Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
The Feast Of The Virgins - The Feast Of The Virgins

The sun sails high in his azure realms;
Beneath the arch of the breezy elms
The feast is spread by the murmuring river.
With his battle-spear and his bow and quiver,
And eagle-plumes in his ebon hair,
The chief Wakawa himself is there;
And round the feast, in the Sacred Ring,
Sit his weaponed warriors witnessing.
Not a morsel of food have the Virgins tasted
For three long days ere the holy feast;
They sat in their _teepee_ alone and fasted,
Their faces turned to the Sacred East.
In the polished bowls lies the golden maize,
And the flesh of fawn on the polished trays.
For the Virgins the bloom of the prairies wide--
The blushing pink and the meek blue-bell,
The purple plumes of the prairie's pride,
The wild, uncultured asphodel,
And the beautiful, blue-eyed violet
That the Virgins call "Let-me-not forget,"
In gay festoons and garlands twine
With the cedar sprigs and the wildwood vine.
So gaily the Virgins are decked and dressed,
And none but a virgin may enter there;
And clad is each in a scarlet vest,
And a fawn-skin frock to the brown calves bare.
Wild rose-buds peep from their flowing hair,
And a rose half blown on the budding breast;
And bright with the quills of the porcupine
The moccasined feet of the maidens shine.

Hand in hand round the feast they dance,
And sing to the notes of a rude bassoon,
And never a pause or a dissonance
In the merry dance or the merry tune.
Brown-bosomed and fair as the rising moon,
When she peeps o'er the hills of the dewy east,
Wiwaste sings at the Virgins' Feast;
And bright is the light in her luminous eyes;
They glow like the stars in the winter skies;
And the lilies that bloom in her virgin heart
Their golden blush to her cheeks impart--
Her cheeks half-hid in her midnight hair.
Fair is her form--as the red fawn's fair--
And long is the flow of her raven hair;
It falls to her knees and it streams on the breeze
Like the path of a storm on the swelling seas.

Proud of their rites are the Virgins fair,
For none but a virgin may enter there.
'Tis a custom of old and a sacred thing;
Nor rank nor beauty the warriors spare,
If a tarnished maiden should enter there.
And her that enters the Sacred Ring
With a blot that is known or a secret stain
The warrior who knows is bound to expose,
And lead her forth from the ring again.
And the word of a brave is the fiat of law;
For the Virgins' Feast is a sacred thing.
Aside with the mothers sat Harpstina;
She durst not enter the Virgins' ring.

Round and round to the merry song
The maidens dance in their gay attire,
While the loud _Ho-Ho's_ of the tawny throng
Their flying feet and their song inspire.
They have finished the song and the sacred dance,
And hand in hand to the feast advance--
To the polished bowls of the golden maize,
And the sweet fawn-meat in the polished trays.

Then up from his seat in the silent crowd
Rose the frowning, fierce-eyed, tall Red Cloud;
Swift was his stride as the panther's spring,
When he leaps on the fawn from his cavern lair;
Wiwaste he caught by her flowing hair,
And dragged her forth from the Sacred Ring.
She turned on the warrior, her eyes flashed fire;
Her proud lips quivered with queenly ire;
And her sun-browned cheeks were aflame with red.
Her hand to the spirits she raised and said:
"I am pure!--I am pure as the falling snow!
Great _Taku-skan-skan_ will testify!
And dares the tall coward to say me no?"
But the sullen warrior made no reply.
She turned to the chief with her frantic cries:
"Wakawa,--my Father! he lies,--he lies!
Wiwaste is pure as the fawn unborn;
Lead me back to the feast or Wiwaste dies!"
But the warriors uttered a cry of scorn,
And he turned his face from her pleading eyes.

Then the sullen warrior, the tall Red Cloud,
Looked up and spoke and his voice was loud;
But he held his wrath and he spoke with care:
"Wiwaste is young; she is proud and fair,
But she may not boast of the virgin snows.
The Virgins' Feast is a sacred thing;
How durst she enter the Virgins' ring?
The warrior would fain, but he dares not spare;
She is tarnished and only the Red Cloud knows."

She clutched her hair in her clinched hand;
She stood like a statue bronzed and grand;
_Wakan-dee_ flashed in her fiery eyes;
Then swift as the meteor cleaves the skies--
Nay, swift as the fiery _Wakinyan's_ dart,
She snatched the knife from the warrior's belt,
And plunged it clean to the polished hilt--
With a deadly cry--in the villain's heart.
Staggering he clutched the air and fell;
His life-blood smoked on the trampled sand,
And dripped from the knife in the virgin's hand.

