The Feast Of The Virgins

A poem by Hanford Lennox Gordon

A LEGEND OF THE DAKOTAS


In pronouncing Dakota words give "a" the sound of "ah", "e" the sound of "a", "i" the sound of "e" and "u" the sound of "oo;" sound "ee" as in English.


THE GAME OF BALL[2]

Clear was the sky as a silver shield;
The bright sun blazed on the frozen field.
On ice-bound river and white-robed prairie
The diamonds gleamed in the flame of noon;
But cold and keen were the breezes airy
Wa-zi-ya[3] blew from his icy throne.

On the solid ice of the silent river
The bounds are marked, and a splendid prize,
A robe of black-fox lined with beaver,
Is hung in view of the eager eyes;
And fifty merry Dakota maidens,
The fairest-molded of womankind
Are gathered in groups on the level ice.
They look on the robe and its beauty gladdens
And maddens their hearts for the splendid prize.
Lo the rounded ankles and raven hair
That floats at will on the wanton wind,
And the round, brown arms to the breezes bare,
And breasts like the mounds where the waters meet,[4]
And feet as fleet as the red deer's feet,
And faces that glow like the full, round moon
When she laughs in the luminous skies of June.

The leaders are chosen and swiftly divide
The opposing parties on either side.
Wiwâstè[5] is chief of a nimble band,
The star-eyed daughter of Little Crow;[6]
And the leader chosen to hold command
Of the band adverse is a haughty foe
The dusky, impetuous Hârpstinà,[7]
The queenly cousin of Wâpasà.[8]

Kapoza's chief and his tawny hunters
Are gathered to witness the queenly game.
The ball is thrown and a net encounters,
And away it flies with a loud acclaim.
Swift are the maidens that follow after,
And swiftly it flies for the farther bound;
And long and loud are the peals of laughter,
As some fair runner is flung to ground;
While backward and forward, and to and fro,
The maidens contend on the trampled snow.
With loud "Ihó! Itó! Ihó!"[9]
And waving the beautiful prize anon,
The dusky warriors cheer them on.
And often the limits are almost passed,
As the swift ball flies and returns. At last
It leaps the line at a single bound
From the fair Wiwâstè's sturdy arm
Like a fawn that flies from the baying hound.
The wild cheers broke like a thunder storm
On the beetling bluffs and the hills profound,
An echoing, jubilant sea of sound.
Wakâwa, the chief, and the loud acclaim
Announced the end of the hard-won game,
And the fair Wiwâstè was victor crowned.

Dark was the visage of Hârpstinà
When the robe was laid at her rival's feet,
And merry maidens and warriors saw
Her flashing eyes and her look of hate,
As she turned to Wakâwa, the chief, and said:
"The game was mine were it fairly played.
I was stunned by a blow on my bended head,
As I snatched the ball from slippery ground
Not half a fling from Wiwâstè's bound.
The cheat behold her! for there she stands
With the prize that is mine in her treacherous hands.
The fawn may fly, but the wolf is fleet;
The fox creeps sly on Magâ's[10] retreat,
And a woman's revenge it is swift and sweet."

She turned to her lodge, but a roar of laughter
And merry mockery followed after.
Little they heeded the words she said,
Little they cared for her haughty tread,
For maidens and warriors and chieftain knew
That her lips were false and her charge untrue.

Wiwâstè, the fairest Dakota maiden,
The sweet-faced daughter of Little Crow,
To her teepee[11] turned with her trophy laden,
The black robe trailing the virgin snow.
Beloved was she by her princely father,
Beloved was she by the young and old,
By merry maidens and many a mother,
And many a warrior bronzed and bold.
For her face was as fair as a beautiful dream,
And her voice like the song of the mountain stream;
And her eyes like the stars when they glow and gleam
Through the somber pines of the nor'land wold,
When the winds of winter are keen and cold.

