POETRY: Five Kernels of Corn

Another traditional Thanksgiving poem by Hezekiah Butterworth can be found here:  Thanksgiving in Boston

“The first few winters in the New World were treacherous for the new colonists. The settlers of the Plymouth colony died in droves from both sickness and starvation. In this verse the necessity of rationing the meager food resources is set alongside the abundant moral reserves of the people. Long a part of New England holiday tradition–before the turkey is carved each member of the family is served a mere five kernels of corn, after which this inspiring poem is recited–the remembrance of Plymouth has become a symbol of the incredible blessing of this land.”

~ “The Patriot’s Handbook”, George Grant, Cumberland House Publishing, Nashville, 1996

Five Kernels of Corn

by Hezekiah Butterworth

T’was the year of the famine in Plymouth of old,
The ice and the snow from the thatched roofs had rolled;
Through the warm purple skies steered the geese o’er the seas,
And the woodpeckers tapped in the clocks of the trees;
And the boughs on the slopes to the south winds lay bare,
And dreaming of summer, the buds swelled in the air.
The pale Pilgrims welcomed each reddening morn;
There were left but for rations Five Kernels of Corn.
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
But to Bradford a feast were Five Kernels of Corn!

“Five Kernels of Corn! Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye people, be glad for Five Kernels of Corn! ”
So Bradford cried out on bleak Burial Hill,
And the thin women stood in their doors, white and still.
“Lo, the harbor of Plymouth rolls bright in the Spring,
The maples grow red, and the wood robins sing,
The west wind is blowing, and fading the snow,
And the pleasant pines sing, and the arbutuses blow.
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
To each one be given Five Kernels of Corn! ”

O Bradford of Austerfield haste on thy way.
The west winds are blowing o’er Province-town Bay,
The white avens bloom, but the pine domes are chill,
And new graves have furrowed Precisioners’ Hill!
“Give thanks, all ye people, the warm skies have come,
The hilltops are sunny, and green grows the holm,
And the trumpets of winds, and the white March is gone.
And ye still have left you Five Kernels of Corn.
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
Ye have for Thanksgiving Five Kernels of Corn!

“The raven’s gift eat and be humble and pray,
A new light is breaking, and Truth leads your way;
One taper a thousand shall kindle: rejoice
That to you has been given the wilderness voice! ”
O Bradford of Austerfield, daring the wave,
And safe through the sounding blasts leading the brave,
Of deeds such as thine was the free nation born,
And the festal world sings the ” Five Kernels of Corn. ”
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
The nation gives thanks for Five Kernels of Corn!
To the Thanksgiving Feast bring Five Kernels of Corn!



4 Replies to “POETRY: Five Kernels of Corn”

  1. This is my favorite line:
    “One taper a thousand shall kindle: rejoice”…

    I’m not going to be the one reading it out though; it is just too wonderful to read without choking up.

    Liked by 2 people

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