Then rose his kinsmen's savage yell.
Swift as the doe's Wiwaste's feet
Fled away to the forest. The hunters fleet
In vain pursue, and in vain they prowl
And lurk in the forest till dawn of day.
They hear the hoot of the mottled owl;
They hear the were-wolf's winding howl;
But the swift Wiwaste is far away.
They found no trace in the forest land;
They found no trail in the dew-damp grass;
They found no track in the river sand,
Where they thought Wiwaste would surely pass.

The braves returned to the troubled chief;
In his lodge he sat in his silent grief.
"Surely," they said, "she has turned a spirit.
No trail she left with her flying feet;
No pathway leads to her far retreat.
She flew in the air, and her wail--we could hear it,
As she upward rose to the shining stars;
And we heard on the river, as we stood near it,
The falling drops of Wiwaste's tears."

Wakawa thought of his daughter's words
Ere the south-wind came and the piping birds--
"My Father, listen--my words are true,"
And sad was her voice as the whippowil
When she mourns her mate by the moon-lit rill,
"Wiwaste lingers alone with you;
The rest are sleeping on yonder hill--
Save one--and he an undutiful son--
And you, my Father, will sit alone
When _Sisoka_ sings and the snow is gone."
His broad breast heaved on his troubled soul,
The shadow of grief o'er his visage stole
Like a cloud on the face of the setting sun.

"She has followed the years that are gone," he said;
"The spirits the words of the witch fulfill;
For I saw the ghost of my father dead,
By the moon's dim light on the misty hill.
He shook the plumes on his withered head,
And the wind through his pale form whistled shrill.
And a low, sad voice on the hill I heard,
Like the mournful wail of a widowed bird."
Then lo, as he looked from his lodge afar,
He saw the glow of the Evening-star;
"And yonder," he said, "is Wiwaste's face;
She looks from her lodge on our fading race,
Devoured by famine, and fraud, and war,
And chased and hounded by fate and woe,
As the white wolves follow the buffalo;"
And he named the planet the _Virgin Star_.

"Wakawa," he muttered, "the guilt is thine!
She was pure--she was pure as the fawn unborn.
O why did I hark to the cry of scorn,
Or the words of the lying libertine?
Wakawa, Wakawa, the guilt is thine!
The springs will return with the voice of birds,
But the voice of my daughter will come no more.
She wakened the woods with her musical words,
And the sky-lark, ashamed of his voice, forbore.
She called back the years that had passed, and long
I heard their voice in her happy song.
O why did the chief of the tall _Hohe_
His feet from _Kapoza_ so long delay?
For his father sat at my father's feast,
And he at Wakawa's--an honored guest.
He is dead!--he is slain on the Bloody Plain,
By the hand of the treacherous Chippeway;
And the face shall I never behold again
Of my brave young brother--the chief Chaske.
Death walks like a shadow among my kin;
And swift are the feet of the flying years
That cover Wakawa with frost and tears,
And leave their tracks on his wrinkled skin.
Wakawa, the voice of the years that are gone
Will follow thy feet like the shadow of death,
Till the paths of the forest and desert lone
Shall forget thy footsteps. O living breath,
Whence are thou, and whither so soon to fly?
And whence are the years? Shall I overtake
Their flying feet in the star-lit sky?
From his last long sleep will the warrior wake?
Will the morning break in Wakawa's tomb,
As it breaks and glows in the eastern skies?
Is it true?--will the spirits of kinsmen come
And bid the bones of the brave arise?
Wakawa, Wakawa, for thee the years
Are red with blood and bitter with tears.
Gone--brothers, and daughters, and wife--all gone
That are kin to Wakawa--but one--but one--
Wakinyan Tanka--undutiful son!
And he estranged from his father's _tee_,
Will never return till the chief shall die.
And what cares he for his father's grief?
He will smile at my death--it will make him chief.
Woe burns in my bosom. Ho, warriors--Ho!
Raise the song of red war; for your chief must go
To drown his grief in the blood of the foe!
I shall fall. Raise my mound on the sacred hill.
Let my warriors the wish of their chief fulfill;
For my fathers sleep in the sacred ground.
The Autumn blasts o'er Wakawa's mound
Will chase the hair of the thistles' head,
And the bare-armed oak o'er the silent dead,
When the whirling snows from the north descend,
Will wail and moan in the midnight wind.
In the famine of winter the wolf will prowl,
And scratch the snow from the heap of stones,
And sit in the gathering storm and howl,
On the frozen mound, for Wakawa's bones.
But the years that are gone shall return again,
As the robin returns and the whippowil,
When my warriors stand on the sacred hill
And remember the deeds of their brave chief slain."

