Pocahontas

 

Pocahontas, Little Snow-Feather*,

what possessed you to marry that pale stranger*,

to cross the blue, blue Atlantic,

leaving behind your mother and your father?

How naive you were to think they wouldn't destroy you....

 

But Pocahontas, Little Snow-Feather,

bones-under-England-soil, it is your spirit--

not that of Cortez or Colonel Forsyth*--

your generosity, your love, which will prevail.

 

The famous Sedgeford portrait of Pocahontas and her son, Thomas Rolfe, carefully preserved through the centuries, although its travels and whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery:   The Sedgeford portrait

 

 

* Little Snow-Feather: "According to the early colonists, Pocahontas, like all other Powhatans, had two names.  Pocahontas, the name given to her by her father, was translated by the English to mean 'Bright Stream Between Two Hills' but in the Powhatan tongue perhaps meant 'Little Wanton.'  Her secret name, known only among her own tribesmen, was Matoax, 'Little Snow Feather,' a name conjuring up the image of a slim, amber-skinned girl enveloped from neck to knee in a mantle woven of snow-white feathers plucked from the breast of a wild swan.  Such a mantle, worn by Pocahontas in winter with moccasins and leggings of finely dressed white skins, would have given her people ample reason for calling her Matoax."  (From G. S. Woodward's Pocahontas.)

 

* pale strangerI recently found that I didn't know as much about the historical Pocahontas as I thought I did.  I had reckoned the Disney movie (the first one) to be laughably inaccurate in showing Pocahontas staying behind when Captain John Smith returned to England (--everyone knows she married him and went with him, right?....).

    Pocahontas, the 11-year-old daughter of Powhatan, chief of the 8,000-person Powhatan Confederacy, was a great help to the early Jamestown settlers.  She learned their language, got certain of her elders to secretly trade them critically-needed corn and fish, and warned them away from ambushes planned by her father's warriors.  She was especially friendly with John Smith and --by Smith's account-- saved him from death at her father's orders.  (Throwing herself on him to protect him is probably something Smith invented to add drama/romance to his Historie --though we can't know for sure.)  There were certainly no other Englishmen in the vicinity.  Smith was injured (a gunpowder accident) and returned to England --but that was not until 1609 --2 years after the near-execution --by which time Pocahontas and he were no longer in communication.

   She found contact with the settlers increasingly dangerous as the war between her people and the English grew fiercer.  In 1613 the English kidnapped her for the odd dual purpose of blackmailing her father and making her into a gentlewoman.  Powhatan decided that she wasn't really suffering and refused to pay the ransom.  A different John --John Rolfe--even more of a gentleman than John Smith-- fell in love with her.  They were married in 1614, had a child, and in 1616 sailed to England for a 9-month visit.  As they were about to embark on their return voyage, Pocahontas got pneumonia (or perhaps tuberculosis) and --after all this, only 21 years old-- died and was buried in St. George's Parish Church, Gravesend, Eng.

   She'd had an emotional reunion with John Smith in England.  Years later, he was said to have commented: "Poor little maid.  I sorrowed much for her thus early death, and even now cannot think of it without grief, for I felt toward her as if she were mine own daughter."

   [Pocahontas II is far inferior to the original.  It doesn't even begin to have any historical basis.  Pocahontas is jailed in the Tower of London; John Rolfe and John Smith team up to rescue her; they subvert an armada threatening to destroy the Powhatans; Pocahontas chooses John Rolfe, sails back to Virginia with him.  Though Judy Kuhn once again does the Pocahontas singing, the songs she's given are far, far inferior to those in the original.  Youtube of "Colors of the Wind" song from the movie Pocahontas: Judy Kuhn sings - but it includes only a bit of the visuals.]

 

* Colonel Forsyth:  Leader of the U. S. Army troops at the Wounded Knee massacre of Sioux Indians.    

Hear Jerry/Lucius read this poem.    This poem is part of the Scraps of Faith collection of poems.