Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
Winona - Death Of Winona

Down the broad _Ha-Ha Wak-pa_
     the band took their way to the Games at _Keoza_
While the swift-footed hunters by land
     ran the shores for the elk and the bison.
Like _magas_ ride the birchen canoes
     on the breast of the dark, winding river,
By the willow-fringed island they cruise,
     by the grassy hills green to their summits;
By the lofty bluffs hooded with oaks
     that darken the deep with their shadows;
And bright in the sun gleam the strokes
     of the oars in the hands of the women.
With the band went Winona.
     The oar plied the maid with the skill of a hunter.
They tarried a time on the shore of _Remnica_--
     the Lake of the Mountains.
There the fleet hunters followed the deer,
     and the thorny pahin for the women
From the tees rose the smoke of good cheer,
     curling blue through the tops of the maples,
Near the foot of a cliff that arose,
     like the battle-scarred walls of a castle,
Up-towering, in rugged repose,
     to a dizzy height over the waters.

But the man-wolf still followed his prey,
     and the step-mother ruled in the teepee;
Her will must Winona obey,
     by the custom and law of Dakotas.
The gifts to the teepee were brought--
     the blankets and beads of the White men,
And Winona, the orphaned, was bought
     by the crafty, relentless Tamdoka.
In the Spring-time of life, in the flush
     of the gladsome mid-May days of Summer,
When the bobolink sang and the thrush,
     and the red robin chirped in the branches,
To the tent of the brave must she go;
     she must kindle the fire in his _teepee_;
She must sit in the lodge of her foe,
     as a slave at the feet of her master.
Alas for her waiting! the wings
     of the East-wind have brought her no tidings;
On the meadow the meadow-lark sings,
     but sad is her song to Winona,
For the glad warbler's melody brings
     but the memory of voices departed.
The Day-Spirit walked in the west
     to his lodge in the land of the shadows;
His shining face gleamed on the crest
     of the oak-hooded hills and the mountains,
And the meadow-lark hied to her nest,
     and the mottled owl peeped from her cover.
But hark! from the _teepees_ a cry!
     Hear the shouts of the hurrying warriors!
Are the feet of the enemy nigh,--
     of the crafty and cruel Ojibways?
Nay; look!--on the dizzy cliff high--
     on the brink of the cliff stands Winona!
Her sad face up-turned to the sky.
     Hark! I hear the wild wail of her death-song:

  "My Father's Spirit, look down, look down--
  From your hunting grounds in the shining skies;
  Behold, for the light of my heart is gone;
  The light is gone and Winona dies.

  I looked to the East, but I saw no star;
  The face of my White Chief was turned away.
  I harked for his footsteps in vain; afar
  His bark sailed over the Sunrise-sea.

  Long have I watched till my heart is cold;
  In my breast it is heavy and cold as a stone.
  No more shall Winona his face behold,
  And the robin that sang in her heart is gone.

  Shall I sit at the feet of the treacherous brave?
  On his hateful couch shall Winona lie?
  Shall she kindle his fire like a coward slave?
  No!--a warrior's daughter can bravely die.

  My Father's Spirit, look down, look down--
  From your hunting-grounds in the shining skies;
  Behold, for the light in my heart is gone;
  The light is gone and Winona dies."

Swift the strong hunters climbed as she sang,
     and the foremost of all was Tamdoka;
From crag to crag upward he sprang;
     like a panther he leaped to the summit.
Too late!--on the brave as he crept
     turned the maid in her scorn and defiance;
Then swift from the dizzy height leaped.
     Like a brant arrow-pierced in mid-heaven.
Down whirling and fluttering she fell,
     and headlong plunged into the waters.
Forever she sank mid the wail,
     and the wild lamentation of women.
Her lone spirit evermore dwells
     in the depths of the Lake of the Mountains,
And the lofty cliff evermore tells
     to the years as they pass her sad story.

In the silence of sorrow the night
     o'er the earth spread her wide, sable pinions;
And the stars hid their faces; and light
     on the lake fell the tears of the spirits.
As her sad sisters watched on the shore
     for her spirit to rise from the waters,
They heard the swift dip of an oar,
     and a boat they beheld like a shadow,
Gliding down through the night in the gray,
     gloaming mists on the face of the waters.
'Twas the bark of DuLuth on his way
     from the Falls to the Games at _Keoza_.