Blessing the Cornfields (XIII)

 

Sing, O Song of Hiawatha,

Of the happy days that followed,

In the land of the Ojibways,

In the pleasant land and peaceful!

5Sing the mysteries of Mondamin,

Sing the Blessing of the Cornfields!

    Buried was the bloody hatchet,

Buried was the dreadful war-club,

Buried were all warlike weapons,

10And the war-cry was forgotten.

There was peace among the nations;

Unmolested roved the hunters,

Built the birch canoe for sailing,

Caught the fish in lake and river,

15Shot the deer and trapped the beaver;

Unmolested worked the women,

Made their sugar from the maple,

Gathered wild rice in the meadows,

Dressed the skins of deer and beaver.

20    All around the happy village

Stood the maize-fields, green and shining,

Waved the green plumes of Mondamin,

Waved his soft and sunny tresses,

Filling all the land with plenty.

25`T was the women who in Spring-time

Planted the broad fields and fruitful,

Buried in the earth Mondamin;

`T was the women who in Autumn

Stripped the yellow husks of harvest,

30Stripped the garments from Mondamin,

Even as Hiawatha taught them.

    Once, when all the maize was planted,

Hiawatha, wise and thoughtful,

Spake and said to Minnehaha,

35To his wife, the Laughing Water:

"You shall bless to-night the cornfields,

Draw a magic circle round them,

To protect them from destruction,

Blast of mildew, blight of insect,

40Wagemin, the thief of cornfields,

Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear

    "In the night, when all Is silence,'

In the night, when all Is darkness,

When the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,

45Shuts the doors of all the wigwams,

So that not an ear can hear you,

So that not an eye can see you,

Rise up from your bed in silence,

Lay aside your garments wholly,

50Walk around the fields you planted,

Round the borders of the cornfields,

Covered by your tresses only,

Robed with darkness as a garment.

    "Thus the fields shall be more fruitful,

55And the passing of your footsteps

Draw a magic circle round them,

So that neither blight nor mildew,

Neither burrowing worm nor insect,

Shall pass o'er the magic circle;

60Not the dragon-fly, Kwo-ne-she,

Nor the spider, Subbekashe,

Nor the grasshopper, Pah-puk-keena;

Nor the mighty caterpillar,

Way-muk-kwana, with the bear-skin,

65King of all the caterpillars!"

    On the tree-tops near the cornfields

Sat the hungry crows and ravens,

Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

With his band of black marauders.

70And they laughed at Hiawatha,

Till the tree-tops shook with laughter,

With their melancholy laughter,

At the words of Hiawatha.

"Hear him!" said they; "hear the Wise Man,

75Hear the plots of Hiawatha!"

    When the noiseless night descended

Broad and dark o'er field and forest,

When the mournful Wawonaissa

Sorrowing sang among the hemlocks,

80And the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,

Shut the doors of all the wigwams,

From her bed rose Laughing Water,

Laid aside her garments wholly,

And with darkness clothed and guarded,

85Unashamed and unaffrighted,

Walked securely round the cornfields,

Drew the sacred, magic circle

Of her footprints round the cornfields.

    No one but the Midnight only

90Saw her beauty in the darkness,

No one but the Wawonaissa

Heard the panting of her bosom

Guskewau, the darkness, wrapped her

Closely in his sacred mantle,

95So that none might see her beauty,

So that none might boast, "I saw her!"

    On the morrow, as the day dawned,

Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

Gathered all his black marauders,

100Crows and blackbirds, jays and ravens,

Clamorous on the dusky tree-tops,

And descended, fast and fearless,

On the fields of Hiawatha,

On the grave of the Mondamin.

105    "We will drag Mondamin," said they,

"From the grave where he is buried,

Spite of all the magic circles

Laughing Water draws around it,

Spite of all the sacred footprints

110Minnehaha stamps upon it!"

  But the wary Hiawatha,

Ever thoughtful, careful, watchful,

Had o'erheard the scornful laughter

When they mocked him from the tree-tops.

115"Kaw!" he said, "my friends the ravens!

