The Song of Hiawatha

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I.—Of Hiawatha and His Battle with Mudjekeewis

Hiawatha was sent by Gitche Manito, the Master of Life, as a prophet to guide and to teach the tribes of men, and to toil and suffer with them. If they listened to his counsels they would multiply and prosper, but if they paid no heed they would fade away and perish. His father was Mudjekeewis, the West Wind; his mother was Wenonah, the first-born daughter of Nokomis, who was the daughter of the Moon. Wenonah died in her anguish deserted by the West Wind, and Hiawatha was brought up and taught by the old Nokomis. He soon learned the language of every bird and every beast; and Iagoo, the great boaster and story-teller, made him a bow with which he shot the red deer. When he grew into manhood he put many questions concerning his mother to the old Nokomis, and having learned her story, resolved, despite all warnings, to take vengeance on Mudjekeewis.

Forth he strode into the forest, Crossed the rushing Esconaba, Crossed the mighty Mississippi, Passed the Mountains of the Prairie, Passed the dwellings of the Blackfeet, Came unto the Rocky Mountains, To the kingdom of the West Wind, Where upon the gusty summits Sat the ancient Mudjekeewis, Ruler of the winds of Heaven. Filled with awe was Hiawatha At the aspect of his father. Filled with joy was Mudjekeewis When he looked on Hiawatha. "Welcome," said he, "Hiawatha, To the kingdom of the West Wind! Long have I been waiting for you. Youth is lovely, age is lonely; You bring back the days departed, You bring back my youth of passion, And the beautiful Wenonah!" Many days they talked together, Questioned, listened, waited, answered; Much the mighty Mudjekeewis Boasted of his ancient prowess. Patiently sat Hiawatha Listening to his father's boasting. Then he said: "O Mudjekeewis, Is there nothing that can harm you?" And the mighty Mudjekeewis Answered, saying, "There is nothing, Nothing but the black rock yonder, Nothing but the fatal Wawbeek!" And he looked at Hiawatha With a wise look and benignant, Saying, "O my Hiawatha! Is there anything can harm you?" But the wary Hiawatha Paused awhile as if uncertain, And then answered, "There is nothing, Nothing but the great Apukwa!" Then they talked of other matters; First of Hiawatha's brothers,  First of Wabun, of the East Wind. Of the South Wind, Shawondasee, Of the north, Kabibonokka; Then of Hiawatha's mother, Of the beautiful Wenonah, Of her birth upon the meadow, Of her death, as old Nokomis Had remembered and related. Then up started Hiawatha, Laid his hand upon the black rock. With his mittens, Minjekahwun, Rent the jutting crag asunder, Smote and crushed it into fragments Which he hurled against his father, The remorseful Mudjekeewis, For his heart was hot within him, Like a living coal his heart was. But the ruler of the West Wind Blew the fragments backward from him, Blew them back at his assailant; Seized the bulrush, the Apukwa, Dragged it with its roots and fibres From the margin of the meadow. Long and loud laughed Hiawatha. Like a tall tree in the tempest Bent and lashed the giant bulrush; And in masses huge and heavy Crashing fell the fatal Wawbeek; Till the earth shook with the tumult And confusion of the battle. Back retreated Mudjekeewis, Rushing westward o'er the mountains, Stumbling westward down the mountains, Three whole days retreated fighting, Still pursued by Hiawatha To the doorways of the West Wind, To the earth's remotest border.  "Hold!" at length called Mudjekeewis, "'Tis impossible to kill me. For you cannot kill the immortal. I have put you to this trial But to know and prove your courage. Now receive the prize of valour! Go back to your home and people, Live among them, toil among them, Cleanse the earth from all that harms it. And at last when Death draws near you, When the awful eyes of Pauguk Glare upon you in the darkness, I will share my kingdom with you; Ruler shall you be thenceforward Of the North-west Wind, Keewaydin, Of the home wind, the Keewaydin."

II.—Of Hiawatha's Friends and of His Fight with Pearl-Feather

The first exertion which Hiawatha made for the profit of his people was to fast for seven days in order to procure for them the blessing of Mondamin, the friend of man. At sunset of the fourth, fifth, and sixth days Hiawatha wrestled with the youth Mondamin, and on the evening of the seventh day Mondamin, having fallen lifeless in the combat, was stripped of his green and yellow garments and laid in the earth. From his grave shot up the maize in all its beauty, the new gift of the Great Spirit; and for a time Hiawatha rested from his labours, taking counsel for furthering the prosperity of his people with his two good friends—Chibiabos, the great singer and musician; and Kwasind, the very strong man. But he was not long inactive. He built the first birch canoe, and, with the help of Kwasind, cleared the river of its sunken logs and sand-bars; and when he and his canoe were swallowed by the monstrous sturgeon Mishe-Nahma, he killed it by smiting fiercely on its heart. Not long afterwards his grandmother, Nokomis, incited him to kill the great Pearl-Feather, Megissogwon, the magician who had slain her father. Pearl-Feather was the sender of white fog, of pestilential vapours, of fever and of poisonous exhalations, and, although he was guarded by the Kenabeek, the great fiery surpents, Hiawatha sailed readily in his birch canoe to encounter him.

