Episode 13: Hiawatha’ Childhood

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Hiawatha’s Childhood

from The Song of Hiawatha

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

By the shores of Gitche Gumee
By 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,
Rose 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
Nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle,
Bedded soft with moss and rushes,
Safely bound with reindeer sinews;
Stilled his fretful wail by saying,
“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?
Ewa-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;
Showed 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,
Pathway 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;
Heard 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.
Saw the fire-fly, Wah-wah-taysee,
With the twinkle of its candle
Lighting up the brake and bushes,
And he sang the song of children,
Sang 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,
Ere 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,
Whispered “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;
Right against the moon he threw her;
‘Tis her body that you see there.”
Saw the rainbow in the heaven,
In the eastern sky, the rainbow,
Whispered, “What is that Nokomis?”
And the good Nokomis answered:
“’Tis 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,
Blossom 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?”
And 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
Learned of every bird its language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How they built their nests in Sumer,
Where they hid themselves in Winter,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called 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,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene’er he met them,
Called the “Hiawatha’s Brothers.”
Then Iagoo, the great boaster,
He the marvelous story-teller,
He, the traveler and the talker,
He the friend of old Nokomis,
Made a bow for Hiawatha;
From a branch of ash he made it,
From 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,
Where 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
Proudly, 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 bluebirds ,the Owaissa,
“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,
Laughed, 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,
Half 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;
On 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,
There 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,
Flecked 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.
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,
Stamped 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!
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,
As 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,
From the red deer’s flesh Nokomis
Made a banquet iin his honor.
All the village came and feasted,
All the guests praised Hiawatha,
Called him Strong-Heart, Soan-ge-tah!
Called him Loon-Heart, Mahn-go-taysee!

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