Posted by: John Looker | 3 June, 2018

The Death of Pocahontas

I’m really grateful to Artemis journal (USA) for publishing this poem last month:

The Death of Pocahontas

This was the Thames, she had thought, not the Styx,

having sailed with the tide from London’s wharves
but berthed some miles downstream.

Gravesend, they said.
Not a name that augurs well. And then,
confined to her bunk in fever, back it all flowed:

not the spires and domes,
the forbidding Tower or the stinking streets,
the clangour of bells; not the Palace at Whitehall,
that warren of rooms, noisy and odorous
with courtiers in their wealth of clothing;
nor her presentation at Court.

In the half-light of her cabin – the ship restlessly
shifting with the water, its timbers groaning and cracking –
she lay weakening, her great adventure fading.

In her delirium she walked again the coast
where she was born; paddled its lagoons and creeks;
she breathed the thick humidity of summer nights thrumming
with insect life; heard voices in her own language
whispering of still-unrelinquished beliefs
and her secret name spoken. 

They had taken on board fresh water, supplies
for a dozen weeks at sea but were moored here, aghast,
watching, her great adventure prematurely fading.

And yet – such a journey! Even the snow goose,
appearing on the lakes of her native land each fall,

travels merely in time and space.

© John Looker 2018

This is the last of ten poems that consider historic or legendary journeys, to be the opening part of a book in draft entitled “Shimmering Horizons”. Other poems from the draft book have been published in other journals and anthologies. Artemis journal, founded in 1977,  publishes poetry and art ‘from the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond’ – see


  1. Liked that, John, thanks.


    • Hi Pete. It’s good to hear from you – and thanks.


  2. I am sure Pocahontas would have thought highly of your poetic tribute to her. After reaching adulthood her only child Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia and was much maligned for re-establishing relations with his Native American relations.He became a wealthy plantation owner. Rolfes still live and walk the streets of VA. Nicely done John

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s new to me Donald and most interesting. It’s nice to think if her descendants in Virginia even today. Thanks for sharing this. All the best, J


  3. This is a tremendous achievement of historical empathy—poetry! We feel every line. John, keep interpreting America—we need your witness!


    • That’s most kind of you Tom, and most encouraging. She was of course an exceptional and inspiring person!


  4. This moved me deeply, John.


  5. Exceptional work John. That opening line sucks the reader in, after it, we are completely absorbed in the poem. A good first line always does it for me, I suppose I like the immediate gratification, once I am hooked, then I am on board for the remainder of the poem, totally animated. I know if the first line is a blinder that I am not going to regret what follows it.


    • Many thanks Daniel. In this case I had the first line approximately in mind from an early stage in drafting but it went through countless tiny revisions!


      • I very often proceed in a similar way. I entertain that opening line, looking for furtive motifs, drama, dialogue, ideas & let it organically grow out of that line into a god awful shambles which needs taming no end. All part of the fun though.


  6. What I like most about this poem, John, is its tone. You have developed your own voice that is becoming increasingly recognizable, one of the prerequisites on the road to becoming a great poet. The more I read of your work the more I become convinced you are reaching for the stars as a poet. As you know, I’ve written a lot of historically based poetry, but my accomplishments are not as great as what I read here, and it all has to do with that tone, the wiping away of time into memories that then reflect largely on the human condition. the meaning of what being human in alltime means. Excellent, excellent work.


    • As always, you are immensely encouraging Tom. Thank you. Certainly I hope to get the tone right and that is something I think about, so maybe there’s hope that it will come right more often! Very best wishes, J


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