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 vapours, So that none could pass beyond them. Then he raised his 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. Then he took the oil of Nahma, Mishe-Nahma, the great sturgeon, 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 mold 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'-wisps illumined, Fires by ghosts of dead men kindled, In their weary night encampments. 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. 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, Crested with great eagle feathers, Streaming upward, streaming outward. Then began the greatest battle That the sun had ever looked on. All a summer's day it lasted; For the shafts of Hiawatha Harmless hit the shirt of wampum; Harmless were his magic mittens, 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. Suddenly, from the boughs above him Sang the Mama, the woodpecker: "Aim your arrow, 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, And he reeled and staggered forward. Swifter flew the second arrow, Wounding sorer than the other; And the knees of Megissogwon 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; At the feet of Hiawatha Lifeless lay the great Pearl-Feather. Then the grateful Hiawatha Called the Mama, the woodpecker, From his perch among the branches, And in honour 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.

III.—Hiawatha's Life with His People and His Departing Westward

When Hiawatha was returning from his battle with Mudjekeewis he had stopped at the wigwam of the ancient Arrow-maker to purchase heads of arrows, and there and then he had noticed the beauty of the Arrow-maker's daughter, Minnehaha, Laughing Water. Her he now took to wife, and celebrated his nuptials by a wedding-feast at which Chibiabos sang, and the handsome mischief-maker, Pau-Puk-Keewis, danced. Minnehaha proved another blessing to the people. In the darkness of the night, covered by her long hair only, she walked all round  the fields of maize, making them fruitful, and drawing a magic circle round them which neither blight nor mildew, neither worm nor insect, could invade. About this same time, too, to prevent the memory of men and things fading, Hiawatha invented picture-writing, and taught it to his people. But soon misfortunes came upon him. The evil spirits, the Manitos of mischief, broke the ice beneath his friend Chibiabos, and drowned him; Pau-Puk-Keewis put insult upon him, and had to be hunted down; and the envious Little People, the mischievous Puk-Wudjies, conspired against Kwasind, and murdered him. After this ghosts paid a visit to Hiawatha's wigwam, and famine came upon the land.

Oh, the long and dreary winter! Oh, the cold and cruel winter! Ever thicker, thicker, thicker Froze the ice on lake and river; Ever deeper, deeper, deeper Fell the snow o'er all the landscape, Fell the covering snow, and drifted Through the forest, round the village. All the earth was sick and famished; Hungry was the air around them, Hungry was the sky above them, And the hungry stars in heaven Like the eyes of wolves glared at them! Into Hiawatha's wigwam Came two other guests, as silent As the ghosts were, and as gloomy. Looked with haggard eyes and hollow At the face of Laughing Water. And the foremost said, "Behold me! I am Famine, Buckadawin!" And the other said, "Behold me! I am Fever, Ahkosewin!" And the lovely Minnehaha Shuddered as they looked upon her, Shuddered at the words they uttered; Lay down on her bed in silence. Forth into the empty forest Rushed the maddened Hiawatha;  In his heart was deadly sorrow, In his face a stony firmness; On his brow the sweat of anguish Started, but it froze and fell not. "Gitche Manito, the Mighty!" Cried he with his face uplifted In that bitter hour of anguish, "Give your children food, O father! Give me food for Minnehaha— For my dying Minnehaha!" All day long roved Hiawatha In that melancholy forest, Through the shadow of whose thickets, In the pleasant days of summer, Of that ne'er-forgotten summer, He had brought his young wife homeward From the land of the Dacotahs. In the wigwam with Nokomis, With those gloomy guests that watched her, She was lying, the beloved, She, the dying Minnehaha. "Hark!" she said; "I hear a rushing, Hear the falls of Minnehaha Coming to me from a distance!" "No, my child!" said old Nokomis, "'Tis the night-wind in the pine-trees!" "Look!" she said; "I see my father Beckoning, lonely, from his wigwam In the land of the Dacotahs!" "No, my child!" said old Nokomis. "'Tis the smoke that waves and beckons!" "Ah!" said she, "the eyes of Pauguk Glare upon me in the darkness; I can feel his icy fingers Clasping mine amid the darkness! Hiawatha! Hiawatha!"  And the desolate Hiawatha, Miles away among the mountains, Heard that sudden cry of anguish, Heard the voice of Minnehaha Calling to him in the darkness. Over snowfields waste and pathless, Under snow-encumbered branches, Homeward hurried Hiawatha, Empty-handed, heavy-hearted; Heard Nokomis moaning, wailing, "Would that I had perished for you, Would that I were dead as you are!" And he rushed into the wigwam, Saw the old Nokomis slowly Rocking to and fro and moaning, Saw his lovely Minnehaha Lying dead and cold before him; And his bursting heart within him Uttered such a cry of anguish That the very stars in heaven Shook and trembled with his anguish. Then he sat down, still and speechless, On the bed of Minnehaha. Seven long days and nights he sat there, As if in a swoon he sat there. Then they buried Minnehaha; In the snow a grave they made her, In the forest deep and darksome. "Farewell!" said he. "Minnehaha! Farewell, O my Laughing Water! All my heart is buried with you, All my thoughts go onward with you! Come not back again to labour, Come not back again to suffer. Soon my task will be completed, Soon your footsteps I shall follow To the Islands of the Blessed,  To the Kingdom of Ponemah, To the Land of the Hereafter!"

Hiawatha indeed remained not much longer with his people, for after welcoming the Black-Robe chief, who told the elders of the nations of the Virgin Mary and her blessed Son and Saviour, he launched his birch canoe from the shores of Big-Sea-Water, and, departing westward,

Sailed into the fiery sunset, Sailed into the purple vapours, Sailed into the dusk of evening.