Venus (Love) "who points" to American land and peoples; and she speaks "with proclamation," whose fulfillment, in regular practice by this nascent community, will carry Ma-re Mount's peoples away from that edge of doom where they stand, and take their "narrative" into the future. Their own actions will (hopefully) embody an answer to this prayer and riddle. "Cure" will come in time, through annual "keeping" of "hollyday." Scilla-Niobe's "grief" can heal only with the acted-on promise within most social ritual—that "life" will, somehow, go on. [16]

As Canaan notes (51), Native New England funereal customs included frequent grave-visitations in which relatives would "lament and bewail" their losses. As this was a practice no doubt too common in the epidemics of the 1610s-1620s, the  poem's "finding" of Scilla-Niobe may refer to an actual event between Morton's company and a "solitary" Native woman. John Winthrop met one (and had a very different response) while lost near his Boston Bay house: Journal, ed. Hosmer 1-68.
     Of course a different reading is possible: Job's story does conclude with a humbling divine epiphany that restores his "health and household" (Astell 2): Samson's suicidal destruction of the Philistines' temple helps to purge the landscape of "pagan" cultural rivals, and this is consistent with Morton's remarks on New England's epidemics being good for colonists' purposes. But as Morton told "Pilgrim" readers (134), we must not read only "a part" of "The Poem." Construe Samson, then, as an exemplary killer of heathens for God's purposes, or as a mock-heroic "anti-Puritan" who slays those "philistines" with the jawbone of a "fool." And/or read Job here as a man whose deepest faith takes him past the afflictions (boils etc.) that defeat others, and confirms his "chosen" status. But how can such readings cohere with the rest of "The Poem"? The undecidability of Samson and Job—the only two JudeoChristian signifiers in the poem except for Scogan the fool—makes them yet another invitation to wander or experiment, especially on a frontier with virtually no authorities either to reward conformity or enforce it. Neither of the two Ma-re Mount servants known historically displayed enthusiasm for either Puritanism or Christianity. Walter Bagnall definitely lit out for the "ungodly" territories of Sir Ferdinando Gorges' Maine (see Winthrop's Journal), while the better-documented Edward Gibbon became a merchant of no great ethical repute in Puritan Boston (his career summarized in Hale, ed. Lechford 238). Ma-re Mount's other servants (between five and seven men at least) remain what European-style records call "unaccounted for."

"The Poem" asks for "new" understanding, and "points" the New World as the place where the twin inevitabilities of death and desire will join together in a powerful regenerative alchemy. There is no subtext of anxiety from what Bakhtin (432) called "official culture" that, as in Christian eschatology, these two "devouring" forces must lie down together as lion and lamb. Morton delivers their Ciceronian or ancient "pagan" circular configuration, as they were typically joined in philosophy and ritual in the temples of Cythera (see for example Pausanius' Description of Greece I, 3, 23: Cicero recommended "solace" rather than "solution" for the "problem" of death, in actions "partaking of a common humanitas"; qtd. in Lorch 78-80). [17]

Recall Ch. 1's "Padstow Mayers' Song" from 17th-c. West Country Cornwall: it also chided celebrants to make their choices, by mention of the grave ("whither we are going") in the midst of their dance: "Unite and unite...For summer is a-comin'...And whither we are going, we all will unite...." Welsford details long European traditions of the court fool's dances and struggles with Death, such as those of "Pauvre Pierrot" after a wave of epidemic: "Enfin voila le cholera ...Bim-Boum, Zoum-Zim. Toujours comme ca" (387). "He makes love to a rose by moonlight, and the moon has the face of a skull."

Ma-re Mount's proclamation speaks from and to a cosmos that, like Native New England's, is not "just" but infinitely malleable to those with shamanistic skills: it is a cosmos of "brass," in Sir Philip Sidney's famous terms, but with plenty of "gold" available, in the form of pleasant year-round consolations to those with the skills to exploit them. [18]  It dictates that, while none can resist either death or desire, one can build a human(e) community amidst them, via "hollyday"—what Katherine Albanese termed the "balancing act" of nature-inclusive religious practices (23).

