Have you heard the news of Virginia? Have you heard The news, the news of Virginia?


YOUNG Percy, eighth son of Northumberland,
Fresh-faced, dark-haired, a very younger son
Of an old, great, hotheaded, daring name,
Tempered at twenty-six in Flanders wars
And now the first of endless younger sons
To seek a phantom fortune in the West,
Though soberer than most — George Percy gazed,
A little dazed, but very courteous,
At the brisk fellow on the other stool.
Ancients and captains he had seen in Flanders,
And he was no green boy to gulp the first
Wild traveler’s tale, told with a sober mouth.
He’d heard stage-players rant and noble lords
Rant also, though in different vein from theirs,
And, though he kept his counsel and his peace,
There were some trifling actions of his own —
Aye, a few ‘scapes — he’d seen stout fellows slain —
Slain one himself— couched in the Flemish mud ——
Taken his chance of shipwreck on the sea —
And, on the whole, not shamed the Percy name,
Or thought not so, at least.
But this! But this
Chimera here before him! This bold-eyed,
Talkative, bearded man of twenty-seven
Who had been everywhere, been everything
(Or so he said), a prisoner of the Turk
(Or so he said), beggar in Muscovy,
A paladin in Transylvania
(Or so he said), shipwrecked in twenty seas,
Lover of ladies in a dozen lands,
Who, in the midst of some preposterous tale,
Would say with such serenity of eye,
Such a bland visage of pure chivalry,
“Here too I found, sir, as I’ve ever done,
A woman’s kindly help my greatest stay
In bitterest misfortune” — that you wondered,
Wondered, believed and wondered yet again.
(“And yet, he knows the sea and men and wars
However he has known them. That is true.
That much is true. I will keep hold of that.
Though, even as he talks, my fingers slip
And I am back in Ariosto’s talcs.
Am I awake or dreaming? Is this voyage
A voyage at all? I knew before he talked.
But. now I’ve nigh forgotten my own name.
I sail with a chimera to the West.”)
So thought George Percy, but he said aloud,
“Nay, sir — I pray you — ‘tis a noble tale —
Continue it — you were about to say —”
“To say?” the other man said briskly. “Aye.
When I had slain the second Turkish champion,
My sword being somewhat hacked, I rested on it
Perhaps the space a bell might toll a knell
And drank a cup of waters, while the Turks
Wailed for their slain most plaintively and loud.
Then there advanced the third — a lusty rogue.
Green-turbaned, their most skillful swordsman he,
And, as he rushed upon me—” said John Smith.


THERE were a hundred and forty-four, all told,
In the three small ships. You can read the names, if you like,
In various spellings. They are English names,
William Tankard, Jeremy Alicock,
Jonas Profit, the sailor, James Read, the blacksmith,
Love, the tailor, and Nicholas Scot, the drum.
One laborer is put down with a mere “Ould Edward,”
Although, no doubt, they knew his name at the time,
But, looking back and remembering, it is hard To recollect every name.
It is so they perish, the cast grains of corn,
The blown, chance pollen, lost in the wilderness —
And we have done well to remember so many names,
Crofts and Tavin and Johnson, Clovcll and Dixon,
And even the four boys, come with the gentlemen,
In a voyage somewhat topheavy with gentlemen,
As John Smith found.
A hundred and forty-four
Men, on a five months’ voyage to settle Mars.
And a hundred and live men landed on the strange shore.
A fair voyage, but two months longer than they expected.
A fair percentage of loss, for they lost no ship,
Not even the twenty-ton Discovery.
They sailed the long Southern course — the Canaries first
Then over to the West Indies—the trade-wind course,
The track of the Genoese, a century old.
When they got to the isle of Mona, their water stank.
They stopped for fresh and the gentlemen went to hunt,
Glad enough to stretch their legs and wander the island.
They killed two wild boars and a speckled lizard or so.
—And Edward Brookes was touched by the hot, strange sun,
April, tropic, the sun with the lizard’s tongue.