Kahgahgee, my King of Ravens!

I will teach you all a lesson

That shall not be soon forgotten!"

    He had risen before the daybreak,

120He had spread o'er all the cornfields

Snares to catch the black marauders,

And was lying now in ambush

In the neighboring grove of pine-trees,

Waiting for the crows and blackbirds,

125Waiting for the jays and ravens.

    Soon they came with caw and clamor,

Rush of wings and cry of voices,

To their work of devastation,

Settling down upon the cornfields,

130Delving deep with beak and talon,

For the body of Mondamin.

And with all their craft and cunning,

All their skill in wiles of warfare,

They perceived no danger near them,

135Till their claws became entangled,

Till they found themselves imprisoned

In the snares of Hiawatha.

    From his place of ambush came he,

Striding terrible among them,

140And so awful was his aspect

That the bravest quailed with terror.

Without mercy he destroyed them

Right and left, by tens and twenties,

And their wretched, lifeless bodies

145Hung aloft on poles for scarecrows

Round the consecrated cornfields,

As a signal of his vengeance,

As a warning to marauders.

    Only Kahgahgee, the leader,

150Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

He alone was spared among them

As a hostage for his people.

With his prisoner-string he bound him,

Led him captive to his wigwam,

155Tied him fast with cords of elm-bark

To the ridge-pole of his wigwam.

    "Kahgahgee, my raven!" said he,

"You the leader of the robbers,

You the plotter of this mischief,

160The contriver of this outrage,

I will keep you, I will hold you,

As a hostage for your people,

As a pledge of good behavior!"

    And he left him, grim and sulky,

165Sitting in the morning sunshine

On the summit of the wigwam,

Croaking fiercely his displeasure,

Flapping his great sable pinions,

Vainly struggling for his freedom,

170Vainly calling on his people!

    Summer passed, and Shawondasee

Breathed his sighs o'er all the landscape,

From the South-land sent his ardor,

Wafted kisses warm and tender;

175And the maize-field grew and ripened,

Till it stood in all the splendor

Of its garments green and yellow,

Of its tassels and its plumage,

And the maize-ears full and shining

180Gleamed from bursting sheaths of verdure.

    Then Nokomis, the old woman,

Spake, and said to Minnehaha:

    `T is the Moon when, leaves are falling;

All the wild rice has been gathered,

185And the maize is ripe and ready;

Let us gather in the harvest,

Let us wrestle with Mondamin,

Strip him of his plumes and tassels,

Of his garments green and yellow!"

190    And the merry Laughing Water

Went rejoicing from the wigwam,

With Nokomis, old and wrinkled,

And they called the women round them,

Called the young men and the maidens,

195To the harvest of the cornfields,

To the husking of the maize-ear.

    On the border of the forest,

Underneath the fragrant pine-trees,

Sat the old men and the warriors

200Smoking in the pleasant shadow.

In uninterrupted silence

Looked they at the gamesome labor

Of the young men and the women;

Listened to their noisy talking,

205To their laughter and their singing,

Heard them chattering like the magpies,

Heard them laughing like the blue-jays,

Heard them singing like the robins.

    And whene'er some lucky maiden

210Found a red ear in the husking,

Found a maize-ear red as blood is,

"Nushka!" cried they all together,

"Nushka! you shall have a sweetheart,

You shall have a handsome husband!"

215"Ugh!" the old men all responded

From their seats beneath the pine-trees.

    And whene'er a youth or maiden

Found a crooked ear in husking,

Found a maize-ear in the husking

220Blighted, mildewed, or misshapen,

Then they laughed and sang together,

Crept and limped about the cornfields,

Mimicked in their gait and gestures

Some old man, bent almost double,

225Singing singly or together:

"Wagemin, the thief of cornfields!

Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear!"

    Till the cornfields rang with laughter,

Till from Hiawatha's wigwam

230Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

Screamed and quivered in his anger,

And from all the neighboring tree-tops

Cawed and croaked the black marauders.

"Ugh!" the old men all responded,

235From their seats beneath the pine-trees!