Mah-pí-ya Dú-ta[12], the tall Red Cloud,
A hunter swift and a warrior proud,
With many a scar and many a feather,
Was a suitor bold and a lover fond.
Long had he courted Wiwâstè's father,
Long had he sued for the maiden's hand.
Aye, brave and proud was the tall Red Cloud,
A peerless son of a giant race,
And the eyes of the panther were set in his face:
He strode like a stag, and he stood like a pine;
Ten feathers he wore of the great Wanmdeè;[13]
With crimsoned quills of the porcupine
His leggins were worked to his brawny knee.
The bow he bent was a giant's bow;
The swift, red elk could he overtake,
And the necklace that girdled his brawny neck
Was the polished claws of the great Mató[14]
He grappled and slew in the northern snow.
Wiwâstè looked on the warrior tall;
She saw he was brawny and brave and great,
But the eyes of the panther she could but hate,
And a brave Hóhè[15] loved she better than all.
Loved was Mahpíya by Hârpstinà
But the warrior she never could charm or draw;
And bitter indeed was her secret hate
For the maiden she reckoned so fortunate.


HEYOKA WACIPEE[16]

THE GIANT'S DANCE.

The night-sun[17] sails in his gold canoe,
The spirits[18] walk in the realms of air
With their glowing faces and flaming hair,
And the shrill, chill winds o'er the prairies blow.
In the Tee[19] of the Council the Virgins light
The Virgin-fire[20] for the feast to-night;
For the Sons of Heyóka will celebrate
The sacred dance to the giant great.
The kettle boils on the blazing fire,
And the flesh is done to the chief's desire.
With his stoic face to the sacred East,[21]
He takes his seat at the Giant's Feast.

For the feast of Heyóka[22] the braves are dressed
With crowns from the bark of the white-birch trees,
And new skin leggins that reach the knees;
With robes of the bison and swarthy bear,
And eagle-plumes in their coal-black hair,
And marvelous rings in their tawny ears
That were pierced with the points of their shining spears.
To honor Heyóka Wakâwa lifts
His fuming pipe from the Red-stone Quarry.[23]
The warriors follow. The white cloud drifts
From the Council-lodge to the welkin starry,
Like a fog at morn on the fir-clad hill,
When the meadows are damp and the winds are still.

They dance to the tune of their wild "Há-há"
A warrior's shout and a raven's caw
Circling the pot and the blazing fire
To the tom-tom's bray and the rude bassoon;
Round and round to their heart's desire,
And ever the same wild chant and tune
A warrior's shout and a raven's caw
"Há-há, há-há, há-há, há!"
They crouch, they leap, and their burning eyes
Flash fierce in the light of the flaming fire,
As fiercer and fiercer and higher and higher
The rude, wild notes of their chant arise.
They cease, they sit, and the curling smoke
Ascends again from their polished pipes,
And upward curls from their swarthy lips
To the god whose favor their hearts invoke.

Then tall Wakâwa arose and said:
"Brave warriors, listen, and give due heed.
Great is Heyóka, the magical god;
He can walk on the air; he can float on the flood.
He's a worker of magic and wonderful wise;
He cries when he laughs and he laughs when he cries;
He sweats when he's cold, and he shivers when hot,
And the water is cold in his boiling pot.
He hides in the earth and he walks in disguise,
But he loves the brave and their sacrifice.
We are sons of Heyóka. The Giant commands
In the boiling water to thrust our hands;
And the warrior that scorneth the foe and fire
Heyóka will crown with his heart's desire."

They thrust their hands in the boiling pot;
They swallow the bison-meat steaming hot;
Not a wince on their stoical faces bold,
For the meat and the water, they say, are cold:
And great is Heyóka and wonderful wise;
He floats on the flood and he walks on the skies,
And ever appears in a strange disguise;
But he loves the brave and their sacrifice,
And the warrior that scorneth the foe and fire
Heyóka will crown with his heart's desire.

