A love triangle, star-crossed lovers, and a marriage made in heaven, themes that weave through history and literature also resonate throughout the stories, legends, and of Plymouth.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, memorialized Plymouth’s first romance in the Courtship of Miles Standish. In the poem, Longfellow tells the story of Miles Standish, widower and “warrior” and his friend, the young scholar John Alden. Each man wants the fair maiden Priscilla Mullins for himself. Standish orders Alden to go to Priscilla with a message which torments the young lover, tearing him between loyalty for his friend and mentor and his own heart’s desire. Alden, with little preamble, blurts, “so I have come to you now, with an offer and proffer of marriage, Made by a good man and true, Miles Standish the Captain of Plymouth!" To which, Priscilla responds that if Standish cannot bother to court her himself she will never consent to be his wife. Alden tries more fervently on behalf of his friend listing all his virtues, but Priscilla replies with her famous line, ”in a tremulous voice, ‘Why don't you speak for yourself, John?’” for she had her own heart set on Alden. Priscilla’s refusal drives a wedge through their friendship and she accepts neither of them. It is only when Standish is believed dead that the two lovers can come together. It is on their wedding day, when Standish returns and Alden must beg his forgiveness in order to keep face and bride. He does and Standish grants it, for a Pilgrim “happily ever after.”
At the end of the 19th century, Timothy Otis Paine penned the poem of Helen of White Horse. In this poem, Roland romances the fair Helen in the dunes of White Horse Beach. Their summer romance of trysts and kisses is thwarted by her father who refuses to grant Roland her hand. Despite this, they continue to see one another until the end of summer brings its inevitable separation. Roland must return to the sea. Helen pleas again with her father but he will hear nothing of it. Roland leaves and beyond heart broken, Helen takes the family’s white horse, and according to poem and legend rides the horse into the ocean. Like Capulet’s regret, her father cries: “Come back, my daughter!...I will no more oppose!” With all the makings of a great love story, Paine does not leave us here, but gives us this final stanza, a promise of eternal love.
“But love will let no loves die;
And oft in all these years gone by,
Upon her steed, and late at e’en,
Bride Helen on this rock is seen
Looking for Roland through the mist
Until he joins her keeping tryst.”
In her biography, dictated to her daughter Ellen Tucker Emerson, the Life of Lydian Jackson Emerson, the future Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, recalls the first time she saw the man she would marry. She first sees him in Boston noting in particular his “beautiful face.” Later, when she meets him in Plymouth, she retells of the moment, sitting in her North Street house of having a vision, she and he, ready to marry poised on the stair. She shook it away only to be courted and eventually proposed to by the young man, transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. The young man had already had his heart broken by the death of his first wife, only to find love again in Plymouth. Emerson returned to Concord, Massachusetts to find them a house and she prepared for marriage. After several disappointing postponements, Emerson was ready, a home was ready and the wedding was prepared. Emerson waited for Lydia as she dressed upstairs. However, his eager anticipation overcame him and he raced up the stairs just as she had begun to come downstairs. They met half way, her vision fulfilled and her true love found.
And as such, the classic themes of love, who will she pick, who stands in the way, and who will live happily ever after, are found in the poetry and stories of Plymouth. May you enjoy your great Plymouth love story as well.