Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  XII. The Son of the Evening Star

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

The Song of Hiawatha

XII. The Son of the Evening Star

CAN it be the sun descending

O’er the level plain of water?

Or the Red Swan floating, flying,

Wounded by the magic arrow,

Staining all the waves with crimson,

With the crimson of its life-blood,

Filling all the air with splendor,

With the splendor of its plumage?

Yes; it is the sun descending,

Sinking down into the water;

All the sky is stained with purple,

All the water flushed with crimson!

No; it is the Red Swan floating,

Diving down beneath the water;

To the sky its wings are lifted,

With its blood the waves are reddened!

Over it the Star of Evening

Melts and trembles through the purple,

Hangs suspended in the twilight.

No; it is a bead of wampum

On the robes of the Great Spirit

As he passes through the twilight,

Walks in silence through the heavens.

This with joy beheld Iagoo

And he said in haste: “Behold it!

See the sacred Star of Evening!

You shall hear a tale of wonder,

Hear the story of Osseo,

Son of the Evening Star, Osseo!

“Once, in days no more remembered,

Ages nearer the beginning,

When the heavens were closer to us,

And the Gods were more familiar,

In the North-land lived a hunter,

With ten young and comely daughters,

Tall and lithe as wands of willow;

Only Oweenee, the youngest,

She the wilful and the wayward,

She the silent, dreamy maiden,

Was the fairest of the sisters.

“All these women married warriors,

Married brave and haughty husbands;

Only Oweenee, the youngest,

Laughed and flouted all her lovers,

All her young and handsome suitors,

And then married old Osseo,

Old Osseo, poor and ugly,

Broken with age and weak with coughing,

Always coughing like a squirrel.

“Ah, but beautiful within him

Was the spirit of Osseo,

From the Evening Star descended,

Star of Evening, Star of Woman,

Star of tenderness and passion!

All its fire was in his bosom,

All its beauty in his spirit,

All its mystery in his being,

All its splendor in his language!

“And her lovers, the rejected,

Handsome men with belts of wampum,

Handsome men with paint and feathers,

Pointed at her in derision,

Followed her with jest and laughter.

But she said: ‘I care not for you,

Care not for your belts of wampum,

Care not for your paint and feathers,

Care not for your jests and laughter;

I am happy with Osseo!’

“Once to some great feast invited,

Through the damp and dusk of evening,

Walked together the ten sisters,

Walked together with their husbands;

Slowly followed old Osseo,

With fair Oweenee beside him;

All the others chatted gayly,

These two only walked in silence.

“At the western sky Osseo

Gazed intent, as if imploring,

Often stopped and gazed imploring

At the trembling Star of Evening,

At the tender Star of Woman;

And they heard him murmur softly,

‘Ah, showain nemeshin, Nosa!

Pity, pity me, my father!’

“‘Listen!’ said the eldest sister,

‘He is praying to his father!

What a pity that the old man

Does not stumble in the pathway,

Does not break his neck by falling!’

And they laughed till all the forest

Rang with their unseemly laughter.

“On their pathway through the wood lands

Lay an oak, by storms uprooted,

Lay the great trunk of an oak-tree,

Buried half in leaves and mosses,

Mouldering, crumbling, huge and hollow.

And Osseo, when he saw it,

Gave a shout, a cry of anguish,

Leaped into its yawning cavern,

At one end went in an old man,

Wasted, wrinkled, old, and ugly;

From the other came a young man,

Tall and straight and strong and handsome

“Thus Osseo was transfigured,

Thus restored to youth and beauty;

But, alas for good Osseo,

And for Oweenee, the faithful!

Strangely, too, was she transfigured.

Changed into a weak old woman,

With a staff she tottered onward,

Wasted, wrinkled, old, and ugly!

And the sisters and their husbands

Laughed until the echoing forest

Rang with their unseemly laughter.

“But Osseo turned not from her,

Walked with slower step beside her,

Took her hand, as brown and withered

As an oak-leaf is in Winter,

Called her sweetheart, Nenemoosha,

Soothed her with soft words of kindness,

Till they reached the lodge of feasting,

Till they sat down in the wigwam,

Sacred to the Star of Evening,

To the tender Star of Woman.