Beneath the glow of the Virgin Star
They raised the song of the red war-dance.
At the break of dawn with the bow and lance
They followed the chief on the path of war.
To the north--to the forests of fir and pine--
Led their stealthy steps on the winding trail,
Till they saw the Lake of the Spirit shine
Through somber pines of the dusky dale.
Then they heard the hoot of the mottled owl;
They heard the gray wolf's dismal howl;
Then shrill and sudden the war-whoop rose
From an hundred throats of their swarthy foes,
In ambush crouched in the tangled wood.
Death shrieked in the twang of their deadly bows,
And their hissing arrows drank brave men's blood.
From rock, and thicket, and brush, and brakes,
Gleamed the burning eyes of the "forest-snakes."
From brake, and thicket, and brush, and stone,
The bow-string hummed and the arrow hissed,
And the lance of a crouching Ojibway shone,
Or the scalp-knife gleamed in a swarthy fist.
Undaunted the braves of Wakawa's band
Leaped into the thicket with lance and knife,
And grappled the Chippeways hand to hand;
And foe with foe, in the deadly strife,
Lay clutching the scalp of his foe and dead,
With a tomahawk sunk in his ghastly head,
Or his still heart sheathing a bloody blade.
Like a bear in the battle Wakawa raves,
And cheers the hearts of his falling braves.
But a panther crouches along his track--
He springs with a yell on Wakawa's back!
The tall chief, stabbed to the heart, lies low;
But his left hand clutches his deadly foe,
And his red right clinches the bloody hilt
Of his knife in the heart of the slayer dyed.
And thus was the life of Wakawa spilt,
And slain and slayer lay side by side.
The unscalped corpse of their honored chief
His warriors snatched from the yelling pack,
And homeward fled on their forest track
With their bloody burden and load of grief.

The spirits the words of the brave fulfill--
Wakawa sleeps on the sacred hill,
And Wakinyan Tanka, his son, is chief.
Ah soon shall the lips of men forget
Wakawa's name, and the mound of stone
Will speak of the dead to the winds alone,
And the winds will whistle their mock regret.

The speckled cones of the scarlet berries
Lie red and ripe in the prairie grass.
The _Si-yo_ clucks on the emerald prairies
To her infant brood. From the wild morass,
On the sapphire lakelet set within it,
_Maga_ sails forth with her wee ones daily.
They ride on the dimpling waters gaily,
Like a fleet of yachts and a man-of-war.
The piping plover, the light-winged linnet,
And the swallow sail in the sunset skies.
The whippowil from her cover hies,
And trills her song on the amber air.
Anon to her loitering mate she cries:
"Flip, O Will!--trip, O Will!--skip, O Will!"
And her merry mate from afar replies:
"Flip I will--skip I will--trip I will;"
And away on the wings of the wind he flies.
And bright from her lodge in the skies afar
Peeps the glowing face of the Virgin Star.
The fox-pups creep from their mother's lair,
And leap in the light of the rising moon;
And loud on the luminous, moonlit lake
Shrill the bugle-notes of the lover loon;
And woods and waters and welkin break
Into jubilant song--it is joyful June.

But where is Wiwaste? O where is she--
The virgin avenged--the queenly queen--
The womanly woman--the heroine?
Has she gone to the spirits? and can it be
That her beautiful face is the Virgin Star
Peeping out from the door of her lodge afar,
Or upward sailing the silver sea,
Star-beaconed and lit like an avenue,
In the shining stern of her gold canoe?
No tidings came--nor the brave Chaske:
O why did the lover so long delay?
He promised to come with the robins in May
With the bridal gifts for the bridal day;
But the fair May-mornings have slipped away,
And where is the lover--the brave Chaske?

But what of the venomous Harpstina--
The serpent that tempted the proud Red Cloud,
And kindled revenge in his savage soul?
He paid for his crime with his own heart's blood,
But his angry spirit has brought her dole;
It has entered her breast and her burning head,
And she raves and burns on her fevered bed.
"He is dead! He is dead!" is her wailing cry,
"And the blame is mine--it was I--it was I!
I hated Wiwaste, for she was fair,
And my brave was caught in her net of hair.
I turned his love to a bitter hate;
I nourished revenge, and I pricked his pride;
Till the Feast of the Virgins I bade him wait.
He had his revenge, but he died--he died!
And the blame is mine--it was I--it was I!
And his spirit burns me; I die--I die!"
Thus, alone in her lodge and her agonies,
She wails to the winds of the night, and dies.

