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
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
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
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
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!
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,
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.