Now he lay dead all suddenly.
And the flies
Began to find him, even as they still stared.
It does not say where they buried Edward Brookes,
Who had come for gain or adventure or recklessness,
But not to die of a heat-stroke among the lizards,
Though, being a gentleman, he is remembered.
— They are not remembered, the bodies cast overside
While the captain stands for a moment with bared head,
The common bodies, the men who were like Old Edward,
Though, by the count, there was more than one of them,
Ere they came to the Chesapeake.
And yet, a good voyage,
And others would fare worse in other ships,
Bad water, crowded quarters, stinking beef,
And, at the end, the hurricane and death.
Though this voyage carried a locked Pandora’s box,
Sure to make trouble, sealed orders from the Company,
Naming a council of seven to rule the colony
But not to be opened till they reached their goal.
It was the way of the East India Company
But it worked badly here — on a four months’ voyage,
With fifty-five gentlemen scattered in three ships
And each one thinking himself as good as the rest.
And so, at dawn, on the twenty-sixth day of April,
Just over four months from London,
They sailed between Cape Henry and Cape Charles
And saw the broad Chesapeake, and the wished-for shore.
We shall not see it as they, for no men shall
Till the end and the ruin have come upon America,
The murmuring green forest, the huge god,
Smiling, cruel, lying at case in the sun,
And neither smiling nor cruel, but uncaring,
The vastness where no road ran but the Indian trail
And the little clearings of man were small in the forest.
We shall not see the birds in their multitudes,
The thundercloud of pigeons, blotting the sun,
The fish that had never struck at an iron hook,
The beaver, breeding faster than men could kill,
The green god, with the leaves at his fingertips
And a wreath of oak and maple twining his brows,
Smiling, cruel, majestic and uncaring,
As he lies beside bright waters under the sun,
Whose blood is the spring sap and the running streams,
Whose witchery is the fever of the marsh,
Whose bounty is sun and shadow and life and death,
The huge, wild god with the deerhorns and the green leaf.
We shall not sec their Americas as they saw them,
And this was what they saw.
They landed and explored.
It was the first full flood of Virginia spring,
White with new dogwood, smelling of wild strawberries,
Warm and soft-voiced, cornflower-skied and kind.
And they were ravished with it, after the sea,
And half-forgot their toils, half-forgot the gold,
As they went poking and prying a little way In childish wonderment.
A handful of men in hot, heavy, English gear,
With clumsy muskets, sweating but light at heart,
Staring about them, dubiously but ravished,
As a flying-squirrel leapt from a swaying branch
And a grey opossum squeaked and scuttled away.
Oh, the fair meadows, the goodly trees and tall,
The fresh streams running in silver through the woods!
’Twas a land, a land!
They blest themselves and were gay.
And that very evening,
As they were going back to the anchored ships.
The savages came down on them from the hills,
Creeping like bears through the grass, with bows in their mouths,
And the sudden arrows flew in the goodly wood,
The first ambush, the first taste of Indian war.
They stood it and fired blind musket-shots through the dusk,
But Captain Archer was wounded in both hands,
A sailor named Morton hurt, and the attackers
Neither hurt, nor, it seemed, dismayed, for they bore the lagging
Rattle of musket-shots disdainfully,
And melted back, like spirits, into the wood.
And there were the wounded men and the evening star,
The balmy night, the strange country, the shot arrows,
And it was not a dream.
So they went back to their ships,
And that same night opened their Pandora’s box
And saw the names of their council —
Christopher Newport,
Gosnold and Ratcliffe, the captains of the three ships,
John Martin, George Kendall, Edward-Maria Wingfield,
And the chimera-prisoner, John Smith,
A ticklish business, for Smith was under arrest.
They would not admit him, though they were soon to use him,
John Smiths being somewhat difficult to bind.
Let us look at them now,
The first, council of Virginia, the first president,
The men who vexed the peace of the forest-god.
Not all are young men. Wingfield is forty-six
And, except for Percy, of the best blood there.
