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November 17, 2017

Poetry Friday--Thanksgiving Rerun

In 2010 I did a post on the women of the Mayflower, and then in 2013, I posted an ekphrastic poem inspired by an iconic painting of the "The First Thanksgiving, 1621" by Jean-Leon Gerome Ferris [circa 1915]. I'm going to post the painting and poem again today so that we don't forget the women of history. Of the 30 adult women who traveled on the Mayflower, only four survived the first winter!

Painting by Jean-Leon Germone Ferris, courtesy The Athenaeum.
Dear Mr. Ferris:

Re: your painting titled
"The First Thanksgiving, 1621"

We, the women of Plymouth
were not glowing with health.
Nor, were we given to smiling.
Yet, you portray us as robust,
clean, and gracious hostesses.

Rather, viscera from all manner
of wild creatures stained our dress.
Our scarred hands were burned,
swollen, cracked and bleeding.
We silently wept with pain, fatigue.

We cooked and served as was
our lot, while the stink of bear-
greased savages filled our noses
making us gag. Our own men, too,
had a noxious stink about them--fear.

Some may have given thanks
that day, but it was not the women.
Therefore, we write to urge you to
take up brush and palette once more.
Do not give us beauty, give us truth.

The four who had the misfortune not to
have perished in the year of our Lord, 1621

© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.
I have a tee-shirt with "Writing women back into history" on the front. It's something I'm trying to do and I hope you are too. [Note: the shirt was purchased a few years ago from the National Women's History Project. It no longer seems to be available, but there are still "Writing women back into history" posters and banners.]

Visit Jane at Raincity Librarian for this week's Round-Up.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


  1. My post today connects in a small way this time, Diane, in that I discovered some truths and untruths in one search today. This is a powerful poem and I guess I didn't see it earlier. I was at our art museum yesterday and my friend and I talked about the beauty in the pictures that were there in one area, ones that were painted to entice people to move west. Just like the ads, right? And sadly often the news. I don't know your painting, but my students and I visited the Wampanoag Indians when we were in the Boston area one year, learning their story. Thanks for reminding us about that first Thanksgiving, the real one.

    1. Yes, Linda, propaganda/advertising has a long history and comes in many forms.

  2. This is a powerful poem, Diane. There seems to be a lot of push-back against Thanksgiving and how the story has been rewritten lately. Time to take a look at the facts behind the mythology, as you do here.

    1. It's about time we realize that much of what we believe about American history is myth.

  3. Wow, thanks so much for reposting this and for continuing to advocate for women in history. However painful, the truth should be told. Powerful poem.

    1. If children were to learn how difficult it was to survive the harsh landscape, I think they'd appreciate the story of Thanksgiving even more.

  4. "Do not give us beauty, give us truth."
    Yes! Thank you for this poem, Diane...and here's to more truth.

  5. I love the idea of writing women back into history. How much have we missed because we ignored their voices? Your poem is a powerful example of what we can learn.

    1. My friend Muriel Dubois tried to remedy the lack of women in history when she started Apprentice Shop Books and recruited her writers' group to work on the "America's Notable Women" series. It was amazing what we learned.

  6. What a powerful poem, Diane. That line: "Do not give us beauty, give us truth." is perfect.

  7. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have had a woman paint this scene–what view would she portray–perhaps some here but I think also secret glimses into what actually took place. Thanks for this powerful poem Diane!

    1. You've just issued yourself a challenge, Michelle!

  8. Glad you shared again, Diane - how the lenses do become fogged!
    Happy Thanksgiving.

  9. Men had time to sit down and write the histories and paint canvases because women were cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, caring for livestock, etc.