The May-pole Of Merrymount

: 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.