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Five Kernels Of Corn

by johncalvinyoung | November 27th, 2008

This Thanksgiving was very special for my family, as it was during the past year that we discovered that we can count one of those that came across on the Mayflower among our ancestors. Fourteen-year-old Henry Samson traveled with his aunt and uncle to the New World and survived that terrible first winter at Plymouth even as they succumbed.

This discovery brought new meaning to my family’s tradition of reading the historic poem “Five Kernels of Corn” to remember the historical reason for Thanksgiving. At one point in that sad year, stores had dropped so low that the ration for each Pilgrim was only five kernels of corn. And yet “to Bradford a feast were five kernels of corn!”

Let us read and reflect on our heritage–we all should be thankful that the Pilgrims survived that first winter, whether we carry Pilgrim blood or not. If that settlement had failed as the Roanoke Island colony had in North Carolina, our country would have very likely not formed in the same way, established on the same values as it did. And let the nation give thanks for five kernels of corn!

Five Kernels of Corn
April, 1622
‘Twas 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 arbutuses blow.
Five Kernels of Corn!
Five Kernels of Corn!
To each one be given Five Kernels of Corn!”

O Bradford of Austerfield hast on thy way,
The west winds are blowing o’er Provincetown 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,
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! 
                                                    –Hezekiah Butterworth

Giving thanks,
John Calvin Young

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