With final regard to the benefits of what was later called amor fati (choosing one's fate), Morton was familiar with Horace's Satires; and an Italian folktale behind Horace's "II" (line 6) refers to a peasant laborer in his fields, who asks Hercules' help in improving his life. Hercules brings the man before the wealth-savvy god Mercury, who promises to help the man find "buried treasure"; and when the man agrees, he finds himself back in his field with the same work ("planting") before him (rpt. in Knox 635).

 In Anglican Church terms, "the body is where God communes with us, where we show our worship" (Blunt vii). Choices are made in organization of a community, and through custom and ritual each community signifies, to itself, to others, to the universe, its choices: historical identity. Ma-re Mount, beginning with its 80-ft.-high horns "as a fair sea-mark" to bring in people and the bulk of the traffic in American wealth (132), signed to its neighbors in the vocabularies of seasonal rhythm, market-town economic intercourse, trade-sustaining human relations. [19]

Connors 78: "Morton's implied comparison [Canaan 51-2] of a real country" to Sidney's "golden ideal" world "is not altogether farfetched: it seems to be an example of what Tillyard would call an 'Elizabethan hovering between equivalence and metaphor,' (an instance of 'equivalences shaded off into resemblances')." All of which goes to say that Morton was suggesting America as about the closest thing to a paradise one might realistically expect.

There were consequences for Native Americans in this trade and poetry, however, that must be recognized. Most invasively, "The Poem" and the Revels themselves carry on "Though Scilla's sick." Indeed, as with Canaan's early remark that the epidemic "angel of the Lord" had made the land "more fit" for the English, "The Poem" and Revel capitalize in every sense on Native New England's human devastation. Scilla will be courted by these English, whether or not "she" (her desired community of fur-traders and "marriageable" women) understands what these "paramours" are saying with their words and dances. And they will "court" her at a time of grief she suffers partly because there is a supposed lack of "virtue masculine" in these still-populous Native American surroundings. The last verse of "The Song" to follow the solemnities of "The Poem," with its more accessible round-dances, performs this colonization in an erotic cajoling of Native daughters for the sake of their wealth, as it calls for "Lasses" to follow their own warm-weather custom (Wilbur 83) and remove upper-body wraps, especially of course their "beaver coats."

But the "humane virtues" and "fair means" are as integral to "The Poem" as its "sins," as the "cultural work" it performs (that is, extension of "His Majesty's Empire," Native American subjection). Morton's central metaphor of a "widow" for Native American land and peoples, an almost singular metaphor in colonial texts, arguably puts in plain sight the loss of Native men rather than their fictive and convenient absence, as it "courts" Scilla-Niobe. For the phrase "virtue masculine" has something more cosmic than biological about it, more of the medieval apothecary or alchemical formula (as "The Song" does with its line, "This physic will soon revive his bloud"—his race—any male's—and his "melancholy" humor). Reading Morton's syntax carefully, we see that what keeps Scilla "sick," what keeps her from any hope of a future amid the wreckage of all she has known, is not, at last, the lack of a male at all.

"It" is specified as a "sign." Scilla remains silent, unable to answer "Scogan's choice," because she has been crushed by the apparent failure of her civilization and its apparently-displaced system of "signs" of meaning, perspective, understanding; by the failure of every traditional healing-practice that Native peoples must have tried to save themselves. Scilla's cosmos, once assumed fundamentally hospitable (Speck Penobscot Man 311), has rendered no cure, no countersign to the ritual appeals made by shamans, sages-femmes, and broken circles of Native kin-relations.

Morton's culture knew as little about "plague" as its American hosts. But in that void ripped open in Native reality, Ma-re Mount would place not simply its own Transcendental Signifier (the phallic "speaking" Maypole), but the entire Revel itself and its energies: "The Poem" and "Song" are three-dimensional speakings, performance-texts whose characters are living bodies; and they are moved by multiform American desires (for profit, freedom, eros). The Revel itself is the company's improvised offering of European "medicine," the best collective means for regeneration of the "tribe" through whom they want to get rich

There is no question of the company's imperialist motive: there is room for new critical and historical appraisal of all aspects here. For Cronon, Morton was "almost alone" (80) in grasping the Native sense of living "richly": Goldberg (65) remarked the "egalitarian" cultural mixture here; and for Jennings (Invasion) the "widow" image alone was extraordinary. Ma-re Mount was in a contest with Plimoth for the New England fur-trade, and used ritual itself as "a present act which historically recalls the past for the purpose of reordering—even predetermining—the future" (Cope 170). Where the intrusive aspect of that "Though" in "The Poem" registers the colonialist project, an anthropologist of ritual like Victor Turner would simultaneously observe a rather typical "forcible aspect" noted in most rites that must call for a break with the past (Celebration 202).

