Introduction

 

Should you ask me,

whence these stories?

Whence these legends and traditions,

With the odors of the forest

5With the dew and damp of meadows,

With the curling smoke of wigwams,

With the rushing of great rivers,

With their frequent repetitions,

And their wild reverberations

10As of thunder in the mountains?

    I should answer, I should tell you,

"From the forests and the prairies,

From the great lakes of the Northland,

From the land of the Ojibways,

15From the land of the Dacotahs,

From the mountains, moors, and fen-lands

Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,

Feeds among the reeds and rushes.

I repeat them as I heard them

20From the lips of Nawadaha,

The musician, the sweet singer."

    Should you ask where Nawadaha

Found these songs so wild and wayward,

Found these legends and traditions,

25I should answer, I should tell you,

"In the bird's-nests of the forest,

In the lodges of the beaver,

In the hoofprint of the bison,

In the eyry of the eagle!

30    "All the wild-fowl sang them to him,

In the moorlands and the fen-lands,

In the melancholy marshes;

Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,

Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,

35The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,

And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!"

    If still further you should ask me,

Saying, "Who was Nawadaha?

Tell us of this Nawadaha,"

40I should answer your inquiries

Straightway in such words as follow.

    "In the vale of Tawasentha,

In the green and silent valley,

By the pleasant water-courses,

45Dwelt the singer Nawadaha.

Round about the Indian village

Spread the meadows and the corn-fields,

And beyond them stood the forest,

Stood the groves of singing pine-trees,

50Green in Summer, white in Winter,

Ever sighing, ever singing.

    "And the pleasant water-courses,

You could trace them through the valley,

By the rushing in the Spring-time,

55By the alders in the Summer,

By the white fog in the Autumn,

By the black line in the Winter;

And beside them dwelt the singer,

In the vale of Tawasentha,

60In the green and silent valley.

    "There he sang of Hiawatha,

Sang the Song of Hiawatha,

Sang his wondrous birth and being,

How he prayed and how be fasted,

65How he lived, and toiled, and suffered,

That the tribes of men might prosper,

That he might advance his people!"

    Ye who love the haunts of Nature,

Love the sunshine of the meadow,

70Love the shadow of the forest,

Love the wind among the branches,

And the rain-shower and the snow-storm,

And the rushing of great rivers

Through their palisades of pine-trees,

75And the thunder in the mountains,

Whose innumerable echoes

Flap like eagles in their eyries;-

Listen to these wild traditions,

To this Song of Hiawatha!

80    Ye who love a nation's legends,

Love the ballads of a people,

That like voices from afar off

Call to us to pause and listen,

Speak in tones so plain and childlike,

85Scarcely can the ear distinguish

Whether they are sung or spoken;-

Listen to this Indian Legend,

To this Song of Hiawatha!

Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,

90Who have faith in God and Nature,

Who believe that in all ages

Every human heart is human,

That in even savage bosoms

There are longings, yearnings, strivings

95For the good they comprehend not,

That the feeble hands and helpless,

Groping blindly in the darkness,

Touch God's right hand in that darkness

And are lifted up and strengthened;-

100Listen to this simple story,

To this Song of Hiawatha!

    Ye, who sometimes, in your rambles

Through the green lanes of the country,

Where the tangled barberry-bushes

105Hang their tufts of crimson berries

Over stone walls gray with mosses,

Pause by some neglected graveyard,

For a while to muse, and ponder

On a half-effaced inscription,

110Written with little skill of song-craft,

Homely phrases, but each letter

Full of hope and yet of heart-break,

Full of all the tender pathos

Of the Here and the Hereafter;

115Stay and read this rude inscription,

Read this Song of Hiawatha!