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    Provincetown History Snippet: A Long-Lost Poem

    Provincetown Poem
    June 21, 2019

    Marie Louise Hersey was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1894 and graduated from Radcliffe College in 1916. In Modern Verse (1921), author Anita Forbes writes, “In few towns along the New England coast is the contrast between the old America and the new more sharply impressed than in Provincetown.”
     
    Provincetown is an exceptionally timeless poem:
     
    All summer in the close-locked streets the crowd
    Elbows its way past glittering shops to strains
    Of … ragtime, men and girls, dark-skinned,
    From warmer foreign waters they have come
    To our New England. Purring like sleek cats
    The cushioned motors of the rich crawl through
    While black-haired babies scurry to the curb:
    Pedro, Maria, little Gabriel
    Whose red bandana mothers selling fruit
    Have this in common with the fresh white caps
    Of those first immigrants—courage to leave
    Familiar hearth and build new memories.
     
    Blood of their blood who shaped these sloping roofs
    And low arched doorways, laid the cobblestones
    Not meant for motors—you and I rejoice
    When roof and spire sink deep into the night
    And all the little streets reach out their arms
    To be received into the salt-drenched dark.
    Then Provincetown comes to her own again,
    Draws round her like a cloak that shelters her
    From too swift changes of the passing years
    The dunes, the sea, the silent hilltop grounds
    Where solemn groups of leaning headstones hold
    Perpetual reunion of her dead,
     
    At dusk we feel our way along the wharf
    That juts into the harbor: anchored ships
    With lifting prow and slowly rocking mast
    Ink out their profiles; fishing dories scull
    With muffled lamps that glimmer thru the spray;
    We hear the water plash among the piers
    Rotted with moss, long after sunset stay
    To watch the dim sky-changes ripple down
    The length of quiet ocean to our feet
    Till on the sea rim rising like a world
    Bigger than ours, and laying bare the ships
    In shadowy stillness, swells the yellow moon.
     
    Between this blue intensity of sea
    And rolling dunes of white-hot sand that burn
    All day across a clean salt wilderness
    On shores grown sacred as a place of prayer,
    Shine bright invisible footsteps of a band
    Of firm-lipped men and women who endured
    Partings from kindred, hardship, famine, death,
    And won for us three hundred years ago
    A reverent proud freedom of the soul.
     
    Image thanks to Bay State Cruise Company
     
    Check out all of our articles on Provincetown History here!

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