Proud was the chief of his warriors proud,
The sinewy sons of the Giant's race;
But the bravest of all was the tall Red Cloud;
The eyes of the panther were set in his face;
He strode like a stag and he stood like a pine;
Ten feathers he wore of the great Wanmdeé,[13]
With crimsoned quills of the porcupine
His leggins were worked to his brawny knee.
Blood-red were the stripes on his swarthy cheek,
And the necklace that girdled his brawny neck
Was the polished claws of the great Mató[14]
He grappled and slew in the northern snow.
Proud Red Cloud turned to the braves and said,
As he shook the plumes on his haughty head:
"Ho! the warrior that scorneth the foe and fire
Heyóka will crown with his heart's desire!"
He snatched from the embers a red-hot brand,
And held it aloft in his naked hand.
He stood like a statue in bronze or stone
Not a muscle moved, and the braves looked on.
He turned to the chieftain "I scorn the fire
Ten feathers I wear of the great Wanmdeé;
Then grant me, Wakâwa, my heart's desire;
Let the sunlight shine in my lonely tee.[19]
I laugh at red death and I laugh at red fire;
Brave Red Cloud is only afraid of fear;
But Wiwâstè is fair to his heart and dear;
Then grant him, Wakâwa, his heart's desire."
The warriors applauded with loud "Ho! Ho!"[24]
And he flung the brand to the drifting snow.
Three times Wakâwa puffed forth the smoke
From his silent lips; then he slowly spoke:
"Mâhpíya is strong as the stout-armed oak
That stands on the bluff by the windy plain,
And laughs at the roar of the hurricane.
He has slain the foe and the great Mató
With his hissing arrow and deadly stroke
My heart is swift but my tongue is slow.
Let the warrior come to my lodge and smoke;
He may bring the gifts;[25] but the timid doe
May fly from the hunter and say him no."

Wiwâstè sat late in the lodge alone,
Her dark eyes bent on the glowing fire:
She heard not the wild winds shrill and moan;
She heard not the tall elms toss and groan;
Her face was lit like the harvest moon;
For her thoughts flew far to her heart's desire.
Far away in the land of the Hóhè[15] dwelt
The warrior she held in her secret heart;
But little he dreamed of the pain she felt,
For she hid her love with a maiden's art.
Not a tear she shed, not a word she said,
When the brave young chief from the lodge departed;
But she sat on the mound when the day was dead,
And gazed at the full moon mellow-hearted.
Fair was the chief as the morning-star;
His eyes were mild and his words were low,
But his heart was stouter than lance or bow;
And her young heart flew to her love afar
O'er his trail long covered with drifted snow.
She heard a warrior's stealthy tread,
And the tall Wakâwa appeared, and said:
"Is Wiwâstè afraid of the spirit dread
That fires the sky in the fatal north?[26]
Behold the mysterious lights. Come forth:
Some evil threatens, some danger nears,
For the skies are pierced by the burning spears."

The warriors rally beneath the moon;
They shoot their shafts at the evil spirit.
The spirit is slain and the flame is gone,
But his blood lies red on the snow-fields near it;
And again from the dead will the spirit rise,
And flash his spears in the northern skies.

Then the chief and the queenly Wiwâstè stood
Alone in the moon-lit solitude,
And she was silent and he was grave.
"And fears not my daughter the evil spirit?
The strongest warriors and bravest fear it.
The burning spears are an evil omen;
They threaten the wrath of a wicked woman,
Or a treacherous foe; but my warriors brave,
When danger nears, or the foe appears,
Are a cloud of arrows a grove of spears."

"My Father," she said, and her words were low,
"Why should I fear? for I soon will go
To the broad, blue lodge in the Spirit-land,
Where my fond-eyed mother went long ago,
And my dear twin-sisters walk hand in hand.
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,
"Wiwâstè 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 Sisóka[27] sings and the snow is gone.
I sat, when the maple leaves were red,
By the foaming falls of the haunted river;
The night-sun was walking above my head,
And the arrows shone in his burnished quiver;
And the winds were hushed and the hour was dread
With the walking ghosts of the silent dead.
I heard the voice of the Water-Fairy;[28]
I saw her form in the moon-lit mist,
As she sat on a stone with her burden weary,
By the foaming eddies of amethyst.
And robed in her mantle of mist the sprite
Her low wail poured on the silent night.
Then the spirit spake, and the floods were still
They hushed and listened to what she said,
And hushed was the plaint of the whippowil
In the silver-birches above her head:
'Wiwâstè, the prairies are green and fair
When the robin sings and the whippowil;
But the land of the Spirits is fairer still,
For the winds of winter blow never there;
And forever the songs of the whippowils
And the robins are heard on the leafy hills.
Thy mother looks from her lodge above
Her fair face shines in the sky afar,
And the eyes of thy sisters are bright with love,
As they peep from the tee of the mother-star.
To her happy lodge in the Spirit land
She beckons Wiwâstè with shining hand.'