Most importantly on this point, "The Poem" does not "act" as if Scilla has cooperated automatically; but ends with a warning and a hope for shared renewal. Constructed out of the interdependence of both trading-partners and of male/female, it plights a public "troth," to move "her" toward speech. The Revels both are, and call for from Scilla, a language and speech of connection, rather than of lack: what one writer has understood in our own time as "acceptance," "of the irrevocability of absence by putting...death into words" (Wyatt 477).

Only if Scilla responds can the Revels achieve the opposite of a simple imperialist ventriloquism. It is an act more grave than, but not unlike, one of Wampanoag Sachem Ousamequin's, when he wondered to his Pilgrim guests that their King James "would live without a wife" (Mourt 66). The Revels, responding to and/or "reading in" the same "predicament," present the same question to a person understood to be suffering.

The early trade that followed inevitable contact was not so different from previous relations of trade that prevailed on both sides pre-contact, amongst the "races" or nations of Europe and those of America. Cohabitation, sex relations, intermarriage, seasonal rituals were all employed to smooth over the constant contests and offense-expiations that make up human intercourse; and these were salted everywhere with profit and fighting, cheating, dancing, murder, reconciliation and reveling. In early-colonial New England these helped the Ma-re Mount company over the resentments they inevitably roused in Native peoples for their intrusion into the land and its power-relations. Perhaps the only Ma-re Mount distinction in Native eyes might be its lack of a programmatically-applied racial discrimination. [20]

See Shurtleff, ed., Records of the Mass. Bay Colony, whose courts in March 1631 (not long after Morton's 2nd exile) ordered "all persons who had Indian discharge them by May 1," and that "none" should thereafter "take Indians into their households without permission of the Court" (1-83). In his appeals for Council support against rival "irregular" traders, Governor Bradford of Plimoth offered to increase profits by trying to stop "the unprofitable consuming of the victuals of the land" by "these salvages" (1628: Letters 56).
     “We spent this winter very pleasantly, and fared generously by means of The Ordre de Bon Temps, which I introduced. This all found useful for their health, and more advantageous than all the medicines that could have been used" (Champlain c.1604-7, Voyages [1907: Grant ed.] Ch. 16, p. 110). See the same "health/medicine" metaphor in his companion Lescarbot's New France Bk. IV Ch. 16.

At Ma-re Mount the typical early-New England "rule" had been pleasure expedient to short-term profit, the "haste" Lescarbot described above; which also produced the same imagery in French histories, of health and medicine found in shared activities. A later colonial phase more characterized by outright violent conquest departed from these early forms of "gradualism" ("bringing them to civility"), such as Harriot spoke for in Virginia. The Dutch, treating for New Amsterdam trade through Algonquian Canarsee "daughters" (see Capt. de Vries' Historiae qtd. in Raesly 174), also came to scorn syncretism and intermarital methods, as did the French by the 1700s (Dickason 277). [21]

Note that Huron peoples also devastated by epidemics understood enough of Champlain's offer of French-Huron intermarriage in order to reject it (Thwaites Relations 5:211, 14:17-21). Native contexts do put English "ritual behavior" in interesting light. Dozens of Renaissance scholars write of masques and court-revels as above all concerned with making "subjects" (in every sense) of their participants. Native New Englanders were not without forms of "subjection" correlating with material and other status (Simmons "Shamanism"). But they must have looked wonderingly at rituals that deployed every kind of normally-restricted pleasure (haute cuisine, music, dance, magic, "emblems," drama, eroticism etc.) in order to invest "leaders"—by illusion, confusion, transference—with powers that meant increased subjection and impoverishment. (Lavish masques bankrupted aristocratic England toward Civil War).
     At another ritual the Mohawk reacted thus: "When we pray they laugh at us....and... ask me what I am doing and what I want, that I stand there alone and make so many words, while none of the rest may speak...." (Rev. J. Megapolensis, 1644: rpt. in Jameson ed., 175-180).