“Wrapt in visions, lost in dreaming,

At the banquet sat Osseo;

All were merry, all were happy,

All were joyous but Osseo.

Neither food nor drink he tasted,

Neither did he speak nor listen,

But as one bewildered sat he,

Looking dreamily and sadly,

First at Oweenee, then upward

At the gleaming sky above them.

“Then a voice was heard, a whisper,

Coming from the starry distance,

Coming from the empty vastness,

Low, and musical, and tender;

And the voice said: ‘O Osseo!

O my son, my best beloved!

Broken are the spells that bound you,

All the charms of the magicians,

All the magic powers of evil;

Come to me; ascend, Osseo!

“‘Taste the food that stands before you:

It is blessed and enchanted,

It has magic virtues in it,

It will change you to a spirit.

All your bowls and all your kettles

Shall be wood and clay no longer;

But the bowls be changed to wampum,

And the kettles shall be silver;

They shall shine like shells of scarlet,

Like the fire shall gleam and glimmer.

“‘And the women shall no longer

Bear the dreary doom of labor,

But be changed to birds, and glisten

With the beauty of the starlight,

Painted with the dusky splendors

Of the skies and clouds of evening!’

“What Osseo heard as whispers,

What as words he comprehended,

Was but music to the others,

Music as of birds afar off,

Of the whippoorwill afar off,

Of the lonely Wawonaissa

Singing in the darksome forest.

“Then the lodge began to tremble,

Straight began to shake and tremble,

And they felt it rising, rising,

Slowly through the air ascending,

From the darkness of the tree-tops

Forth into the dewy starlight,

Till it passed the topmost branches;

And behold! the wooden dishes

All were changed to shells of scarlet!

And behold! the earthen kettles

All were changed to bowls of silver!

And the roof-poles of the wigwam

Were as glittering rods of silver,

And the roof of bark upon them

As the shining shards of beetles.

“Then Osseo gazed around him,

And he saw the nine fair sisters,

All the sisters and their husbands,

Changed to birds of various plumage.

Some were jays and some were magpies,

Others thrushes, others blackbirds;

And they hopped, and sang, and twittered,

Perked and fluttered all their feathers,

Strutted in their shining plumage,

And their tails like fans unfolded.

“Only Oweenee, the youngest,

Was not changed, but sat in silence,

Wasted, wrinkled, old, and ugly,

Looking sadly at the others;

Till Osseo, gazing upward,

Gave another cry of anguish,

Such a cry as he had uttered

By the oak-tree in the forest.

“Then returned her youth and beauty,

And her soiled and tattered garments

Were transformed to robes of ermine,

And her staff became a feather,

Yes, a shining silver feather!

“And again the wigwam trembled,

Swayed and rushed through airy currents,

Through transparent cloud and vapor,

And amid celestial splendors

On the Evening Star alighted,

As a snow-flake falls on snow-flake,

As a leaf drops on a river,

As the thistle-down on water.

“Forth with cheerful words of welcome

Came the father of Osseo,

He with radiant locks of silver,

He with eyes serene and tender.

And he said: ‘My son, Osseo,

Hang the cage of birds you bring there,

Hang the cage with rods of silver,

And the birds with glistening feathers,

At the doorway of my wigwam.’

“At the door he hung the bird-cage,

And they entered in and gladly

Listened to Osseo’s father,

Ruler of the Star of Evening,

As he said: ‘O my Osseo!

I have had compassion on you,

Given you back your youth and beauty,

Into birds of various plumage

Changed your sisters and their husbands;

Changed them thus because they mocked you

In the figure of the old man,

In that aspect sad and wrinkled,

Could not see your heart of passion,

Could not see your youth immortal;

Only Oweenee, the faithful,

Saw your naked heart and loved you.

“‘In the lodge that glimmers yonder,

In the little star that twinkles

Through the vapors, on the left hand,

Lives the envious Evil Spirit,

The Wabeno, the magician,

Who transformed you to an old man.