But where is Wiwaste? Her swift feet flew
To the somber shades of the tangled thicket.
She hid in the copse like a wary cricket,
And the fleetest hunters in vain pursue.
Seeing unseen from her hiding place,
She sees them fly on the hurried chase;
She sees their dark eyes glance and dart,
As they pass and peer for a track or trace,
And she trembles with fear in the copse apart,
Lest her nest be betrayed by her throbbing heart.

Weary the hours; but the sun at last
Went down to his lodge in the west, and fast
The wings of the spirits of night were spread
O'er the darkling woods and Wiwaste's head.
Then slyly she slipped from her snug retreat,
And guiding her course by Waziya's star,
That shone through the shadowy forms afar,
She northward hurried with silent feet;
And long ere the sky was aflame in the east,
She was leagues from the spot of the fatal feast.
'Twas the hoot of the owl that the hunters heard,
And the scattering drops of the threat'ning shower,
And the far wolf's cry to the moon preferred.
Their ears were their fancies--the scene was weird,
And the witches dance at the midnight hour.
She leaped the brook and she swam the river;
Her course through the forest Wiwaste wist
By the star that gleamed through the glimmering mist
That fell from the dim moon's downy quiver.
In her heart she spoke to her spirit-mother:
"Look down from your _teepee_, O starry spirit.
The cry of Wiwaste. O mother, hear it;
And touch the heart of my cruel father.
He hearkened not to a virgin's words;
He listened not to a daughter's wail.
O give me the wings of the thunder-birds,
For his were wolves follow Wiwaste's trail;
And guide my flight to the far _Hohe_--
To the sheltering lodge of my brave Chaske."

The shadows paled in the hazy east,
And the light of the kindling morn increased.
The pale-faced stars fled one by one,
And hid in the vast from the rising sun.
From woods and waters and welkin soon
Fled the hovering mists of the vanished moon.
The young robins chirped in their feathery beds,
The loon's song shrilled like a winding horn,
And the green hills lifted their dewy heads
To greet the god of the rising morn.
She reached the rim of the rolling prairie--
The boundless ocean of solitude;
She hid in the feathery hazel-wood,
For her heart was sick and her feet were weary;
She fain would rest, and she needed food.
Alone by the billowy, boundless prairies,
She plucked the cones of the scarlet berries;
In feathering copse and the grassy field
She found the bulbs of the young _Tipsanna_,
And the sweet _medo_ that the meadows yield.
With the precious gift of his priceless manna
God fed his fainting and famished child.

At night again to the northward far
She followed the torch of Waziya's star;
For leagues away o'er the prairies green,
On the billowy vast, may a man be seen,
When the sun is high and the stars are low;
And the sable breast of the strutting crow
Looms up like the form of the buffalo.
The Bloody River she reached at last,
And boldly walked in the light of day,
On the level plain of the valley vast;
Nor thought of the terrible Chippeway.
She was safe from the wolves of her father's band,
But she trod on the treacherous "Bloody Land."

And lo--from afar o'er the level plain--
As far as the sails of a ship at sea
May be seen as they lift from the rolling main--
A band of warriors rode rapidly.
She shadowed her eyes with her sun-browned hand;
All backward streamed on the wind her hair,
And terror spread o'er her visage fair,
As she bent her brow to the far-off band.
For she thought of the terrible Chippeway--
The fiends that the babe and the mother slay;
And yonder they came in their war-array!

She hid like a grouse in the meadow-grass,
And moaned--"I am lost!--I am lost! alas,
And why did I fly from my native land
To die by the cruel Ojibway's hand?"
And on rode the braves. She could hear the steeds
Come galloping on o'er the level meads;
And lowly she crouched in the waving grass,
And hoped against hope that the braves would pass.

They have passed; she is safe--she is safe!
Ah no! They have struck her trail and the hunters halt.
Like wolves on the track of the bleeding doe,
That grappled breaks from the dread assault,
Dash the warriors wild on Wiwaste's trail.
She flies--but what can her flight avail?
Her feet are fleet, but the flying feet
Of the steeds of the prairies are fleeter still;
And where can she fly for a safe retreat?

But hark to the shouting--"_Iho!--Iho!_"
Rings over the wide plain sharp and shrill.
She halts, and the hunters come riding on;
But the horrible fear from her heart is gone,
For it is not the shout of the dreaded foe;
'Tis the welcome shout of her native land!

Up galloped the chief of the band, and lo--
The clutched knife dropped from her trembling hand;
She uttered a cry and she swooned away;
For there, on his steed in the blaze of day,
On the boundless prairie so far away,
With his polished bow and his feathers gay,
Sat the manly form of her own Chaske!