But as we study the poetry at the center of "The Revels of New Canaan" we cannot discount the cultural reaching-out to Native peoples that was part of the Ma-re Mount colony. Young New England missionary Thomas Mayhew, 14 years after Morton, saw likewise on Martha's Vineyard "that a way to gain the confidence and respect of the Indians, and so further settlement by the English, was to compete with the powwows, as they competed with one another, as healers" (Mavor and Dix 157)._ Many sources on just the visible, structuring aspects of Native public ceremonies suggest a Ma-re Mount attempt to connect with those traditions. [22]

Scholars of Northeast Native American cultures including Frank G. Speck, Elisabeth Tooker, Bruce Trigger and William S. Simmons have shown both variety and "great conformity" in the religious and shamanistic practices of the region (Speck, "Penobscot Shamanism" 242): they and others (Fogelson, Hallowell Conjuring, Vogel, Wallace Death and Rebirth) also provide useful detail on the varieties of shamans/"powahs," their purposes and practices. Some healers specialized in herbal medicine: compare with Gesta's and Ma-re Mount's distribution of "Nectar" to heal ailments listed in their respective "Song[s]." A second kind of powah organized and conducted rituals centered on magical counter-spells, dancing and audience-interactions (Heidenreich 373); and a third variety cured via the interpretation of dreams. The two principal acts in all were diagnosis and treatment. Speck's description of a powah's "penetration in a dream vision" to the "spiritual forces" that underlay a material condition (260) was not far from early Europe's "Asklepian" school rooted in Bronze Age magic/medicine. Winslow's Good News (583), Williams' Key (128) and Wood's Prospect (101) supply primary observations on these Native New England practices.

A shaman or powah guided people through a ritual acting-out, to envision, diagnose the problem and remedy it with the group's participation. The aim was a ritual, sometimes including the use of narratives, which "dramatized" the fact of sickness, the powah's power to heal it, and the cure of the patient whose "energies" had hopefully been thus galvanized. Music, dance, call-and-response—"These do begin and order their service and Invocation of the Gods, and all the people follow, and joyne interchangeably in a laborious bodily service," Williams observed (189-92).

Winslow described "arbors" or "bowers" of rushes raised at Native ceremonial places "as Apollo and Diana had temples" (583-4; see also Bragdon Peoples 219). Wood wrote that "all the auditors" of the powah's performance "with one voice utter[ed] a short canto," a sound "like a quire" to Williams (192). There were also, his Key added consistently with Canaan, other kinds of "Solemne speeches and Orations," "Lectures...concerning Religion, Peace, or Warre and all things," heard "sometimes" by "neere a thousand."

Surely all these cultural forms (not to mention the round-dances to follow with "The Song") were deliberately blurred together within the shared desire for trade between Ma-re Mount and Native New England. [23]

These might include retellings of myths, recountings of tribe-historical acts or achievements by other healers, or a use of short "anecdotes" that communicated healing-helpful incidents of "common people" using magic powers. Not only an attempt to "raise healing energies," this constituted an analytical use of language (as opposed to trance-inducing "vocables"), which could help to identify sources of disease related to breach of taboo, or to behavior or ethical issues. Broader contexts: studies by Toelken and Zolbrod in Swann, ed., Recovering the Word. The former shows how, in Navajo tradition, "words and narratives have the power to heal" (396), while Zolbrod studies Western "chantway" customs, in which rituals/narratives "merge" patient with myth-protagonist, the former thereby "taking up quest" for cure.

What, however, could Morton have hoped to accomplish later with his “Revels of New Canaan” chapter, when these events had brought about his second (13-year) exile from New England? How could English readers who lacked frontier experience comprehend Scilla-Niobe’s plight and Canaan’s proclamation of the way to American prosperity?

Morton’s life (1576?-1647?) spanned the most intense period of Puritan “cultural reform,” including strident arguments for and against “sports” and the traditional pastimes of Old England, such as Maypoles and dances on the green. Morton the lawyer, driven back to England in 1630, resolved to avenge his burned plantation, and did so by merging his legal complaints with those of Sir Ferdinando Gorges and others against the Puritan charter to New England. By 1635 Gorges, the Council For New England’s mostly Cavalier courtiers and aristocrats, the future Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, and ultimately King Charles I, would revoke all Puritan powers to govern the Northeastern frontier. But it was Thomas Morton’s petitions, witness-affidavits, and legwork in service of Gorges’ private ambitions that kept the process going despite early setbacks. New England Puritans like Winthrop (2:194) were long aware of a petition “of many pages” in Morton’s hands, which likely evolved through legal success into his 1635 quo warranto document (the “curtain call” against New England’s government; rpt. in Hutchinson 101); and charges therein read like echoes of pages in Canaan.

