Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Introduction) The Society August 26, 2012 Poetry 1 Comment On the shores of Gitche Gumee, Of the shining Big-Sea-Water, Stood Nokomis, the old woman, Pointing with her finger westward, O’er the water pointing westward, To the purple clouds of sunset. Fiercely the red sun descending Burned his way along the heavens, Set the sky on fire behind him, As war-parties, when retreating, Burn the prairies on their war-trail; And the moon, the Night-sun, eastward, Suddenly starting from his ambush, Followed fast those bloody footprints, Followed in that fiery war-trail, With its glare upon his features. And Nokomis, the old woman, Pointing with her finger westward, Spake these words to Hiawatha: “Yonder dwells the great Pearl-Feather, Megissogwon, the Magician, Manito of Wealth and Wampum, Guarded by his fiery serpents, Guarded by the black pitch-water. You can see his fiery serpents, The Kenabeek, the great serpents, Coiling, playing in the water; You can see the black pitch-water Stretching far away beyond them, To the purple clouds of sunset! “He it was who slew my father, By his wicked wiles and cunning, When he from the moon descended, When he came on earth to seek me. He, the mightiest of Magicians, Sends the fever from the marshes, Sends the pestilential vapors, Sends the poisonous exhalations, Sends the white fog from the fen-lands, Sends disease and death among us! “Take your bow, O Hiawatha, Take your arrows, jasper-headed, Take your war-club, Puggawaugun, And your mittens, Minjekahwun, And your birch-canoe for sailing, And the oil of Mishe-Nahma, So to smear its sides, that swiftly You may pass the black pitch-water; Slay this merciless magician, Save the people from the fever That he breathes across the fen-lands, And avenge my father’s murder!” Straightway then my Hiawatha Armed himself with all his war-gear, Launched his birch-canoe for sailing; With his palm its sides he patted, Said with glee, “Cheemaun, my darling, O my Birch-canoe! leap forward, Where you see the fiery serpents, Where you see the black pitch-water!” Forward leaped Cheemaun exulting, And the noble Hiawatha Sang his war-song wild and woful, And above him the war-eagle, The Keneu, the great war-eagle, Master of all fowls with feathers, Screamed and hurtled through the heavens. Soon he reached the fiery serpents, The Kenabeek, the great serpents, Lying huge upon the water, Sparkling, rippling in the water, Lying coiled across the passage, With their blazing crests uplifted, Breathing fiery fogs and vapors, So that none could pass beyond them. But the fearless Hiawatha Cried aloud, and spake in this wise: “Let me pass my way, Kenabeek, Let me go upon my journey!” And they answered, hissing fiercely, With their fiery breath made answer: “Back, go back! O Shaugodaya! Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart!” Then the angry Hiawatha Raised his mighty bow of ash-tree, Seized his arrows, jasper-headed, Shot them fast among the serpents; Every twanging of the bow-string Was a war-cry and a death-cry, Every whizzing of an arrow Was a death-song of Kenabeek. Weltering in the bloody water, Dead lay all the fiery serpents, And among them Hiawatha Harmless sailed, and cried exulting: “Onward, O Cheemaun, my darling! Onward to the black pitch-water!” Then he took the oil of Nahma, And the bows and sides anointed, Smeared them well with oil, that swiftly He might pass the black pitch-water. All night long he sailed upon it, Sailed upon that sluggish water, Covered with its mould of ages, Black with rotting water-rushes, Rank with flags and leaves of lilies, Stagnant, lifeless, dreary, dismal, Lighted by the shimmering moonlight, And by will-o’-the-wisps illumined, Fires by ghosts of dead men kindled, In their weary night-encampments. All the air was white with moonlight, All the water black with shadow, And around him the Suggema, The mosquito, sang his war-song, And the fire-flies, Wah-wah-taysee, Waved their torches to mislead him; And the bull-frog, the Dahinda, Thrust his head into the moonlight, Fixed his yellow eyes upon him, Sobbed and sank beneath the surface; And anon a thousand whistles, Answered over all the fen-lands, And the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah, Far off on the reedy margin, Heralded the hero’s coming. Westward thus fared Hiawatha, Toward the realm of Megissogwon, Toward the land of the Pearl-Feather, Till the level moon stared at him, In his face stared pale and haggard, Till the sun was hot behind him, Till it burned upon his shoulders, And before him on the upland He could see the Shining Wigwam Of the Manito of Wampum, Of the mightiest of Magicians. Then once more Cheemaun he patted, To his birch-canoe said, “Onward!” And it stirred in all its fibres, And with one great bound of triumph Leaped across the water-lilies, Leaped through tangled flags and rushes, And upon the beach beyond them Dry-shod landed Hiawatha. Straight he took his bow of ash-tree, On the sand one end he rested, With his knee he pressed the middle, Stretched the faithful bow-string tighter, Took an arrow, jasper-headed, Shot it at the Shining Wigwam, Sent it singing