Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
Winona - Famine

Waziya_ came down from the North--
     from the land of perpetual winter.
From his frost-covered beard issued forth the sharp-biting,
     shrill-whistling North-wind;
At the touch of his breath
     the wide earth turned to stone, and the lakes and the rivers:
From his nostrils the white vapors rose,
     and they covered the sky like a blanket.
Like the down of _Maga_ fell the snows,
     tossed and whirled into heaps by the North-wind.
Then the blinding storms roared on the plains,
     like the simoons on sandy Sahara;
From the fangs of the fierce hurricanes
     fled the elk and the deer and the bison.
Ever colder and colder it grew,
     till the frozen ground cracked and split open;
And harder and harder it blew,
     till the hillocks were bare as the boulders.
To the southward the buffalos fled,
     and the white rabbits hid in their burrows;
On the bare sacred mounds of the dead
     howled the gaunt, hungry wolves in the night-time,
The strong hunters crouched in their _tees_;
     by the lodge-fires the little ones shivered;
And the Magic-Men danced to appease,
     in their _teepee_, the wrath of _Waziya_;
But famine and fatal disease,
     like phantoms, crept into the village.
The Hard Moon was past, but the moon
     when the coons make their trails in the forest
Grew colder and colder. The coon,
     or the bear, ventured not from his cover;
For the cold, cruel Arctic simoon
     swept the earth like the breath of a furnace.
In the _tee_ of Ta-te-psin the store
     of wild-rice and dried meat was exhausted;
And Famine crept in at the door,
     and sat crouching and gaunt by the lodge-fire.
But now with the saddle of deer
     and the gifts came the crafty Tamdoka;
And he said, "Lo I bring you good cheer,
     for I love the blind Chief and his daughter.
Take the gifts of Tamdoka, for dear
     to his heart is the dark-eyed Winona."
The aged Chief opened his ears;
     in his heart he already consented:
But the moans of his child and her tears
     touched the age-softened heart of the father,
And he said, "I am burdened with years,--
     I am bent by the snows of my winters;
Ta-te-psin will die in his _tee_;
     let him pass to the Land of the Spirits;
But Winona is young; she is free
     and her own heart shall choose her a husband."
The dark warrior strode from the _tee_;
     low-muttering and grim he departed;
"Let him die in his lodge," muttered he,
     "but Winona shall kindle my lodge-fire."

Then forth went Winona. The bow
     of Ta-te-psin she took and his arrows,
And afar o'er the deep, drifted snow
     through the forest she sped on her snow shoes.
Over meadow and ice-covered mere,
     through the thickets of red-oak and hazel,
She followed the tracks of the deer,
     but like phantoms they fled from her vision.
From sunrise to sunset she sped;
     half famished she camped in the thicket;
In the cold snow she made her lone bed;
     on the buds of the birch made her supper.
To the dim moon the gray owl preferred,
     from the tree-top, his shrill lamentation,
And around her at midnight she heard
     the dread famine-cries of the gray wolves.
In the gloam of the morning again
     on the trail of the red-deer she followed--
All day long through the thickets in vain,
     for the gray wolves were chasing the roebucks;
And the cold, hungry winds from the plain
     chased the wolves and the deer and Winona.

In the twilight of sundown she sat
     in the forest, all weak and despairing;
Ta-te-psin's bow lay at her feet,
     and his otter-skin quiver of arrows
"He promised,--he promised," she said,--
     half-dreamily uttered and mournful,--
"And why comes he not? Is he dead?
     Was he slain by the crafty Tamdoka?
Must Winona, alas, make her choice--
     make her choice between death and Tamdoka?
She will die, but her soul will rejoice
     in the far Summer-land of the spirits.
Hark! I hear his low, musical voice!
     he is coming! My White Chief is coming!
Ah, no, I am half in a dream!--
     'twas the memory of days long departed;
But the birds of the green Summer seem
     to be singing above in the branches."
Then forth from her bosom she drew
     the crucified Jesus in silver.
In her dark hair the cold north-wind blew,
     as meekly she bent o'er the image.
"O Christ of the Whiteman," she prayed,
     "lead the feet of my brave to Kathaga;
Send a good spirit down to my aid,
     or the friend of the White Chief will perish."
Then a smile on her wan features played,
     and she lifted her pale face and chanted

    "E-ye-he-kta! E-ye-he-kta!
    He-kta-ce; e-ye-ce-quon.
    Mi-Wamdee-ska, he-he-kta,
    He-kta-ce, e-ye-ce-quon,


    He will come; he will come;
    He will come, for he promised.
    My White Eagle, he will come;
    He will come, for he promised----
     My White Eagle.

Thus sadly she chanted, and lo--
     allured by her sorrowful accents--
From the dark covert crept a red roe
     and wonderingly gazed on Winona.
Then swift caught the huntress her bow;
     from her trembling hand hummed the keen arrow.
Up-leaped the red roebuck and fled,
     but the white snow was sprinkled with scarlet,
And he fell in the oak thicket dead.
     On the trail ran the eager Winona.
Half-famished the raw flesh she ate.
     To the hungry maid sweet was her supper
Then swift through the night ran her feet,
     and she trailed the sleek roebuck behind her;
And the guide of her steps was a star--
     the cold-glinting star of _Waziya_--
Over meadow and hilltop afar, on the way
     to the lodge of her father.
But hark! on the keen frosty air
     wind the shrill hunger-howls of the gray-wolves!
And nearer,--still nearer!--the blood
     of the deer have they scented and follow;
Through the thicket, the meadow, the wood,
     dash the pack on the trail of Winona.
Swift she speeds with her burden,
     but swift on her track fly the minions of famine;
Now they yell on the view from the drift,
     in the reeds at the marge of the meadow;
Red gleam their wild, ravenous eyes,
     for they see on the hill-side their supper;
The dark forest echoes their cries,
     but her heart is the heart of a warrior.
From its sheath snatched Winona her knife,
     and a leg from the roebuck she severed;
With the carcass she ran for her life,--
     to a low-branching oak ran the maiden;
Round the deer's neck her head-strap was tied;
     swiftly she sprang to the arms of the oak-tree;
Quick her burden she drew to her side,
     and higher she clomb on the branches,
While the maddened wolves battled and bled,
     dealing death o'er the leg to each other;
Their keen fangs devouring the dead,--
     yea, devouring the flesh of the living,
They raved and they gnashed and they growled,
     like the fiends in the regions infernal;
The wide night re-echoing howled,
     and the hoarse North-wind laughed o'er the slaughter.
But their ravenous maws unappeased
     by the blood and the flesh of their fellows,
To the cold wind their muzzles they raised,
     and the trail to the oak-tree they followed.
Round and round it they howled for the prey,
     madly leaping and snarling and snapping;
But the brave maiden's keen arrows slay,
     till the dead number more than the living.
All the long, dreary night-time, at bay,
     in the oak sat the shivering Winona;
But the sun gleamed at last, and away
     skulked the gray cowards down through the forest.
Then down dropped the deer and the maid.
     Ere the sun reached the midst of his journey,
Her red, welcome burden she laid
     at the feet of her famishing father.
_Waziya's_ wild wrath was appeased,
     and homeward he turned to his _teepee_,
O'er the plains and the forest-land breezed
     from the Islands of Summer the South-wind.
From their dens came the coon and the bear;
     o'er the snow through the woodlands they wandered;
On her snow-shoes with stout bow and spear
     on their trails ran the huntress Winona.
The coon to his den in the tree,
     and the bear to his burrow she followed;
A brave, skillful hunter was she,
     and Ta-te-psin's lodge laughed with abundance.