Take heed lest his beams fall on you,

For the rays he darts around him

Are the power of his enchantment,

Are the arrows that he uses.’

“Many years, in peace and quiet,

On the peaceful Star of Evening

Dwelt Osseo with his father;

Many years, in song and flutter,

At the doorway of the wigwam,

Hung the cage with rods of silver,

And fair Oweenee, the faithful,

Bore a son unto Osseo,

With the beauty of his mother,

With the courage of his father.

“And the boy grew up and prospered,

And Osseo, to delight him,

Made him little bows and arrows,

Opened the great cage of silver,

And let loose his aunts and uncles,

All those birds with glossy feathers,

For his little son to shoot at.

“Round and round they wheeled and darted,

Filled the Evening Star with music,

With their songs of joy and freedom;

Filled the Evening Star with splendor,

With the fluttering of their plumage;

Till the boy, the little hunter,

Bent his bow and shot an arrow,

Shot a swift and fatal arrow,

And a bird, with shining feathers,

At his feet fell wounded sorely.

“But, O wondrous transformation!

’T was no bird he saw before him,

’T was a beautiful young woman,

With the arrow in her bosom!

“When her blood fell on the planet,

On the sacred Star of Evening,

Broken was the spell of magic,

Powerless was the strange enchantment,

And the youth, the fearless bowman,

Suddenly felt himself descending,

Held by unseen hands, but sinking

Downward through the empty spaces,

Downward through the clouds and vapors,

Till he rested on an island,

On an island, green and grassy,

Yonder in the Big-Sea-Water.

“After him he saw descending

All the birds with shining feathers,

Fluttering, falling, wafted downward,

Like the painted leaves of Autumn;

And the lodge with poles of silver,

With its roof like wings of beetles,

Like the shining shards of beetles,

By the winds of heaven uplifted,

Slowly sank upon the island,

Bringing back the good Osseo,

Bringing Oweenee, the faithful.

“Then the birds, again transfigured,

Reassumed the shape of mortals,

Took their shape, but not their stature;

They remained as Little People,

Like the pygmies, the Puk-Wudjies,

And on pleasant nights of Summer,

When the Evening Star was shining,

Hand in hand they danced together

On the island’s craggy headlands,

On the sand-beach low and level.

“Still their glittering lodge is seen there,

On the tranquil Summer evenings,

And upon the shore the fisher

Sometimes hears their happy voices,

Sees them dancing in the starlight!”

When the story was completed,

When the wondrous tale was ended,

Looking round upon his listeners,

Solemnly Iagoo added:

“There are great men, I have known such,

Whom their people understand not,

Whom they even make a jest of,

Scoff and jeer at in derision.

From the story of Osseo

Let us learn the fate of jesters!”

All the wedding guests delighted

Listened to the marvellous story,

Listened laughing and applauding,

And they whispered to each other:

“Does he mean himself, I wonder?

And are we the aunts and uncles?”

Then again sang Chibiabos,

Sang a song of love and longing,

In those accents sweet and tender,

In those tones of pensive sadness,

Sang a maiden’s lamentation

For her lover, her Algonquin.

“When I think of my beloved,

Ah me! think of my beloved,

When my heart is thinking of him,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!

“Ah me! when I parted from him,

Round my neck he hung the wampum,

As a pledge, the snow-white wampum,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!

“I will go with you, he whispered,

Ah me! to your native country;

Let me go with you, he whispered,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!

“Far away, away, I answered,

Very far away, I answered,

Ah me! is my native country,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!

“When I looked back to behold him,

Where we parted, to behold him,

After me he still was gazing,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!

“By the tree he still was standing,

By the fallen tree was standing,

That had dropped into the water,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!

“When I think of my beloved,

Ah me! think of my beloved,

When my heart is thinking of him,

O my sweetheart, my Algonquin!”

Such was Hiawatha’s Wedding,

Such the dance of Pau-Puk-Keewis,

Such the story of Iagoo,

Such the songs of Chibiabos;

Thus the wedding banquet ended,

And the wedding guests departed,

Leaving Hiawatha happy

With the night and Minnehaha.