The May-pole Of Merrymount
: TALES OF PURITAN LAND
: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land
The people of Merrymount--unsanctified in the eyes of their Puritan
neighbors, for were they not Episcopals, who had pancakes at Shrovetide
and wassail at Christmas?--were dancing about their May-pole one summer
evening, for they tried to make it May throughout the year. Some were
masked like animals, and all were tricked with flowers and ribbons.
Within their circle, sharing in song and jest, were the lord and lady of
the revels, and an English clergyman waiting to join the pair in wedlock.
Life, they sang, should be all jollity: away with care and duty; leave
wisdom to the weak and old, and sanctity for fools. Watching the sport
from a neighboring wood stood a band of frowning Puritans, and as the sun
set they stalked forth and broke through the circle. All was dismay. The
bells, the laughter, the song were silent, and some who had tasted
Puritan wrath before shrewdly smelled the stocks. A Puritan of iron
face--it was Endicott, who had cut the cross from the flag of
England--warning aside the priest of Baal, proceeded to hack the pole
down with his sword. A few swinging blows, and down it sank, with its
ribbons and flowers.
So shall fall the pride of vain people; so shall come to grief the
preachers of false religion, quoth he. Truss those fellows to the trees
and give them half a dozen of blows apiece as token that we brook no
ungodly conduct and hostility to our liberties. And you, king and queen
of the May, have you no better things to think about than fiddling and
dancing? How if I punish you both?
Had I the power I'd punish you for saying it, answered the swain; but,
as I have not, I am compelled to ask that the girl go unharmed.
Will you have it so, or will you share your lover's punishment? asked
I will take all upon myself, said the woman.
The face of the governor softened. Let the young fellow's hair be cut,
in pumpkin-shell fashion, he commanded; then bring them to me but
He was obeyed, and as the couple came before him, hand in hand, he took a
chain of roses from the fallen pole and cast it about their necks. And so
they were married. Love had softened rigor and all were better for the
assertion of a common humanity. But the May-pole of Merrymount was never
set up again. There were no more games and plays and dances, nor singing
of worldly music. The town went to ruin, the merrymakers were scattered,
and the gray sobriety of religion and toil fell on Pilgrim land again.