"My Father my Father, her words were true;
And the death of Wiwâstè will rest on you.
You have pledged me as wife to the tall Red Cloud;
You will take the gifts of the warrior proud;
But I, Wakâwa, I answer never!
I will stain your knife in my heart's red blood,
I will plunge and sink in the sullen river
Ere I will be wife to the dark Red Cloud!"

"Wiwâstè," he said, and his voice was low,
"Let it be as you will, for Wakâwa's tongue
Has spoken no promise; his lips are slow,
And the love of a father is deep and strong.
Be happy, Micúnksee;[29] the flames are gone
They flash no more in the northern sky.
See the smile on the face of the watching moon;
No more will the fatal, red arrows fly;
For the singing shafts of my warriors sped
To the bad spirit's bosom and laid him dead,
And his blood on the snow of the North lies red.
Go sleep in the robe that you won to-day,
And dream of your hunter the brave Chaskè."

Light was her heart as she turned away;
It sang like the lark in the skies of May.
The round moon laughed, but a lone, red star,[30]
As she turned to the teepee and entered in,
Fell flashing and swift in the sky afar,
Like the polished point of a javelin.
Nor chief nor daughter the shadow saw
Of the crouching listener, Hârpstinà.

Wiwâstè, wrapped in her robe and sleep,
Heard not the storm-sprites wail and weep,
As they rode on the winds in the frosty air;
But she heard the voice of her hunter fair;
For a fairy spirit with silent fingers
The curtains drew from the land of dreams;
And lo in her teepee her lover lingers;
In his tender eyes all the love-light beams,
And his voice is the music of mountain streams.

And then with her round, brown arms she pressed
His phantom form to her throbbing breast,
And whispered the name, in her happy sleep,
Of her Hóhè hunter so fair and far:
And then she saw in her dreams the deep
Where the spirit wailed, and a falling star;
Then stealthily crouching under the trees,
By the light of the moon, the Kan-é-ti-dan, [31]
The little, wizened, mysterious man,
With his long locks tossed by the moaning breeze.
Then a flap of wings, like a thunder-bird, [32]
And a wailing spirit the sleeper heard;
And lo, through the mists of the moon, she saw
The hateful visage of Hârpstinà.

But waking she murmured "And what are these
The flap of wings and the falling star,
The wailing spirit that's never at ease,
The little man crouching under the trees,
And the hateful visage of Hârpstinà?
My dreams are like feathers that float on the breeze,
And none can tell what the omens are
Save the beautiful dream of my love afar
In the happy land of the tall Hóhè
My handsome hunter my brave Chaskè."

"Ta-tánka! Ta-tánka!"[33] the hunters cried,
With a joyous shout at the break of dawn
And darkly lined on the white hill-side,
A herd of bison went marching on
Through the drifted snow like a caravan.
Swift to their ponies the hunters sped,
And dashed away on the hurried chase.
The wild steeds scented the game ahead,
And sprang like hounds to the eager race.
But the brawny bulls in the swarthy van
Turned their polished horns on the charging foes
And reckless rider and fleet footman
Were held at bay in the drifted snows,
While the bellowing herd o'er the hilltops ran,
Like the frightened beasts of a caravan
On Sahara's sands when the simoon blows.
Sharp were the twangs of the hunters' bows,
And swift and humming the arrows sped,
Till ten huge bulls on the bloody snows
Lay pierced with arrows and dumb and dead.
But the chief with the flankers had gained the rear,
And flew on the trail of the flying herd.
The shouts of the riders rang loud and clear,
As their foaming steeds to the chase they spurred.
And now like the roar of an avalanche
Rolls the bellowing wrath of the maddened bulls
They charge on the riders and runners stanch,
And a dying steed in the snow drift rolls,
While the rider, flung to the frozen ground,
Escapes the horns by a panther's bound.
But the raging monsters are held at bay,
While the flankers dash on the swarthy rout:
With lance and arrow they slay and slay;
And the welkin rings to the gladsome shout
To the loud Iná's and the wild Ihó's, [34]
And dark and dead, on the bloody snows,
Lie the swarthy heaps of the buffaloes.
All snug in the teepee Wiwâstè lay,
All wrapped in her robe, at the dawn of day,
All snug and warm from the wind and snow,
While the hunters followed the buffalo.
Her dreams and her slumber their wild shouts broke;
The chase was afoot when the maid awoke;
She heard the twangs of the hunters' bows,
And the bellowing bulls and the loud Ihó's,
And she murmured "My hunter is far away
In the happy land of the tall Hóhè
My handsome hunter, my brave Chaskè;
But the robins will come and my warrior too,
And Wiwâstè will find her a way to woo."