as a herald, As a bearer of his message, Of his challenge loud and lofty: “Come forth from your lodge, Pearl-Feather! Hiawatha waits your coming!” Straightway from the Shining Wigwam Came the mighty Megissogwon, Tall of stature, broad of shoulder, Dark and terrible in aspect, Clad from head to foot in wampum, Armed with all his warlike weapons, Painted like the sky of morning, Streaked with crimson, blue, and yellow, Crested with great eagle-feathers, Streaming upward, streaming outward. “Well I know you, Hiawatha!” Cried he in a voice of thunder, In a tone of loud derision. “Hasten back, O Shaugodaya! Hasten back among the women, Back to old Nokomis, Faint-heart! I will slay you as you stand there, As of old I slew her father!” But my Hiawatha answered, Nothing daunted, fearing nothing: “Big words do not smite like war-clubs, Boastful breath is not a bow-string, Taunts are not so sharp as arrows, Deeds are better things than words are, Actions mightier than boastings!” Then began the greatest battle That the sun had ever looked on, That the war-birds ever witnessed. All a Summer’s day it lasted, From the sunrise to the sunset; For the shafts of Hiawatha Harmless hit the shirt of wampum, Harmless fell the blows he dealt it With his mittens, Minjekahwun, Harmless fell the heavy war-club; It could dash the rocks asunder, But it could not break the meshes Of that magic shirt of wampum. Till at sunset Hiawatha, Leaning on his bow of ash-tree, Wounded, weary, and desponding, With his mighty war-club broken, With his mittens torn and tattered, And three useless arrows only, Paused to rest beneath a pine-tree, From whose branches trailed the mosses, And whose trunk was coated over With the Dead-man’s Moccasin-leather, With the fungus white and yellow. Suddenly from the boughs above him Sang the Mama, the woodpecker: “Aim your arrows, Hiawatha, At the head of Megissogwon, Strike the tuft of hair upon it, At their roots the long black tresses; There alone can he be wounded!” Winged with feathers, tipped with jasper, Swift flew Hiawatha’s arrow, Just as Megissogwon, stooping, Raised a heavy stone to throw it. Full upon the crown it struck him, At the roots of his long tresses, And he reeled and staggered forward, Plunging like a wounded bison, Yes, like Pezhekee, the bison, When the snow is on the prairie. Swifter flew the second arrow, In the pathway of the other, Piercing deeper than the other, Wounding sorer than the other; And the knees of Megissogwon Shook like windy reeds beneath him, Bent and trembled like the rushes. But the third and latest arrow Swiftest flew, and wounded sorest, And the mighty Megissogwon Saw the fiery eyes of Pauguk, Saw the eyes of Death glare at him, Heard his voice call in the darkness; At the feet of Hiawatha Lifeless lay the great Pearl-Feather, Lay the mightiest of Magicians. Then the grateful Hiawatha Called the Mama, the woodpecker, From his perch among the branches Of the melancholy pine-tree, And, in honor of his service, Stained with blood the tuft of feathers On the little head of Mama; Even to this day he wears it, Wears the tuft of crimson feathers, As a symbol of his service. Then he stripped the shirt of wampum From the back of Megissogwon, As a trophy of the battle, As a signal of his conquest. On the shore he left the body, Half on land and half in water, In the sand his feet were buried, And his face was in the water. And above him, wheeled and clamored The Keneu, the great war-eagle, Sailing round in narrower circles, Hovering nearer, nearer, nearer. From the wigwam Hiawatha Bore the wealth of Megissogwon, All his wealth of skins and wampum, Furs of bison and of beaver, Furs of sable and of ermine, Wampum belts and strings and pouches, Quivers wrought with beads of wampum, Filled with arrows, silver-headed. Homeward then he sailed exulting, Homeward through the black pitch-water, Homeward through the weltering serpents, With the trophies of the battle, With a shout and song of triumph. On the shore stood old Nokomis, On the shore stood Chibiabos, And the very strong man, Kwasind, Waiting for the hero’s coming, Listening to his songs of triumph. And the people of the village Welcomed him with songs and dances, Made a joyous feast, and shouted: “Honor be to Hiawatha! He has slain the great Pearl-Feather, Slain the mightiest of Magicians, Him, who sent the fiery fever, Sent the white fog from the fen-lands, Sent disease and death among us!” Ever dear to Hiawatha Was the memory of Mama! And in token of his friendship, As a mark of his remembrance, He adorned and decked his pipe-stem With the crimson tuft of feathers, With the blood-red crest of Mama. But the wealth of Megissogwon, All the trophies of the battle, He divided with his people, Shared it equally among them. Click here for the full poem. Featured Image: The Song of Hiawatha illustration – Frederic Remington Views expressed by individual poets and writers on this website and by commenters do not represent the views of the entire Society. The comments section on regular posts is meant to be a place for civil and fruitful discussion. Pseudonyms are discouraged. 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