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

The Song of Hiawatha

XIII. Blessing the Cornfields

SING, O Song of Hiawatha,

Of the happy days that followed,

In the land of the Ojibways,

In the pleasant land and peaceful!

Sing the mysteries of Mondamin,

Sing the Blessing of the Cornfields!

Buried was the bloody hatchet,

Buried was the dreadful war-club,

Buried were all warlike weapons,

And the war-cry was forgotten.

There was peace among the nations;

Unmolested roved the hunters,

Built the birch canoe for sailing,

Caught the fish in lake and river,

Shot the deer and trapped the beaver;

Unmolested worked the women,

Made their sugar from the maple,

Gathered wild rice in the meadows,

Dressed the skins of deer and beaver.

All around the happy village

Stood the maize-fields, green and shining,

Waved the green plumes of Mondamin,

Waved his soft and sunny tresses,

Filling all the land with plenty.

’T was the women who in Spring-time

Planted the broad fields and fruitful,

Buried in the earth Mondamin;

’T was the women who in Autumn

Stripped the yellow husks of harvest,

Stripped the garments from Mondamin,

Even as Hiawatha taught them.

Once, when all the maize was planted,

Hiawatha, wise and thoughtful,

Spake and said to Minnehaha,

To his wife, the Laughing Water:

“You shall bless to-night the cornfields,

Draw a magic circle round them,

To protect them from destruction,

Blast of mildew, blight of insect,

Wagemin, the thief of cornfields,

Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear!

“In the night, when all is silence,

In the night, when all is darkness,

When the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,

Shuts the doors of all the wigwams,

So that not an ear can hear you,

So that not an eye can see you,

Rise up from your bed in silence,

Lay aside your garments wholly,

Walk around the fields you planted,

Round the borders of the cornfields,

Covered by your tresses only,

Robed with darkness as a garment.

“Thus the fields shall be more fruitful

And the passing of your footsteps

Draw a magic circle round them,

So that neither blight nor mildew,

Neither burrowing worm nor insect,

Shall pass o’er the magic circle;

Not the dragon-fly, Kwo-ne-she,

Nor the spider, Subbekashe,

Nor the grasshopper, Pah-puk-keena,

Nor the mighty caterpillar,

Way-muk-kwana, with the bear-skin,

King of all the caterpillars!”

On the tree-tops near the cornfields

Sat the hungry crows and ravens,

Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

With his band of black marauders.

And they laughed at Hiawatha,

Till the tree-tops shook with laughter,

With their melancholy laughter,

At the words of Hiawatha.

“Hear him!” said they; “hear the Wise Man,

Hear the plots of Hiawatha!”

When the noiseless night descended

Broad and dark o’er field and forest,

When the mournful Wawonaissa

Sorrowing sang among the hemlocks,

And the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,

Shut the doors of all the wigwams,

From her bed rose Laughing Water,

Laid aside her garments wholly,

And with darkness clothed and guarded,

Unashamed and unaffrighted,

Walked securely round the cornfields,

Drew the sacred, magic circle

Of her footprints round the cornfields.

No one but the Midnight only

Saw her beauty in the darkness,

No one but the Wawonaissa

Heard the panting of her bosom;

Guskewau, the darkness, wrapped her

Closely in his sacred mantle,

So that none might see her beauty,

So that none might boast, “I saw her!”

On the morrow, as the day dawned,

Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

Gathered all his black marauders,

Crows and blackbirds, jays and ravens,

Clamorous on the dusky tree-tops,

And descended, fast and fearless,

On the fields of Hiawatha,

On the grave of the Mondamin.

“We will drag Mondamin,” said they,

“From the grave where he is buried,

Spite of all the magic circles

Laughing Water draws around it,

Spite of all the sacred footprints

Minnehaha stamps upon it!”

But the wary Hiawatha,

Ever thoughtful, careful, watchful,

Had o’erheard the scornful laughter

When they mocked him from the tree-tops.

“Kaw!” he said, “my friends the ravens!