And long she lay in a reverie,
And dreamed, wide-awake, of the brave Chaskè,
Till a trampling of feet on the crispy snow
She heard, and the murmur of voices low:
Then the warriors' greeting Ihó! Ihó!
And behold, in the blaze of the risen day,
With the hunters that followed the buffalo
Came her tall, young hunter her brave Chaskè.
Far south has he followed the bison-trail
With his band of warriors so brave and true.
Right glad is Wakâwa his friend to hail,
And Wiwâstè will find her a way to woo.

Tall and straight as the larch-tree stood
The manly form of the brave young chief,
And fair as the larch in its vernal leaf,
When the red fawn bleats in the feathering wood.
Mild was his face as the morning skies,
And friendship shone in his laughing eyes;
But swift were his feet o'er the drifted snow
On the trail of the elk or the buffalo,
And his heart was stouter than lance or bow,
When he heard the whoop of his enemies.
Five feathers he wore of the great Wanmdeè
And each for the scalp of a warrior slain,
When down on his camp from the northern plain,
With their murder-cries rode the bloody Cree.[35]
But never the stain of an infant slain,
Or the blood of a mother that plead in vain,
Soiled the honored plumes of the brave Hóhè.
A mountain bear to his enemies,
To his friends like the red fawn's dappled form;
In peace, like the breeze from the summer seas
In war, like the roar of the mountain storm.
His fame in the voice of the winds went forth
From his hunting grounds in the happy North,
And far as the shores of the Great Medè [36]
The nations spoke of the brave Chaskè.

Dark was the visage of grim Red Cloud,
Fierce were the eyes of the warrior proud,
When the chief to his lodge led the brave Hóhè,
And Wiwâstè smiled on the tall Chaskè.
Away he strode with a sullen frown,
And alone in his teepee he sat him down.
From the gladsome greeting of braves he stole,
And wrapped himself in his gloomy soul.
But the eagle eyes of the Hârpstinà
The clouded face of the warrior saw.
Softly she spoke to the sullen brave:
"Mah-pí-ya Dúta his face is sad;
And why is the warrior so glum and grave?
For the fair Wiwâstè is gay and glad;
She will sit in the teepee the live-long day,
And laugh with her lover the brave Hóhè
Does the tall Red Cloud for the false one sigh?
There are fairer maidens than she, and proud
Were their hearts to be loved by the brave Red Cloud.
And trust not the chief with the smiling eyes;
His tongue is swift, but his words are lies;
And the proud Mah-pí-ya will surely find
That Wakâwa's promise is hollow wind.
Last night I stood by his lodge, and lo
I heard the voice of the Little Crow;
But the fox is sly and his words were low.
But I heard her answer her father 'Never!
I will stain your knife in my heart's red blood,
I will plunge and sink in the sullen river,
Ere I will be wife to the dark Red Cloud!'
Then he spake again, and his voice was low,
But I heard the answer of Little Crow:
'Let it be as you will, for Wakâwa's tongue
Has spoken no promise his lips are slow,
And the love of a father is deep and strong.'

"Mah-pí-ya Dúta, they scorn your love,
But the false chief covets the warrior's gifts.
False to his promise the fox will prove,
And fickle as snow in Wo-kâ-da-weè, [37]
That slips into brooks when the gray cloud lifts,
Or the red sun looks through the ragged rifts.
Mah-pí-ya Dúta will listen to me.
There are fairer birds in the bush than she,
And the fairest would gladly be Red Cloud's wife.
Will the warrior sit like a girl bereft,
When fairer and truer than she are left,
That love Red Cloud as they love their life?
Mah-pí-ya Dúta will listen to me.
I love him well I have loved him long:
A woman is weak, but a warrior is strong,
And a love-lorn brave is a scorn to see.