Most basically, then, “Revels of New Canaan” appropriated the ongoing cultural battle over “sports” to help at least the devoted Elizabethans and Neoplatonists of Morton’s courtly audience to perceive the merits of Gorges’ legal suit. But surely, only the most leisured and astute English readers had even a chance to puzzle out the tenor of Niobe’s plaint. Given Morton’s own fate, however, we should not wonder that he so thickly veiled what Gorges had called the “discreet measures” needed to prosper by “fair means” with Native New Englanders.

Loren Pennington’s and other surveys show that English colonial writings of the 1630s, in the wake of the 1620s Virginia wars, saw a thoroughly angry reversal of most early optimism and hopeful toleration expressed toward Native Americans. By now, John Smith and others had come to explicitly approve the open conquest of Native “infidels” who (like peoples of the Caribbean) resisted European plans. While there can be no doubt that Canaan complicated these brutally ethnocentric simplicities born of colonial frustrations, its most radical counter-suggestions were just too hidden in literary camouflage to be effective.

To at least some degree we must conclude that, like “The Song” that both respects and colonizes the Native “lass,” Canaan tries to have it both ways. Readers who could track Morton’s sophistications were likely already “his kind” of planter, but the book’s broad endorsements to colonizers helped along a less thoughtful juggernaut.

Still, Canaan is replete with evidence that Morton took subtle steps about these quandaries. May Day itself proceeded from “The Poem’s” oracular language to the more accessible “misteries” of drink and hand-holding dance. Canaan’s arguments have a similar form. Book I is “high style”: it posts New England cosmologically as “The wise Creator’s” own best “glasse” in which Englishmen can practice the virtues of “moderation, and discretion” (8). And its portrait of Native New England implies at each end (Chapters 2 and 20) that English and Native Americans are born of the same racial stock (18); that both at their best strive for “Plato’s Commonwealth” (49).

Book II’s commercial catalogue of commodities is laced with a potent counter-theme encouraging respect: its own infectious feeling for the land (51, 87, 90), its living creatures, its robust airs. If these cannot educate a colonist toward “complying” with American realities, Morton presents at last the How Not To Colonize Manual of Book III’s wide-open comedy, which begins with Native American point of view and with Plimothers’ amazement that a Native can speak English. It proceeds to dissect the “quondam drummer” Captain Shrimp (Plimoth’s man at arms Myles Standish), the stern bungler Captain Littleworth (John Endicott, mocked as a “fiddler” by “the illiterate multitude”); and “Joshua” Winthrop as a sanctimonious, uninformed war-leader, offering a specific and broad critique of not just “Separatist” but “Christian” misguidedness. Canaan further rewards with the un-Quixotic misadventures of that priceless prince of ethnocentric paranoia, the anonymous “Master Bubble.”

Morton’s multicultural short story concerns a would-be “great merchant” (Bubble was a former would-be minister) who refuses to learn any Native language, and so ends up botching an inland trade journey for beaver. To the surprise of his Native hosts (whose actions he misunderstands), Bubble bolts in needless terror into the woods at night with his pants on over his head. And to the Native men’s terror after a careful debate of their own (that tries to take the bright view of the English!), Bubble’s sober English colleagues reason their way to exactly the wrong idea of where the problem lies. As a result of living only in their own world, they threaten to kill Native “wifes and children” unless the guides fetch Bubble back. They do; Bubble never has an inkling of what caused all the tumult (himself), and the very weight of such a climax of nonperception lands squarely in the reader’s lap. Like America, Canaan is filled with a speaking Native American presence and, as in “The Poem,” it waits on many levels for those who can or will “Rise Oedipus.”

As we begin to read Morton on his own terms, and perceive his multifaceted address to the ethics of the colonial reader, we begin to wonder how much more one person could have done to promote not only the most practical, but also the most humane, approach to that indeed-inhabited country signified by his title-page: New Canaan.


'New English Canaan' front page Bower.jpg




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