Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Paul Royster

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Samuel Danforth’s poems from the Almanacks for 1647–1649 are some of the earliest examples of “secular” poetry published in New England. Danforth (1626–1674) was a fellow of Harvard College and an astronomer and mathematician as well as a poet. Although these were not the first almanacs printed in America (the first was by William Peirce, printed at Cambridge in 1639), they are the earliest surviving examples. Danforth’s first printed almanac, for the year 1646 (which survives only in one partial copy), contained no poetry; instead the foot of each month’s page held a running essay on astronomy and the calendar. In 1647, he began to use the 8 to 10 lines at the bottom of each month’s page for his original poems, ostensibly on natural and historical topics (pigeons, caterpillars, earthquakes, and hurricanes), but being a good Puritan, the religious element was never far removed; and it is especially noteworthy how many of the poems refer specifically to the history of the Massachusetts colony—at that time not quite twenty years old. Because of these references, the “chronological tables” printed on the last two pages of each of these almanacs are also included here. These tables are among the earliest published histories of the Puritan enterprise in New England and give a fascinating glimpse of the colony’s self-image in its veritable infancy.

The Almanacks run from March through February, reflecting the seventeenth-century calendar. The page for each month shows the weeks and days, the times of sunrise and sunset, the court sessions, the fairs, the quarters of the moon, the places of the planets, the sign of the zodiac where the moon is at noon, the lunar sysygies, and the mutual aspects of the planets, calculated for 42° 30 m. latitude and 315° longitude.

In 1650, Danforth handed over the preparation of the almanac to Urian Oakes and left Harvard and Cambridge to take up the post of pastor at Roxbury, where he joined John Eliot. He later published An Astronomical Description of the Late Comet or Blazing Star (1665), an election sermon A Brief Recognition of New-Englands Errand into the Wilderness (1671), and an execution sermon The Cry of Sodom Enquired Into (1674), as well as a catechism (1650, now lost).

For the sake of collecting all of Danforth’s known poetry, two elegies for Rev. William Tompson, written in a manuscript journal and signed by him, are also included.

Includes some notes and a note on the texts.