Kahgahgee, my King of Ravens!

I will teach you all a lesson

That shall not be soon forgotten!”

He had risen before the daybreak,

He had spread o’er all the cornfields

Snares to catch the black marauders,

And was lying now in ambush

In the neighboring grove of pine-trees,

Waiting for the crows and blackbirds,

Waiting for the jays and ravens.

Soon they came with caw and clamor

Rush of wings and cry of voices,

To their work of devastation,

Settling down upon the cornfields,

Delving deep with beak and talon,

For the body of Mondamin.

And with all their craft and cunning,

All their skill in wiles of warfare,

They perceived no danger near them,

Till their claws became entangled,

Till they found themselves imprisoned

In the snares of Hiawatha.

From his place of ambush came he,

Striding terrible among them,

And so awful was his aspect

That the bravest quailed with terror.

Without mercy he destroyed them

Right and left, by tens and twenties,

And their wretched, lifeless bodies

Hung aloft on poles for scarecrows

Round the consecrated cornfields,

As a signal of his vengeance,

As a warning to marauders.

Only Kahgahgee, the leader,

Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

He alone was spared among them

As a hostage for his people.

With his prisoner-string he bound him.

Led him captive to his wigwam,

Tied him fast with cords of elm-bark

To the ridge-pole of his wigwam.

“Kahgahgee, my raven!” said he,

“You the leader of the robbers,

You the plotter of this mischief,

The contriver of this outrage,

I will keep you, I will hold you,

As a hostage for your people,

As a pledge of good behavior!”

And he left him, grim and sulky,

Sitting in the morning sunshine

On the summit of the wigwam,

Croaking fiercely his displeasure,

Flapping his great sable pinions,

Vainly struggling for his freedom,

Vainly calling on his people!

Summer passed, and Shawondasee

Breathed his sighs o’er all the landscape,

From the South-land sent his ardors,

Wafted kisses warm and tender;

And the maize-field grew and ripened,

Till it stood in all the splendor

Of its garments green and yellow,

Of its tassels and its plumage,

And the maize-ears full and shining

Gleamed from bursting sheaths of verdure.

Then Nokomis, the old woman,

Spake, and said to Minnehaha:

“’T is the Moon when leaves are falling;

All the wild rice has been gathered,

And the maize is ripe and ready;

Let us gather in the harvest,

Let us wrestle with Mondamin,

Strip him of his plumes and tassels,

Of his garments green and yellow!”

And the merry Laughing Water

Went rejoicing from the wigwam,

With Nokomis, old and wrinkled,

And they called the women round them,

Called the young men and the maidens,

To the harvest of the cornfields,

To the husking of the maize-ear.

On the border of the forest,

Underneath the fragrant pine-trees,

Sat the old men and the warriors

Smoking in the pleasant shadow.

In uninterrupted silence

Looked they at the gamesome labor

Of the young men and the women;

Listened to their noisy talking,

To their laughter and their singing,

Heard them chattering like the magpies,

Heard them laughing like the blue-jays,

Heard them singing like the robins.

And whene’er some lucky maiden

Found a red ear in the husking,

Found a maize-ear red as blood is,

“Nushka!” cried they all together,

“Nushka! you shall have a sweetheart,

You shall have a handsome husband!”

“Ugh!” the old men all responded

From their seats beneath the pine-trees.

And whene’er a youth or maiden

Found a crooked ear in husking,

Found a maize-ear in the husking

Blighted, mildewed, or misshapen,

Then they laughed and sang together,

Crept and limped about the cornfields,

Mimicked in their gait and gestures

Some old man, bent almost double,

Singing singly or together:

“Wagemin, the thief of cornfields!

Paimosaid, who steals the maize-ear!”

Till the cornfields rang with laughter,

Till from Hiawatha’s wigwam

Kahgahgee, the King of Ravens,

Screamed and quivered in his anger,

And from all the neighboring tree-tops

Cawed and croaked the black marauders.

“Ugh!” the old men all responded,

From their seats beneath the pine-trees!