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II. The Bashaba

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892). The Poetical Works in Four Volumes. 1892.

Narrative and Legendary Poems

The Bridal of Pennacook
II. The Bashaba

LIFT we the twilight curtains of the Past,

And, turning from familiar sight and sound,

Sadly and full of reverence let us cast

A glance upon Tradition’s shadowy ground,

Led by the few pale lights which, glimmering round

That dim, strange land of Eld, seem dying fast;

And that which history gives not to the eye,

The faded coloring of Time’s tapestry,

Let Fancy, with her dream-dipped brush, supply.

Roof of bark and walls of pine,

Through whose chinks the sunbeams shine,

Tracing many a golden line

On the ample floor within;

Where, upon that earth-floor stark,

Lay the gaudy mats of bark,

With the bear’s hide, rough and dark,

And the red-deer’s skin.

Window-tracery, small and slight,

Woven of the willow white,

Lent a dimly checkered light;

And the night-stars glimmered down,

Where the lodge-fire’s heavy smoke,

Slowly through an opening broke,

In the low roof, ribbed with oak,

Sheathed with hemlock brown.

Gloomed behind the changeless shade

By the solemn pine-wood made;

Through the rugged palisade,

In the open foreground planted,

Glimpses came of rowers rowing,

Stir of leaves and wild-flowers blowing,

Steel-like gleams of water flowing,

In the sunlight slanted.

Here the mighty Bashaba

Held his long-unquestioned sway,

From the White Hills, far away,

To the great sea’s sounding shore;

Chief of chiefs, his regal word

All the river Sachems heard,

At his call the war-dance stirred,

Or was still once more.

There his spoils of chase and war,

Jaw of wolf and black bear’s paw,

Panther’s skin and eagle’s claw,

Lay beside his axe and bow;

And, adown the roof-pole hung,

Loosely on a snake-skin strung,

In the smoke his scalp-locks swung

Grimly to and fro.

Nightly down the river going,

Swifter was the hunter’s rowing,

When he saw that lodge-fire glowing

O’er the waters still and red;

And the squaw’s dark eye burned brighter,

And she drew her blanket tighter,

As, with quicker step and lighter,

From that door she fled.

For that chief had magic skill,

And a Panisee’s dark will,

Over powers of good and ill,

Powers which bless and powers which ban;

Wizard lord of Pennacook,

Chiefs upon their war-path shook,

When they met the steady look

Of that wise dark man.

Tales of him the gray squaw told,

When the winter night-wind cold

Pierced her blanket’s thickest fold,

And her fire burned low and small,

Till the very child abed,

Drew its bear-skin over head,

Shrinking from the pale lights shed

On the trembling wall.

All the subtle spirits hiding

Under earth or wave, abiding

In the caverned rock, or riding

Misty clouds or morning breeze;

Every dark intelligence,

Secret soul, and influence

Of all things which outward sense

Feels, or hears, or sees,—

These the wizard’s skill confessed,

At his bidding banned or blessed,

Stormful woke or lulled to rest

Wind and cloud, and fire and flood;

Burned for him the drifted snow,

Bade through ice fresh lilies blow,

And the leaves of summer grow

Over winter’s wood!

Not untrue that tale of old!

Now, as then, the wise and bold

All the powers of Nature hold

Subject to their kingly will;

From the wondering crowds ashore,

Treading life’s wild waters o’er,

As upon a marble floor,

Moves the strong man still.

Still, to such, life’s elements

With their sterner laws dispense,

And the chain of consequence

Broken in their pathway lies;

Time and change their vassals making,

Flowers from icy pillows waking,

Tresses of the sunrise shaking

Over midnight skies.

Still, to th’ earnest soul, the sun

Rests on towered Gibeon,

And the moon of Ajalon

Lights the battle-grounds of life;

To his aid the strong reverses

Hidden powers and giant forces,

And the high stars, in their courses,

Mingle in his strife!