...At sunset in the town of Merry Mount on June 23, Midsummer Eve, a maypole-a tall, slender pine tree-stands decorated with flowers, blossoms, and ribbons. At the top is a ba…nner with the colors of the rainbow. Near the bottom is a wreath of roses. The maypole is a beautiful sight, contrasting markedly with the grotesque costumers of revelers holding hands around it. One wears the antlered head of a deer; another, the head of a wolf; a third, the head of a goat. A fourth is in the guise of a bear. On his hind legs are pink stockings. Also within this circle is a real bear, its forepaws extended to human hands. ......."Other faces wore the similitude of man or woman," the narrator says, "but distorted or extravagant, with red noses pendulous before their mouths, which seemed of awful depth, and stretched from ear to ear in an eternal fit of laughter" (paragraph 3). .......One man wears the guise of an Indian hunter and another that of a hairy savage. Many revelers appear in the caps and bells of jesters. There are young men and women in everyday clothing, but their faces reveal the same wild look of the others. .......Unseen Puritans who observe the scene at a distance compare the revelers to devils and lost souls that they believe roam the forests. .......Inside the ring of revelers is a "youth in glistening apparel" (paragraph 5) with a scarf in rainbow colors crossing his chest. In his right hand is a gilded staff signifying his high place among the revelers. His left hand holds the fingers of a pretty maiden in colorful apparel. Roses are scattered at their feet. They bear the title "Lord and Lady of the May" (paragraph 6). Behind them stands an Anglican priest in clergyman's garb decorated with flowers. On his head is a wreath of vine leaves. He announces that he will marry the two young people and calls upon the revelers to sing with the merriment of Old England and the wild glee of the wilderness around, then to dance to show the young couple "how airily they should go through [life]" (paragraph 6). .......A pipe, cithern, and viol then strike up a merry tune in a nearby thicket. Oddly, though, the young lady, Edith, appears sad. The young man tells her that this is the best moment of their lives. He says, "Tarnish it not by any pensive shadow of the mind; for it may be that nothing of futurity will be brighter than the mere remembrance of what is now passing" (paragraph 10). .......That very thought-that the joy of the moment would soon be replaced with the humdrum routine of everyday life and all its cares and sorrows-had just crossed her mind, says Edith. Moments later, Edgar and Edith pledge their vows in the marriage ceremony, and the masqueraders celebrate by dancing around the maypole until the sun sets. .......The narrator then flashes back to the time when the Merry Mount residents first settled their community. Ever searching for ways to amuse themselves, they began wearing costumes and disporting themselves foolishly while developing a "philosophy of pleasure" (paragraph 13). They recruited followers, including minstrels, actors, and mummers. Young and old participated in the merriment. Among their activities were amusements they brought from England. Thus, at yuletide, they crowned a king of Christmas and appointed a lord of misrule to manage Christmas merrymaking, including feasts, theatrical entertainment, and masques. They also built bonfires to dance around. In the fall, the narrator says, they fashioned "an image with sheaves of Indian corn, and wreathed it with autumnal garlands, and bore it home triumphantly" (paragraph 14). .......Once every month, they danced around the maypole. "[S]ometimes they called it their religion, or their altar," the narrator points out (paragraph 14). .......Near Merry Mount lived a colony of Puritans. Early in the morning-even before sunrise-they gathered to say prayers. They spent the day working in forests or fields, keeping their weapons ready for intruding savages, then returned home for evening prayers. ......."When they met in conclave," the narrator says, "it was never to keep up the old English mirth, but to hear sermons three hours long, or to proclaim bounties on the heads of wolves and the scalps of Indians" (paragraph 15). Anyone caught dancing was whipped or placed in stocks. The only music they allowed was the singing of hymns. On festivals, there was no merriment; they simply fasted. .......There were times when these grim people passed into the vicinity of Merry Mount while the maypole colonists were masquerading, dancing around the pole, playing blind man's buff, or attempting to explain their merriment to an Indian. The Merry Mounters sometimes sang ballads or told stories for their grim visitors, juggled for them, or paraded around for them in their strange costumes. On one occasion, they held a yawning contest. The Puritans merely stood by and frowned. It was as if for a moment a black cloud had descended over Merry Mount. .......In time, the Puritans objected to the noisy merriment, and a feud developed between the two communities. Who would win? .......The narrator then flashes forward to the evening when the wedding celebration at the maypole ends. In the fading light, shadows emerge from the forest-armed Puritans in their traditional black garb. Their leader, John Endicott, stands in the center of the Merry Mount maskers "like a dread magician" (paragraph 18), and says, .
......."Stand off, priest of Baal!" . . . . "I know thee, Blackstone! Thou art the man who couldst not abide the rule even of thine own corrupted church, and hast come hither to preach iniquity, and to give example of it in thy life. But now shall it be seen that the Lord hath sanctified this wilderness for his peculiar people. Wo unto them that would defile it! And first, for this flower-decked abomination, the altar of thy worship!" (paragraph 19).
Endicott draws a sword and cuts down the maypole, then says its fall foreshadows the fate of "light and idle mirthmakers" (paragraph 21). .......To discourage the Merry Mount folk from resuming wayward activities in the future, Endicott orders several of them whipped and others placed in stocks. ......."Further penalties, such as branding and cropping of ears, shall be thought of hereafter," he says (paragraph 27). .......A court is to determine the punishment of the minister. The bear (the real one) is to be shot through the head against the possibility that he is bewitched. Peter Palfrey, Endicott's assistant, suggests that the newlyweds be whipped. The young couple wait with apprehension for the pronouncement of the governor. The young man had dropped his staff to comfort his bride, putting his arm around her shoulder. She is leaning against his chest. The youth then says he would fight to the death if he had a weapon. That not being the case, he tells the governor to do with him as he wishes but asks him to spare Edith. Endicott answers that Puritans do not confer special treatment on women. If anything, he says, the young lady should receive the heavier punishment. ......."What sayest thou, maid? Shall thy silken bridegroom suffer thy share of the penalty, besides his own?" (paragraph 36). .......Edith says she wishes to accept the penalty herself, even if it is death: "Lay it all on me" (paragraph 37). .......Endicott, feeling sympathy for them, decides not to punish them. However, he orders his subordinates to find more decent attire for them and, at the urging of Palfrey, to trim the curly long hair of the young man. Henceforth, the young couple will live with the Puritans. Endicott believes that Edgar will be a good worker and valiant fighter and Edith a good and nurturing mother. The governor then places the wreath of roses from the fallen maypole over their heads. .......Thereafter, Edith and Edward "went heavenward," the narrator says, "supporting each other along the difficult path which it was their lot to tread, and never wasted one regretful thought on the vanities of Merry Mount" (paragraph 42). (MORE)