“Drake’s Psalmistry”

Click here to listen to Jim Powell read this poem.

            Nova Albion, June 26, 1579

Their king was robed in a coat of coney skins
that reached his waist, and bare besides. Bone rosaries
engirt his shoulders. His crown is a caul of knitwork
covered with a silken down of milkweed seed tufts
that tremble at a breeze

like waves through wheat. His train wears other skins,
the common sort go naked in the nipping colds
that pinch these coasts, their long hair stuck with plumes
behind but in front one only, like a horn, each pleasing
himself in his own device.


When they were nearer all set down their bows
and as men ravished in their minds with fear advanced
wonderingly to worship us as gods.
Mean time the women began to shriek and scratch their cheeks
and bespot their dugs with blood


and dash themselves against the ground in fury
till their strengths failed, no, nor allowed us to hold them back
so mad they were in their Idolatry.
Our General entreated them by gentle signs
to cover their nakedness

gesturing to show we are men not gods
and need to clothe our shame likewise. Our spirits groaned
to see these harmless souls seduced by Satan
and we raised hands and gazed toward heaven to signify
the God whom they ought to serve,

and now we went to reading of the Scriptures
and prayers and singing hymns and they quieted and sat
attentively, with eyes of comprehension
and rejoicing, and at the close of every Psalm
cried with one voice Hoh!
                        Francis Fletcher