Western Star

Western Star” by Stephen Vincent Benet.

This is a narrative poem about the “Spirit and the beginnings of America”, as the short write-up on the paper jacket of the book puts it. The first line of the poem is: “Americans are always moving on”. And after a thirteen-page prelude, the author tells the story of the first beginnings and settling of the New World, beginning with the tragic history of that first settlement in Jamestown, which slowly dwindled down to almost nothing. The author’s poetry and beautiful command of words seems especially adapted to the history he chooses for the subject of his poem. Most of the poem relates the story of the Puritans’ journey — of their sojourn in the Netherlands and the subsequent trip to America. Two lines of people are traced through the family of Dickie Herron, a London servant boy who came to America with his master in search of wealth, and the family of Humility Lanyard which journeyed to the New World with the Puritans in search of religious freedom. The author well brings out the contrast between the motives and lives of the different people who settled here. When he begins to tell about the Lanyard family leaving Holland, he writes:


“Now listen to another, graver tune, Wrung from the oaken hearts of humble men,

O God, the refuge of our fears, Our buckler and our stay,

Within whose sight the rolling years Are but a single day,

Behold us now like Israel’s band, Cast forth upon the wave,

And may Thy strong and awful hand Be still outstretched to save!”


More often the author breaks out in what we almost would call a hymn when he writes about the bravely trusting Puritans.

Benet has his own subtle philosophy which comes out in his poem —the false idealism of a worldly view. And yet, one cannot help wondering what the author himself actually believes, for his poem is full of the Puritans’ trust in God and their earnest endeavor to establish a godly environment for themselves and their families in a new country. He often mentions the fact that the Puritans feel they are elect, and as I reread those parts it does not seem as if he is mocking them, although sometimes one gets the impression that they are considered quite naive.

If you like poetry I am quite sure you will enjoy this narrative poem. And even if you are not too fond of reading poems, this one you may like.