You were not lucky, Edward-Maria Wingfield,
Though I have no doubt you did as well as you knew.
You took your chance — had an arrow shot through your beard —
Starved and suffered — but could not make ropes of sand.
Some men can — and suffer the deeper wound,
The splendor of Clive, and the pistol ending all.
But now, for a while, you’ll be President of Virginia,
And Smith, who will write you down, is under guard,
And the bitter days are not yet.
Let us turn for a moment to another figure,
Who, of all of them, shines with a clear steadfast light,
Robert Hunt, the minister of God,
So ill when ihcy lay at the Downs that no man thought
He would live the voyage, yet living because he must,
Being God’s servant, to conciliate,
Appease, soften the hearts of angry men
And show the true, calm courage of the true priest
Through the hard winter and the starving time.
He will lose the few poor books of his scant library
In Jamestown fire — aye, all but the clothes on his back,
“Yet none did ever hear him repine of his loss,”
And those who rail
At others call him still “Good Master Hunt.”
For the rest complained. He did not. They marveled at him.
And we may marvel, too, and, marveling, praise.
Peace to your steadfast heart, good Master Hunt,
And may the wild Virginia earth lie lightly
Upon the pure devotion of your name.
They settled, at last, some thirty miles upriver,
Where the flood was deep. They could moor their ships to the trees
Of that small peninsula, islanded at high water.
It was May fourteenth when they started to clear the ground,
Build the essential fort, the essential church,
And by then, no doubt, they thought themselves seasoned men.
And we would all have done better — no doubt of that.
We would not have squatted down in a fever-marsh
Just as the mosquitoes bred and the heat began.
(The Pilgrims did not — and yet the Pilgrims died.)
We would have known which Indians were friendly
(Let’s hope we know as much of the Martians).
We’d not have quarreled and wrangled — with a crew
Made of ex-soldiers, fledgling aviators,
Truckdrivers, furniture-salesmen, drugstore-clerks,
Machinists, workmen, a radio-announcer
And a sprinkling of nice clean boys from Yale or Harvard.
We’d have known the Martian birds and the Martian beasts
And how to hunt them anti trap them. We’d have known
The ways of the Martian climate and all the ropes.
In fact, we would have done wonders.
They were there.
They were there and raising a fort in the smiling wilderness,
While Newport and Smith went exploring up the river
As far as the Falls of the James — and returned to hear
The news of the sudden, breath-taking attack
When only the ships’ guns had saved the settlement.
One moment, they had been working, and the next
The hazel arrows had rained from the thick coverts,
The Indian yell gone up.
And, when it had passed,
There were seventeen of them hurt, and one boy dead,
And again the clumsy muskets had done no harm.
They had had to run for them, stored in the dry-fats,
And ‘twas hard to shoot men slipping from tree to tree,
Who did not stand in battalia to be butchered
But crept like the forest vines.
It daunted a man.
But, when you fired at the forest, there was nothing.
Nevertheless, at last they had their fort,
A few thatched cabins, a sturdy palisade,
Corn sown and growing, a tiny supply of grain,
A cargo of wood and sweet-smelling sassafras
For the ships to take home to England.
And when the ships sailed
At the end of June, as they must, and the last spars
Dwindled down the river, were mixed with the trees
At the curve of a river-bend, there was no more England.
And the men who watched were like men lost on the moon.


AT Jamestown, the lost men neither wondered nor dreamed.
They were dying.
It was the stroke of the forest-god,
Sleepily vexed at last and pointing at them
The flame-tipped arrow of the August sun,
Weaving them round with vapors from the marsh,
Coming upon them in a cloud of small
Innumerable, buzzing, deadly wings,
In the river-slime, in the mud of the steaming river.
And they die and die, and Percy writes it down,
Soberly, briefly, giving name and date,
A young, brave man, but shaken to the heart.
The sixth of August
There died John Asbie, of the bloody flux.
The ninth day died George Flower, of the swelling.
(It is hot. We did not know it could be so hot.
