Hiawatha's Sailing (VII)


"Give me of your bark, O Birch-tree!

Of your yellow bark, O Birch-tree!

Growing by the rushing river,

Tall and stately in the valley!

5I a light canoe will build me,

Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,

That shall float on the river,

Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,

Like a yellow water-lily!

10    "Lay aside your cloak, O Birch-tree!

Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,

For the Summer-time is coming,

And the sun is warm in heaven,

And you need no white-skin wrapper!"

15    Thus aloud cried Hiawatha

In the solitary forest,

By the rushing Taquamenaw,

When the birds were singing gayly,

In the Moon of Leaves were singing,

20And the sun, from sleep awaking,

Started up and said, "Behold me!

Gheezis, the great Sun, behold me!"

    And the tree with all its branches

Rustled in the breeze of morning,

25Saying, with a sigh of patience,

"Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!"

    With his knife the tree he girdled;

Just beneath its lowest branches,

Just above the roots, he cut it,

30Till the sap came oozing outward;

Down the trunk, from top to bottom,

Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,

With a wooden wedge he raised it,

Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

35    "Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!

Of your strong and pliant branches,

My canoe to make more steady,

Make more strong and firm beneath me!"

    Through the summit of the Cedar

40Went a sound, a cry of horror,

Went a murmur of resistance;

But it whispered, bending downward,

'Take my boughs, O Hiawatha!"

    Down he hewed the boughs of cedar,

45Shaped them straightway to a frame-work,

Like two bows he formed and shaped them,

Like two bended bows together.

    "Give me of your roots, O Tamarack!

Of your fibrous roots, O Larch-tree!

50My canoe to bind together,

So to bind the ends together

That the water may not enter,

That the river may not wet me!"

    And the Larch, with all its fibres,

55Shivered in the air of morning,

Touched his forehead with its tassels,

Slid, with one long sigh of sorrow.

"Take them all, O Hiawatha!"

    From the earth he tore the fibres,

60Tore the tough roots of the Larch-tree,

Closely sewed the hark together,

Bound it closely to the frame-work.

    "Give me of your balm, O Fir-tree!

Of your balsam and your resin,

65So to close the seams together

That the water may not enter,

That the river may not wet me!"

    And the Fir-tree, tall and sombre,

Sobbed through all its robes of darkness,

70Rattled like a shore with pebbles,

Answered wailing, answered weeping,

"Take my balm, O Hiawatha!"

    And he took the tears of balsam,

Took the resin of the Fir-tree,

75Smeared therewith each seam and fissure,

Made each crevice safe from water.

    "Give me of your quills, O Hedgehog!

All your quills, O Kagh, the Hedgehog!

I will make a necklace of them,

80Make a girdle for my beauty,

And two stars to deck her bosom!"

    From a hollow tree the Hedgehog

With his sleepy eyes looked at him,

Shot his shining quills, like arrows,

85Saying with a drowsy murmur,

Through the tangle of his whiskers,

"Take my quills, O Hiawatha!"

    From the ground the quills he gathered,

All the little shining arrows,

90Stained them red and blue and yellow,

With the juice of roots and berries;

Into his canoe he wrought them,

Round its waist a shining girdle,

Round its bows a gleaming necklace,

95On its breast two stars resplendent.

    Thus the Birch Canoe was builded

In the valley, by the river,

In the bosom of the forest;

And the forest's life was in it,

100All its mystery and its magic,

All the lightness of the birch-tree,

All the toughness of the cedar,

All the larch's supple sinews;

And it floated on the river

105Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,

Like a yellow water-lily.

    Paddles none had Hiawatha,

Paddles none he had or needed,

For his thoughts as paddles served him,

110And his wishes served to guide him;

Swift or slow at will he glided,

Veered to right or left at pleasure.

    Then he called aloud to Kwasind,

To his friend, the strong man, Kwasind,

115Saying, "Help me clear this river

Of its sunken logs and sand-bars."

    Straight into the river Kwasind

Plunged as if he were an otter,

Dived as if he were a beaver,

120Stood up to his waist in water,

To his arm-pits in the river,

Swam and scouted in the river,

Tugged at sunken logs and branches,

With his hands he scooped the sand-bars,

125With his feet the ooze and tangle.

    And thus sailed my Hiawatha

Down the rushing Taquamenaw,

Sailed through all its bends and windings,

Sailed through all its deeps and shallows,

130While his friend, the strong man, Kwasind,

Swam the deeps, the shallows waded.

    Up and down the river went they,

In and out among its islands,

Cleared its bed of root and sand-bar,

135Dragged the dead trees from its channel,

Made its passage safe and certain,

Made a pathway for the people,

From its springs among the mountains,

To the waters of Pauwating,

140To the bay of Taquamenaw.