Hiawatha's Childhood (III)


Downward through the evening twilight,

In the days that are forgotten,

In the unremembered ages,

From the full moon fell Nokomis,

5Fell the beautiful Nokomis,

She a wife, but not a mother.

    She was sporting with her women,

Swinging in a swing of grape-vines,

When her rival the rejected,

10Full of jealousy and hatred,

Cut the leafy swing asunder,

Cut in twain the twisted grape-vines,

And Nokomis fell affrighted

Downward through the evening twilight,

15On the Muskoday, the meadow,

On the prairie full of blossoms.

"See! a star falls!" said the people;

"From the sky a star is falling!"

    There among the ferns and mosses,

20There among the prairie lilies,

On the Muskoday, the meadow,

In the moonlight and the starlight,

Fair Nokomis bore a daughter.

And she called her name Wenonah,

25As the first-born of her daughters.

And the daughter of Nokomis

Grew up like the prairie lilies,

Grew a tall and slender maiden,

With the beauty of the moonlight,

30With the beauty of the starlight.

    And Nokomis warned her often,

Saying oft, and oft repeating,

"Oh, beware of Mudjekeewis,

Of the West-Wind, Mudjekeewis;

35Listen not to what he tells you;

Lie not down upon the meadow,

Stoop not down among the lilies,

Lest the West-Wind come and harm you!"

    But she heeded not the warning,

40Heeded not those words of wisdom,

And the West-Wind came at evening,

Walking lightly o'er the prairie,

Whispering to the leaves and blossoms,

Bending low the flowers and grasses,

45Found the beautiful Wenonah,

Lying there among the lilies,

Wooed her with his words of sweetness,

Wooed her with his soft caresses,

Till she bore a son in sorrow,

50Bore a son of love and sorrow.

    Thus was born my Hiawatha,

Thus was born the child of wonder;

But the daughter of Nokomis,

Hiawatha's gentle mother,

55In her anguish died deserted

By the West-Wind, false and faithless,

By the heartless Mudjekeewis.

    For her daughter long and loudly

Wailed and wept the sad Nokomis;

60"Oh that I were dead!" she murmured,

"Oh that I were dead, as thou art!

No more work, and no more weeping,

Wahonowin! Wahonowin!"

    By the shores of Gitche Gumee,

65By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

Dark behind it rose the forest,

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,

70Rose the firs with cones upon them;

Bright before it beat the water,

Beat the clear and sunny water,

Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

    There the wrinkled old Nokomis

75Nursed the little Hiawatha,

Rocked him in his linden cradle,

Bedded soft in moss and rushes,

Safely bound with reindeer sinews;

Stilled his fretful wail by saying,

80"Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!"

Lulled him into slumber, singing,

"Ewa-yea! my little owlet!

Who is this, that lights the wigwam?

With his great eyes lights the wigwam?

85Ewa-yea! my little owlet!"

    Many things Nokomis taught him

Of the stars that shine in heaven;

Showed him Ishkoodah, the comet,

Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses;

90Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits,

Warriors with their plumes and war-clubs,

Flaring far away to northward

In the frosty nights of Winter;

Showed the broad white road in heaven,

95Pathway of the ghosts, the shadows,

Running straight across the heavens,

Crowded with the ghosts, the shadows.

    At the door on summer evenings

Sat the little Hiawatha;

100Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,

Heard the lapping of the waters,

Sounds of music, words of wonder;

'Minne-wawa!" said the Pine-trees,

Mudway-aushka!" said the water.

105    Saw the fire-fly, Wah-wah-taysee,

Flitting through the dusk of evening,

With the twinkle of its candle

Lighting up the brakes and bushes,

And he sang the song of children,

110Sang the song Nokomis taught him:

"Wah-wah-taysee, little fire-fly,

Little, flitting, white-fire insect,

Little, dancing, white-fire creature,

Light me with your little candle,

115Ere upon my bed I lay me,

Ere in sleep I close my eyelids!"

    Saw the moon rise from the water

Rippling, rounding from the water,

Saw the flecks and shadows on it,

120Whispered, "What is that, Nokomis?"