We did not know that the warm and pleasant sun
Could parch us so. We are thirsty and we drink.
We drink of the river-water at low tide.)
The tenth day, there died William Brewster, gentleman,
Of a wound, and was buried on the eleventh day.
(The ships are gone. There was biscuit aboard the ships.
And a little, comforting store of beer and wine.
Now we live on a pint a day of wormy grain.
We watch every three nights, lying on the bare ground.)
The fifteenth day died Edward Browne and Stephen Galthorpe,
The sixteenth day, there died Thomas Given, gentleman.
The seventeenth day, Thomas Mounslie.
(We die, we die!
There are seven dead in four days—and every morning
We drag them out of their cabins like stiffened dogs
To lie in the hateful earth of this wilderness
Where we thought to find the gold. We are sick and weak,
Burning with fever, purging out our entrails
And once we were gentlemen and adventurers,
We were carpenters and bricklayers with a trade
In kindly England — oh, the English sky,
The grey, sweet spring, the cuckoo singing aloud!
Not these wild, bright birds, this killing and brazen sun!
And no relief but the huge, black thundercloud
That lights trees of fire in the swollen, purple sky
Over the sluggish river, but brings no sweet
Blest coolness after it, only a thicker heat,
A wearier aching.)
The seven and twentieth day died William Roods.
(Toll them out like bells,
The names of the lost, the nightmare peal of death,
The price of blood for the fair, sweet-smelling land.
The small store of rotten grain is nigh at an end,
The leaders are ill and wrangling, the skull-bones
Through the dry, pinched faces of the once hardy men,
The men who barely shoulder their muskets now,
Who are too weak to get up from their own dung
As they lie dying in the filthy cabins.)
And it was mid-September and no hope,
For half of them were dead, and the living gaunt
Life-sickened shadows, dragging weary limbs
Mechanically to the rotten bulwarks,
Staring into the forest with dull eyes,
Knowing they had to watch for something there But half-forgetting what.
There was no rule,
They would not listen to Wingfield any more,
Kendall had been deposed and plotted escape,
Gosnold was dead, Smith newly risen from fever,
And it was the end.
And then, no man knows why,
There came the savages, smiling, bringing corn.
Passionate drum of wrong begins to sound,
Ere the dead lie upon the bloody ground,
And the chief’s sons lie drunken in the street.
Let us remember how this happened, too,
And how the food was given, not in hate,
Liking, or dazzled wonder, but, it seems,
As if compelled by something past all plans,
Some old, barbaric courtesy of man’s,
Wild as his heart, red as his hunter’s dreams
— And for no cause the white men ever knew.
And now, to Jamestown,
The wildfowl came, and the first cool days of fall,
And John Smith went exploring.
He is one of the first Americans we know,
And we can claim him, though not by the bond of birth,
For we’ve always bred chimeras.
And he was one,
This bushy-bearded, high-foreheaded, thrusting man
Who could turn his hand to anything at a pinch,
Bragging, canny, impatient, durable,
And fallen in love with the country at first sight.
For that is something which happens or docs not.
It did to him.
You can see the difference in Percy,
Who is always the Englishman among the natives,
And never sheds his skin or his English ways,
A good man, an excellent colonial governor,
But not this skin-changing stepchild of Ulysses,
On fire, yes, fed or fasting, to see new things,
Explore, map out, taste, venture, enjoy, astound,
And look, look, look with a fly’s remembering eye,
A child’s delight in marvels, a liar’s gorgeousness,
And the patient, accurate pen that mapped two great coasts.
This is how they roast corn.
This is how their women are painted.
These are the birds, the beasts — oh, look and see!
This is a beast that they call aroughcan,
Much like a badger but useth to live in trees;
This is their beaver, big as a water-dog;
This is the toad-fish, swelling in the air;
And here 1 did — oh, the marvelous things I did!
But the maps that I draw are true, and when I see Without myself in the picture, I see and know.
This is their language. I will write it down.
