The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The twelve stanzas of this poem focus on the visual aspects of Virginia (the colony and then the state), with an emphasis on the British and Latin origins of its early settlers and nomenclature. The poem’s title combines both elements: “Virginia,” in deference to England’s Elizabeth I (known as “the virgin Queen”), and “Britannia,” the Latin name for Britain. Approaching the subject of the poem like an English mariner arriving at the New World, the poet describes the shore of “Old Dominion,” Virginia’s first name. Natural elements mingle with bits of history and architecture, crowding the poem’s stanzas with vivid, evocative details. The new land is seen as a “cedar-dotted emerald shore” (line 3) on which are found the flora and fauna indigenous to Virginia: the redbird, the trumpet flower, the hackberry, the ivy flower, and the sycamore. Into this world came the musketeer, cavalier, parson, and “wild parishioner,” who built churches, laid ornamental brickwork, and created the cemetery, where God’s natural wonders surround the graves of sinners.

In all stanzas except the first, the poet interweaves religion, history, and nature. “A fritillary zigzags” opens stanza 2, reflecting the design of the poem itself as the poet’s eye zigzags through Virginia’s history and natural features. The encounter between the early settlers and a well-established native culture and its members results in an odd blend, “We-re-wo/...

(The entire section is 598 words.)