There's a mote in my eye or a blot on the page,
And I cannot tell of the joyful greeting;
You may take it for granted, and I will engage,
There were kisses and tears at the strange, glad meeting;
For aye since the birth of the swift-winged years,
In the desert drear, in the field of clover,
In the cot, in the palace, and all the world over--
Yea, away on the stars to the ultimate spheres,
The greeting of love to the long-sought lover--
Is tears and kisses and kisses and tears.

But why did the lover so long delay?
And whitherward rideth the chief to-day?
As he followed the trail of the buffalo,
From the _tees_ of _Kapoza_ a maiden, lo,
Came running in haste o'er the drifted snow.
She spoke to the chief of the tall _Hohe_:
"Wiwaste requests that the brave Chaske
Will abide with his band and his coming delay
Till the moon when the strawberries are ripe and red,
And then will the chief and Wiwaste wed--
When the Feast of the Virgins is past," she said.
Wiwaste's wish was her lover's law;
And so his coming the chief delayed
Till the mid May blossoms should bloom and fade--
But the lying runner was Harpstina.

And now with the gifts for the bridal day
And his chosen warriors he took his way,
And followed his heart to his moon-faced maid.
And thus was the lover so long delayed;
And so as he rode with his warriors gay,
On that bright and beautiful summer day,
His bride he met on the trail mid-way.

God arms the innocent. He is there--
In the desert vast, in the wilderness,
On the bellowing sea, in the lion's lair,
In the mist of battle, and everywhere.
In his hand he holds with a father's care
The tender hearts of the motherless;
The maid and the mother in sore distress
He shields with his love and his tenderness;
He comforts the widowed--the comfortless--
And sweetens her chalice of bitterness;
He clothes the naked--the numberless--
His charity covers their nakedness--
And he feeds the famished and fatherless
With the hand that feedeth the birds of air.
Let the myriad tongues of the earth confess
His infinite love and his holiness;
For his pity pities the pitiless,
His mercy flows to the merciless;
And the countless worlds in the realms above,
Revolve in the light of his boundless love.

And what of the lovers? you ask, I trow.
She told him all ere the sun was low--
Why she fled from the Feast to a safe retreat.
She laid her heart at her lover's feet,
And her words were tears and her lips were slow.
As she sadly related the bitter tale
His face was aflame and anon grew pale,
And his dark eyes flashed with a brave desire,
Like the midnight gleam of the sacred fire.
"_Mitawin,_" he said, and his voice was low,
"Thy father no more is the false Little Crow;
But the fairest plume shall Wiwaste wear
Of the great _Wanmdee_ in her midnight hair.
In my lodge, in the land of the tall _Hohe_,
The robins will sing all the long summer day
To the happy bride of the brave Chaske.'"

Aye, love is tested by stress and trial
Since the finger of time on the endless dial
Began its rounds, and the orbs to move
In the boundless vast, and the sunbeams clove
The chaos; but only by fate's denial
Are fathomed the fathomless depths of love.
Man is the rugged and wrinkled oak,
And woman the trusting and tender vine
That clasps and climbs till its arms entwine
The brawny arms of the sturdy stock.
The dimpled babes are the flowers divine
That the blessing of God on the vine and oak
With their cooing and blossoming lips invoke.

To the pleasant land of the brave _Hohe_
Wiwaste rode with her proud Chaske.
She ruled like a queen in his bountiful _tee_,
And the life of the twain was a jubilee
Their wee ones climbed on the father's knee,
And played with his plumes of the great _Wanmdee_.
The silken threads of the happy years
They wove into beautiful robes of love
That the spirits wear in the lodge above;
And time from the reel of the rolling spheres
His silver threads with the raven wove;
But never the stain of a mother's tears
Soiled the shining web of their happy years.
When the wrinkled mask of the years they wore,
And the raven hair of their youth was gray,
Their love grew deeper, and more and more;
For he was a lover for aye and aye,
And ever her beautiful, brave Chaske.
Through the wrinkled mask of the hoary years
To the loving eyes of the lover aye
The blossom of beautiful youth appears.

At last, when their locks were as white as snow,
Beloved and honored by all the band,
They silently slipped from their lodge below,
And walked together, and hand in hand,
O'er the Shining Path to the Spirit-land,
Where the hills and the meadows for aye and aye
Are clad with the verdure and flowers of May,
And the unsown prairies of Paradise
Yield the golden maize and the sweet wild rice.
There, ever ripe in the groves and prairies,
Hang the purple plums and the luscious berries,
And the swarthy herds of the bison feed
On the sun-lit slope and the waving mead;
The dappled fawns from their coverts peep,
And countless flocks on the waters sleep;
And the silent years with their fingers trace
No furrows for aye on the hunter's face.