Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
Winona - Winona And Ta-Te-Psin

'Tis the moon of the sere, falling leaves.
     From the heads of the maples the west-wind
Plucks the red-and-gold plumage and grieves
     on the meads for the rose and the lily;
Their brown leaves the moaning oaks strew,
     and the breezes that roam on the prairies,
Low-whistling and wanton pursue
     the down of the silk-weed and thistle.
All sere are the prairies and brown
     in the glimmer and haze of the Autumn;
From the far northern marshes flock down,
     by thousands, the geese and the mallards.
From the meadows and wide-prairied plains,
     for their long southward journey preparing.
In croaking flocks gather the cranes,
     and choose with loud clamor their leaders.
The breath of the evening is cold,
     and lurid along the horizon
The flames of the prairies are rolled,
     on the somber skies flashing their torches.
At noontide a shimmer of gold
     through the haze pours the sun from his pathway.
The wild-rice is gathered and ripe,
von the moors, lie the scarlet _po-pan-ka_,
_Michabo_ is smoking his pipe,--
     'tis the soft, dreamy Indian Summer,
When the god of the South as he flies
     from _Waziya_, the god of the Winter,
For a time turns his beautiful eyes,
     and backward looks over his shoulder.

It is noon. From his path in the skies
     the red sun looks down on _Kathaga_.
Asleep in the valley it lies,
     for the swift hunters follow the bison.
Ta-te-psin, the aged brave, bends
    as he walks by the side of Winona;
Her arm to his left hand she lends,
    and he feels with his staff for the pathway;
On his slow, feeble footsteps attends
    his gray dog, the watchful Wichaka;
For blind in his years is the chief
    of a fever that followed the Summer,
And the days of Ta-te-psin are brief.
    Once more by the dark-rolling river
Sits the Chief in the warm, dreamy haze
    of the beautiful Summer in Autumn;
And the faithful dog lovingly lays his head
    at the feet of his master.
On a dead, withered branch sits a crow,
    down-peering askance at the old man;
On the marge of the river below
    romp the nut-brown and merry-voiced children,
And the dark waters silently flow,
    broad and deep, to the plunge of the Ha-ha.

By his side sat Winona.
    He laid his thin, shriveled hand on her tresses,
"Winona my daughter," he said,
    "no longer thy father beholds thee;
But he feels the long locks of thy hair,
    and the days that are gone are remembered,
When Sisoka sat faithful and fair
    in the lodge of swift footed Ta-te-psin.
The white years have broken my spear;
    from my bow they have taken the bow-string;
But once on the trail of the deer,
    like a gray wolf from sunrise till sunset,
By woodland and meadow and mere,
    ran the feet of Ta-te-psin untiring.
But dim are the days that are gone,
    and darkly around me they wander,
Like the pale, misty face of the moon
    when she walks through the storm of the winter;
And sadly they speak in my ear.
    I have looked on the graves of my kindred.
The Land of the Spirits is near.
    Death walks by my side like a shadow.
Now open thine ear to my voice,
    and thy heart to the wish of thy father,
And long will Winona rejoice
    that she heeded the words of Ta-te-psin.
The cold, cruel winter is near,
    and famine will sit in the teepee.
What hunter will bring me the deer,
    or the flesh of the bear or the bison?
For my kinsmen before me have gone;
    they hunt in the land of the shadows.
In my old age forsaken, alone,
    must I die in my teepee of hunger?
Winona, Tamdoka can make my empty lodge
    laugh with abundance;
For thine aged and blind father's sake,
    to the son of the Chief speak the promise.
For gladly again to my tee
    will the bridal gifts come for my daughter.
A fleet-footed hunter is he,
    and the good spirits feather his arrows;
And the cold, cruel winter
    will be a feast-time instead of a famine."

"My father," she said, and her voice
     was filial and full of compassion,
"Would the heart of Ta-te-psin rejoice
     at the death of Winona, his daughter?
The crafty Tamdoka I hate.
     Must I die in his _teepee_ of sorrow?
For I love the White Chief and I wait
     his return to the land of Dakotas.
When the cold winds of winter return,
     and toss the white robes of the prairies,
The fire of the White Chief will burn
     in his lodge at the Meeting-of-Waters.
Winona's heart followed his feet
     far away to the land of the Morning,
And she hears in her slumber his sweet,
     kindly voice call the name of thy daughter.
My father, abide, I entreat,
     the return of the brave to _Katahga_.
The wild-rice is gathered, the meat
     of the bison is stored in the _teepee_;
Till the Coon-Moon enough and to spare;
     and if then the white warrior return not,
Winona will follow the bear and the coon
     to their dens in the forest.
She is strong; she can handle the spear;
     she can bend the stout bow of the hunter;
And swift on the trail of the deer
     will she run o'er the snow on her snow-shoes.
Let the step-mother sit in the tee,
     and kindle the fire for my father;
And the cold, cruel winter shall be
     a feast-time instead of a famine."
"The White Chief will never return,"
     half angrily muttered Ta-te-psin;
"His camp-fire will nevermore burn
     in the land of the warriors he slaughtered.
I grieve, for my daughter has said
     that she loves the false friend of her kindred;
For the hands of the White Chief are red
     with the blood of the trustful Dakotas."

Then warmly Winona replied,
     "Tamdoka himself is the traitor,
And the brave-hearted stranger had died
     by his treacherous hand in the forest,
But thy daughter's voice bade him beware
     of the sly death that followed his footsteps.
The words of Tamdoka are fair,
     but his heart is the den of the serpents.
When the braves told their tale like a bird
     sang the heart of Winona rejoicing,
But gladlier still had she heard
     of the death of the crafty Tamdoka.
The Chief will return; he is bold,
     and he carries the fire of Wakinyan:
To our people the truth will be told,
     and Tamdoka will hide like a coward."
His thin locks the aged brave shook;
     to himself half inaudibly muttered;
To Winona no answer he spoke,--only moaned he "_Micunksee! Micunksee_!
In my old age forsaken and blind!
     _Yun-he-he! Micunksee! Micunksee_!"
And Wichaka, the pitying dog,
     whined as he looked on the face of his master.