And the good Nokomis answered:

"Once a warrior, very angry,

Seized his grandmother, and threw her

Up into the sky at midnight;

125Right against the moon he threw her;

'T is her body that you see there."

    Saw the rainbow in the heaven,

In the eastern sky, the rainbow,

Whispered, "What is that, Nokomis?"

130And the good Nokomis answered:

"'T is the heaven of flowers you see there;

All the wild-flowers of the forest,

All the lilies of the prairie,

When on earth they fade and perish,

135Blossom in that heaven above us."

    When he heard the owls at midnight,

Hooting, laughing in the forest,

'What is that?" he cried in terror,

"What is that," he said, "Nokomis?"

140And the good Nokomis answered:

"That is but the owl and owlet,

Talking in their native language,

Talking, scolding at each other."

    Then the little Hiawatha

145Learned of every bird its language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,

How they built their nests in Summer,

Where they hid themselves in Winter,

Talked with them whene'er he met them,

150Called them "Hiawatha's Chickens."

    Of all beasts he learned the language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,

How the beavers built their lodges,

Where the squirrels hid their acorns,

155How the reindeer ran so swiftly,

Why the rabbit was so timid,

Talked with them whene'er he met them,

Called them "Hiawatha's Brothers."

    Then Iagoo, the great boaster,

160He the marvellous story-teller,

He the traveller and the talker,

He the friend of old Nokomis,

Made a bow for Hiawatha;

From a branch of ash he made it,

165From an oak-bough made the arrows,

Tipped with flint, and winged with feathers,

And the cord he made of deer-skin.

    Then he said to Hiawatha:

"Go, my son, into the forest,

170Where the red deer herd together,

Kill for us a famous roebuck,

Kill for us a deer with antlers!"

    Forth into the forest straightway

All alone walked Hiawatha

175Proudly, with his bow and arrows;

And the birds sang round him, o'er him,

"Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!"

Sang the robin, the Opechee,

Sang the bluebird, the Owaissa,

180"Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!"

    Up the oak-tree, close beside him,

Sprang the squirrel, Adjidaumo,

In and out among the branches,

Coughed and chattered from the oak-tree,

185Laughed, and said between his laughing,

"Do not shoot me, Hiawatha!"

    And the rabbit from his pathway

Leaped aside, and at a distance

Sat erect upon his haunches,

190Half in fear and half in frolic,

Saying to the little hunter,

"Do not shoot me, Hiawatha!"

    But he heeded not, nor heard them,

For his thoughts were with the red deer;

195On their tracks his eyes were fastened,

Leading downward to the river,

To the ford across the river,

And as one in slumber walked he.

    Hidden in the alder-bushes,

200There he waited till the deer came,

Till he saw two antlers lifted,

Saw two eyes look from the thicket,

Saw two nostrils point to windward,

And a deer came down the pathway,

205Flecked with leafy light and shadow.

And his heart within him fluttered,

Trembled like the leaves above him,

Like the birch-leaf palpitated,

As the deer came down the pathway.

210    Then, upon one knee uprising,

Hiawatha aimed an arrow;

Scarce a twig moved with his motion,

Scarce a leaf was stirred or rustled,

But the wary roebuck started,

215Stamped with all his hoofs together,

Listened with one foot uplifted,

Leaped as if to meet the arrow;

Ah! the singing, fatal arrow,

Like a wasp it buzzed and stung him!

220    Dead he lay there in the forest,

By the ford across the river;

Beat his timid heart no longer,

But the heart of Hiawatha

Throbbed and shouted and exulted,

225As he bore the red deer homeward,

And Iagoo and Nokomis

Hailed his coming with applauses.

    From the red deer's hide Nokomis

Made a cloak for Hiawatha,

230From the red deer's flesh Nokomis

Made a banquet to his honor.

All the village came and feasted,

All the guests praised Hiawatha,

Called him Strong-Heart, Soan-ge-taha!

235Called him Loon-Heart, Mahn-go-taysee!