Monday, November 29, 2010

Thomas Morton's "New English Canaan"

I like Thomas Morton, he almost reminds me of a prototype Oscar Wilde, just 275 years tamer, but the character is still there. He rubbed the pilgrims the wrong way, and I think that's another reason I love him so much. "New American Canaan" really brings out the "Bacchanalian" spirit of Morton's leanings. Decoding his poetry was by far the best part. Poetry as an art form is something I myself have barely scratched the surface of, but despite that, I can really appreciate the message laden passages, which make all kinds of colourful references to the Greek mythology, like Oedipus, and Hymen. He even make Biblical references, he invokes the name of Job in "The Poem", and even makes obscure gestures to English history, when he mentions Scogan's Choice.
Aside from the various overtures to history and mythology, the poetry's structure itself is rather pleasing. It's obvious iambic pentameter, which is actually really helpful when I get to words I've no idea how to pronounce, like "Charybdis", which interestingly enough does not have a footnote in the text (Charybdis is a sea monster, by the way).
There is only one break in the pentameter, and it occurs in lines 11 and 12. not only does "paramour" and "patient" not rhyme, but line 12 only has 9 syllables, breaking from the uniform 10 of pentameter. Why chose to break uniform here? I can't be sure, I am not a poetry expert, but to me, it seems like simple laziness. It serves no purpose, and breaks the rhythm of the piece.
"The Song" is very different, and harder to read, specifically because I am certain there is a melody that goes along with it, and not knowing it, it's hard to imagine the rhythm. There is a pretty nifty rhyme scheme going on that I really like, and a catchy little repetitive callback in the chorus. The whole thing has a very old English ring to it, and really reminds me of songs you hear sung at the Dickens Festival, and in that way, becomes a mirror for the time and the culture.
His poetry also serves as an insight to why the puritans hated him so, so bad! The very first line of "The Song" says it all, "Drink and be merry, merry, merry boys", that in and of itself is kind of the very antithesis of the entire puritan philosophy. I don't know if the puritans even had poems, or songs. To the puritans, things like songs and poetry, or anything that inspired a merry temperament were probably considered hell worthy trespasses!
In either case, Morton is a historical bad ass, and it saddened me to read of his bum deal and his sad ending.


  1. 30/30 Wow, Evan, you draw some truly fascinating comparisons -- Wilde and Morton, in this case. Bullseye.

  2. oh, oops, that was your summary, not your journal on Morton. So max points is 20/20 for this one. I stand corrected (so does