“ Kekaten pokahuntas—” and the rest;
“Bid Pocahontas bring hither two little baskets And I will give her white beads to make her a chain.”
And, in between, I will get men working again,
Shame the lazy, master the sulky, heave
My shoulder to the sticking wheel of Jamestown And make it groan and turn till it grinds the corn.
And didn’t I do it well? There is no one like me!
No, my chimera — and yet, we’ll see you again,
In many shapes, before the long tale is told,
The braggarts who, somehow, carried out the brag,
The stepchildren of Ulysses, many-deviced.
“And it was proved to his face that he begged in Ireland
Like a rogue without a license,” says Wingfield angrily.
Well, perhaps he did. I wouldn’t doubt it at all.
For such things occur to chimeras — and if he did,
The people he begged from got their money’s worth
And goggled, hearing the tale, as we goggle yet.
For this man was always alive to his fingertips.
He would not. lie down and die and he will not still.
There were tears on the faces of the men sick for home?
Good God, how could men behave so, in a new world,
With a bay to explore, an aroughcan to see,
An Indian king or a possum to talk about?
How could one weep for the Christmases of England
When we never feasted more or had better fare
Than in the dry smoky houses of Kecoughtan?
How could men be sick at heart,
With a savage chief to visit and beguile,
Or a wild child-princess, bursting out of the woods,
Her train of girls behind her, shouting and screaming,
With deerhorns set on their foreheads — a Bacchant rout,
Led by the nonpareil, the daring child,
Who was to die a Christian and a lady
And leave her slight bones in the English earth
And her son’s sons to know Virginia still,
Such being the fate.
And they were to meet again,
Years later, in England, the lady Rebecca Rolfe
And Captain Smit h — a strange meeting — strange and sad,
The Indian princess in her fine English clothes
And the bearded, baldish Ulysses, both nine years older
And one very soon to die as caged things will Just when they seem acclimated to the cage.
When he came to see her, she turned away her face,
Would not talk for hours, talked a little at last.
In her new-learned English. He must still call her “child.”
She would always call him “father” and be his countryman.
“And always they did tell us that you were dead.
But your countrymen will lie much.”
You hear the words
Evenly spoken, without bitterness,
Mere fact she had learned with other white men’s facts.
But there is a bitter sadness about that meeting
And Ulysses, for once, said little.
He had advised
Sagely and humbly, writing to the Queen,
That the little princess be royally entertained,
For she had a great spirit and could move her people.
Well, it had been done — and there was his nonpareil
— The red-winged blackbird of Virginia’s woods
— The young, wild child —
There was his nonpareil
In her fine clothes, coughing.
“Bid Pocahontas bring hither two little baskets And I will give her white beads to make her a chain.”
He left the room and never saw her again.
He was outward bound — to chart the New England coast
From Cape Cod to Penobscot.
Two thousand miles of it in an open boat.
And so, by incredible labors, make the map
That drew men’s minds to New England—the laborious
Chimera, who could not look at the land and lie,
Only about himself and other men;
Who doubted gentlemen’s hearts but never the goal
And, in the end, could say with a flat claim Superbly boast ful and precisely just,
“These colonies being, in some sort, my children.”
He had none out of his body, for all the tales.
He had no fortune out of the lands he mapped,
Not even a twelve-pound knighthood — but they came,
Gorged on his books, believing truth and lies,
They settled Massachusetts and Virginia,
And where they settled, he had been before.
You can see why he maddened others and does so still.
But, spent and old, he believed to his last breath
That this was a good country.
We have had others since, and born in the land,
Who blessed it only while they could milk it dry
And, that being done with, cursed it in the street,
Though they were not at Jamestown or the wars,
But lived more easily than men at Jamestown —
In fact, lived very well.
I may be wrong.
But, thinking of some well-dressed gentlemen
And well-fed ladies I have met at times,
Who spent eight years despairing of the Republic And trying how to beat an income-tax,
I think I can hear the comment of Captain Smith
Clear from St. Sepulchre’s, the biting voice,
The huge chimera-scorn.