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Poems Every Child Should Know by  Mary E. Burt


 

 

HIAWATHA'S CHILDHOOD

"Hiawatha" needs no commendation. Hundreds of thousands of children in our land know snatches of it It is a child's poem, every line of it. One summer in Boston more than 50,000 people went to take a peep at the poet's house. (1807-82.)

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,

By the shining Big-Sea-Water,

Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.

Dark behind it rose the forest,

Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,

Rose the firs with cones upon them;

Bright before it beat the water,

Beat the clear and sunny water,

Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.


There the wrinkled old Nokomis

Nursed the little Hiawatha,

Rocked him in his linden cradle,

Bedded soft in moss and rushes,

Safely bound with reindeer sinews;

[80]

Stilled his fretful wail by saying,

"Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!"

Lulled him into slumber, singing,

"Ewa-yea! my little owlet!

Who is this that lights the wigwam?

With his great eyes lights the wigwam?

Ewa-yea! my little owlet!"


Many things Nokomis taught him

Of the stars that shine in heaven;

Showed him Ishkoodah, the comet,

Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses;

Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits,

Warriors with their plumes and war-clubs,

Flaring far away to northward

In the frosty nights of winter;

Showed the broad, white road in heaven,

Pathway of the ghosts, the shadows,

Running straight across the heavens,

Crowded with the ghosts, the shadows.


At the door, on summer evenings,

Sat the little Hiawatha;

Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,

Heard the lapping of the water,

Sounds of music, words of wonder;

"Minnie-wawa!" said the pine-trees,

"Mudway-aushka!" said the water;

Saw the fire-fly, Wah-wah-taysee,

Flitting through the dusk of evening,

With the twinkle of its candle

Lighting up the brakes and bushes,

And he sang the song of children.


[81]

Sang the song Nokomis taught him:

"Wah-wah-taysee, little fire-fly,

Little, flitting, white-fire insect,

Little, dancing, white-fire creature,

Light me with your little candle,

Ere upon my bed I lay me,

Ere in sleep I close my eyelids!"


Saw the moon rise from the water

Rippling, rounding from the water,

Saw the flecks and shadows on it,

Whispered, "What is that, Nokomis?"

And the good Nokomis answered:

"Once a warrior, very angry,

Seized his grandmother, and threw her

Up into the sky at midnight;

Right against the moon he threw her;

'Tis her body that you see there."


Saw the rainbow in the heaven,

In the eastern sky, the rainbow,

Whispered, "What is that, Nokomis?"

And the good Nokomis answered:

"Tis the heaven of flowers you see there;

All the wild-flowers of the forest,

All the lilies of the prairie,

When on earth they fade and perish,

Blossom in that heaven above us."


When he heard the owls at midnight,

Hooting, laughing in the forest,

"What is that?" he cried, in terror;

"What is that," he said, "Nokomis?"

[82]

And the good Nokomis answered:

"That is but the owl and owlet,

Talking in their native language,

Talking, scolding at each other."


Then the little Hiawatha

Learned of every bird its language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,

How they built their nests in summer,

Where they hid themselves in winter,

Talked with them whene'er he met them,

Called them "Hiawatha's Chickens."


Of all beasts he learned the language,

Learned their names and all their secrets,

How the beavers built their lodges,

Where the squirrels hid their acorns,

How the reindeer ran so swiftly,

Why the rabbit was so timid,

Talked with them whene'er he met them,

Called them "Hiawatha's Brothers."


HENRY W. LONGFELLOW.


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