"Mah-pí-ya Dúta, O listen to me!
Revenge is swift and revenge is strong,
And sweet as the hive in the hollow tree;
The proud Red Cloud will avenge his wrong.
Let the brave be patient, it is not long
Till the leaves be green on the maple tree,
And the Feast of the Virgins is then to be
The Feast of the Virgins is then to be!"

Proudly she turned from the silent brave,
And went her way; but the warrior's eyes
They flashed with the flame of a sudden fire,
Like the lights that gleam in the Sacred Cave[38],
When the black night covers the autumn skies,
And the stars from their welkin watch retire.

Three nights he tarried the brave Chaskè;
Winged were the hours and they flitted away;
On the wings of Wakândee[39] they silently flew,
For Wiwâstè had found her a way to woo.
Ah little he cared for the bison-chase,
For the red lilies bloomed on the fair maid's face;
Ah little he cared for the winds that blew,
For Wiwâstè had found her a way to woo.
Brown-bosomed she sat on her fox-robe dark,
Her ear to the tales of the brave inclined,
Or tripped from the tee like the song of a lark,
And gathered her hair from the wanton wind.
Ah little he thought of the leagues of snow
He trod on the trail of the buffalo;
And little he recked of the hurricanes
That swept the snow from the frozen plains
And piled the banks of the Bloody River.[40]
His bow unstrung and forgotten hung
With his beaver hood and his otter quiver;
He sat spell-bound by the artless grace
Of her star-lit eyes and her moon-lit face.
Ah little he cared for the storms that blew,
For Wiwâstè had found her a way to woo.
When he spoke with Wakâwa her sidelong eyes
Sought the handsome chief in his hunter-guise.
Wakâwa marked, and the lilies fair
On her round cheeks spread to her raven hair.
They feasted on rib of the bison fat,
On the tongue of the Ta[41] that the hunters prize,
On the savory flesh of the red Hogan,[42]
On sweet tipsanna[43] and pemmican
And the dun-brown cakes of the golden maize;
And hour after hour the young chief sat,
And feasted his soul on her love-lit eyes.

The sweeter the moments the swifter they fly;
Love takes no account of the fleeting hours;
He walks in a dream 'mid the blooming of flowers,
And never awakes till the blossoms die.
Ah lovers are lovers the wide world over
In the hunter's lodge and the royal palace.
Sweet are the lips of his love to the lover
Sweet as new wine in a golden chalice
From the Tajo's[44] slope or the hills beyond;
And blindly he sips from his loved one's lips,
In lodge or palace the wide world over,
The maddening honey of Trebizond.[45]

O what are leagues to the loving hunter,
Or the blinding drift of the hurricane,
When it raves and roars o'er the frozen plain!
He would face the storm he would death encounter
The darling prize of his heart to gain.
But his hunters chafed at the long delay,
For the swarthy bison were far away,
And the brave young chief from the lodge departed.
He promised to come with the robins in May
With the bridal gifts for the bridal day;
And the fair Wiwâstè was happy-hearted,
For Wakâwa promised the brave Chaskè.
Birds of a feather will flock together.
The robin sings to his ruddy mate,
And the chattering jays, in the winter weather,
To prate and gossip will congregate;
And the cawing crows on the autumn heather,
Like evil omens, will flock together,
In common council for high debate;
And the lass will slip from a doting mother
To hang with her lad on the garden gate.
Birds of a feather will flock together
'Tis an adage old it is nature's law,
And sure as the pole will the needle draw,
The fierce Red Cloud with the flaunting feather,
Will follow the finger of Hârpstinà.

The winter wanes and the south-wind blows
From the Summer Islands legendary;
The skéskas[46] fly and the melted snows
In lakelets lie on the dimpled prairie.
The frost-flowers[47] peep from their winter sleep
Under the snow-drifts cold and deep.
To the April sun and the April showers,
In field and forest, the baby flowers
Lift their blushing faces and dewy eyes;
And wet with the tears of the winter-fairies,
Soon bloom and blossom the emerald prairies,
Like the fabled Garden of Paradise.

The plum-trees, white with their bloom in May,
Their sweet perfume on the vernal breeze
Wide strew like the isles of the tropic seas
Where the paroquet chatters the livelong day.
But the May-days pass and the brave Chaskè [17]
O why does the lover so long delay?
Wiwâstè waits in the lonely tee.
Has her fair face fled from his memory?
For the robin cherups his mate to please,
The blue-bird pipes in the poplar-trees,
The meadow lark warbles his jubilees,
Shrilling his song in the azure seas
Till the welkin throbs to his melodies,
And low is the hum of the humble-bees,
And the Feast of the Virgins is now to be.


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 Wakâwa himself is there;
And round the feast, in the Sacred Ring,[48]
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.[21]
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,[49]
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[50] 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,
Wiwâstè 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 Hârpstinà;
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;
Wiwâstè 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 Tâku-skán-skán[51] 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:
"Wakâwa, my Father! he lies, he lies!
Wiwâstè is pure as the fawn unborn;
Lead me back to the feast or Wiwâstè 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:
"Wiwâstè 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 clinchèd hand;
She stood like a statue bronzed and grand;
Wakân-deè[39] flashed in her fiery eyes;
Then swift as the meteor cleaves the skies
Nay, swift as the fiery Wakinyan's[32] 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 Wiwâstè'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[52] winding howl;
But the swift Wiwâstè 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 Wiwâstè 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 Wiwâstè's tears."

Wakâwa 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,
"Wiwâstè 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 Sisóka[53] 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 Wiwâstè'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.[54]

"Wakâwa," 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?
Wakâwa, Wakâwa, 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 Hóhè
His feet from Kapóza[6] so long delay?
For his father sat at my father's feast,
And he at Wakâwa'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 Chaskè.
Death walks like a shadow among my kin;
And swift are the feet of the flying years
That cover Wakâwa with frost and tears,
And leave their tracks on his wrinkled skin.
Wakâwa, 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 Wakâwa'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?
Wakâwa, Wakâwa, for thee the years
Are red with blood and bitter with tears.
Gone brothers, and daughters, and wife all gone
That are kin to Wakâwa but one but one
Wakínyan Tânka 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 Wakâwa'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 Wakâwa'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[55] shine
Through somber pines of the dusky dale.
Then they heard the hoot of the mottled owl;[56]
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."[57]
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 Wakâwa'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 Wakâwa raves,
And cheers the hearts of his falling braves.
But a panther crouches along his track
He springs with a yell on Wakâwa'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 Wakâwa 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
Wakâwa sleeps on the sacred hill,
And Wakínyan Tânka, his son, is chief.
Ah soon shall the lips of men forget
Wakâwa'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[58]
Lie red and ripe in the prairie grass.
The Si-yo[59] clucks on the emerald prairies
To her infant brood. From the wild morass,
On the sapphire lakelet set within it,
Magâ 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[60] 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 Wiwâstè? 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 Chaskè:
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 Chaskè?

But what of the venomous Hârpstinà
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;[61]
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 Wiwâstè, 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 Wiwâstè? 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 Wiwâstè's head.
Then slyly she slipped from her snug retreat,
And guiding her course by Wazíya's star,[62]
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[63] dance at the midnight hour.
She leaped the brook and she swam the river;
Her course through the forest Wiwâstè 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 Wiwâstè. 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[52] follow Wiwâstè's trail;
And guide my flight to the far Hóhè
To the sheltering lodge of my brave Chaskè."

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 Tipsânna,[43]
And the sweet medó [64] 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 Wazíya'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 [40] 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 Wiwâstè'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 "Ihó! Ihó!"[22]
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 Chaskè!

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 Kapóza a maiden, lo,
Came running in haste o'er the drifted snow.
She spoke to the chief of the tall Hóhè:
"Wiwâstè requests that the brave Chaskè
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 Wiwâstè wed
When the Feast of the Virgins is past," she said.
Wiwâstè'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 Hârpstinà.

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. [65]
"Mitâwin,"[66] he said, and his voice was low,
"Thy father no more is the false Little Crow;
But the fairest plume shall Wiwâstè wear
Of the great Wanmdeè in her midnight hair.
In my lodge, in the land of the tall Hóhè,
The robins will sing all the long summer day
To the happy bride of the brave Chaskè.'"

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 Hóhè
Wiwâstè rode with her proud Chaskè.
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 Wanmdeè.
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 Chaskè.
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[68] 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.

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