Winona.

A poem by Hanford Lennox Gordon

When the meadow-lark trilled o'er the leas
and the oriole piped in the maples,
From my hammock, all under the trees,
by the sweet-scented field of red clover,
I harked to the hum of the bees,
as they gathered the mead of the blossoms,
And caught from their low melodies
the air of the song of Winona.


(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.)

* * * * *

Two hundred white Winters and more
have fled from the face of the Summer,
Since here on the oak-shaded shore
of the dark-winding, swift Mississippi,
Where his foaming floods tumble and roar
o'er the falls and the white-rolling rapids,
In the fair, fabled center of Earth,
sat the Indian town of Ka-thá-ga. [86]
Far rolling away to the north, and the south,
lay the emerald prairies,
All dotted with woodlands and lakes,
and above them the blue bent of ether.
And here where the dark river breaks into spray
and the roar of the Ha-Ha, [76]
Where gathered the bison-skin tees[F]
of the chief tawny tribe of Dakotas;
For here, in the blast and the breeze,
flew the flag of the chief of Isantees, [86]
Up-raised on the stem of a lance
the feathery flag of the eagle.
And here to the feast and the dance,
from the prairies remote and the forests,
Oft gathered the out-lying bands,
and honored the gods of the nation.
On the islands and murmuring strands
they danced to the god of the waters,
Unktéhee, [69] who dwelt in the caves,
deep under the flood of the Ha-Ha; [76]
And high o'er the eddies and waves
hung their offerings of furs and tobacco,[G]
And here to the Master of life
Anpé-tu-wee, [70] god of the heavens,
Chief, warrior, and maiden, and wife,
burned the sacred green sprigs of the cedar. [50]
And here to the Searcher-of-hearts
fierce Tá-ku Skan-skán, [51] the avenger,
Who dwells in the uppermost parts of the earth,
and the blue, starry ether,
Ever watching, with all-seeing eyes,
the deeds of the wives and the warriors,
As an osprey afar in the skies,
sees the fish as they swim in the waters,
Oft spread they the bison-tongue feast,
and singing preferred their petitions,
Till the Day-Spirit[70] rose in the East
in the red, rosy robes of the morning,
To sail o'er the sea of the skies,
to his lodge in the land of the shadows,
Where the black-winged tornadoes[H] arise,
rushing loud from the mouths of their caverns.
And here with a shudder they heard,
flying far from his tee in the mountains,
Wa-kín-yan,[32] the huge Thunder-Bird,
with the arrows of fire in his talons.

Two hundred white Winters and more
have fled from the face of the Summer
Since here by the cataract's roar,
in the moon of the red-blooming lilies,[71]
In the tee of Ta-té-psin[I] was born
Winona wild-rose of the prairies.
Like the summer sun peeping, at morn,
o'er the hills was the face of Winona.
And here she grew up like a queen
a romping and lily-lipped laughter,
And danced on the undulant green,
and played in the frolicsome waters,
Where the foaming tide tumbles and whirls
o'er the murmuring rocks in the rapids;
And whiter than foam were the pearls
that gleamed in the midst of her laughter.
Long and dark was her flowing hair flung
like the robe of the night to the breezes;
And gay as the robin she sung,
or the gold-breasted lark of the meadows.
Like the wings of the wind were her feet,
and as sure as the feet of Ta-tó-ka[J]
And oft like an antelope fleet
o'er the hills and the prairies she bounded,
Lightly laughing in sport as she ran,
and looking back over her shoulder
At the fleet-footed maiden or man
that vainly her flying feet followed.
The belle of the village was she,
and the pride of the aged Ta-té-psin,
Like a sunbeam she lighted his tee,
and gladdened the heart of her father.

In the golden-hued Wázu-pe-weé
the moon when the wild-rice is gathered;
When the leaves on the tall sugar-tree
are as red as the breast of the robin,
And the red-oaks that border the lea
are aflame with the fire of the sunset,
From the wide, waving fields of wild-rice
from the meadows of Psin-ta-wak-pá-dan,[K]
Where the geese and the mallards rejoice,
and grow fat on the bountiful harvest,
Came the hunters with saddles of moose
and the flesh of the bear and the bison,
And the women in birch-bark canoes
well laden with rice from the meadows.

With the tall, dusky hunters, behold,
came a marvelous man or a spirit,
White-faced and so wrinkled and old,
and clad in the robe of the raven.
Unsteady his steps were and slow,
and he walked with a staff in his right hand,
And white as the first-falling snow
were the thin locks that lay on his shoulders.
Like rime-covered moss hung his beard,
flowing down from his face to his girdle;
And wan was his aspect and weird,
and often he chanted and mumbled
In a strange and mysterious tongue,
as he bent o'er his book in devotion,
Or lifted his dim eyes and sung,
in a low voice, the solemn "Te Deum,"
Or Latin, or Hebrew, or Greek
all the same were his words to the warriors,
All the same to the maids and the meek,
wide-wondering-eyed, hazel-brown children.

Father René Menard [L] it was he,
long lost to his Jesuit brothers,
Sent forth by an holy decree
to carry the Cross to the heathen.
In his old age abandoned to die,
in the swamps, by his timid companions,
He prayed to the Virgin on high,
and she led him forth from the forest;
For angels she sent him as men
in the forms of the tawny Dakotas,
And they led his feet from the fen,
from the slough of despond and the desert,
Half dead in a dismal morass,
as they followed the red-deer they found him,
In the midst of the mire and the grass,
and mumbling "Te Deum laudamus."
"Unktómee[72] Ho!" muttered the braves,
for they deemed him the black Spider-Spirit
That dwells in the drearisome caves,
and walks on the marshes at midnight,
With a flickering torch in his hand,
to decoy to his den the unwary.
His tongue could they not understand,
but his torn hands all shriveled with famine
He stretched to the hunters and said:
"He feedeth his chosen with manna;
And ye are the angels of God
sent to save me from death in the desert."
His famished and woe-begone face,
and his tones touched the hearts of the hunters;
They fed the poor father apace,
and they led him away to Ka-thá-ga.

There little by little he learned
the tongue of the tawny Dakotas;
And the heart of the good father yearned
to lead them away from their idols
Their giants[16] and dread Thunder-birds
their worship of stones[73] and the devil.
"Wakán-de!"[M] they answered his words,
for he read from his book in the Latin,
Lest the Nazarene's holy commands
by his tongue should be marred in translation;
And oft with his beads in his hands,
or the cross and the crucified Jesus,
He knelt by himself on the sands,
and his dim eyes uplifted to heaven.
But the braves bade him look to the East
to the silvery lodge of Han-nán-na;[N]
And to dance with the chiefs at the feast
at the feast of the Giant Heyó-ka.[16]
They frowned when the good father spurned
the flesh of the dog in the kettle,
And laughed when his fingers were burned
in the hot, boiling pot of the giant.
"The Black-robe" they called the poor priest,
from the hue of his robe and his girdle;
And never a game or a feast
but the father must grace with his presence.
His prayer-book the hunters revered,
they deemed it a marvelous spirit;
It spoke and the white father heard,
it interpreted visions and omens.
And often they bade him to pray
this marvelous spirit to answer,
And tell where the sly Chippewa
might be ambushed and slain in his forest.
For Menard was the first in the land,
proclaiming, like John in the desert,
"The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand;
repent ye, and turn from your idols."
The first of the brave brotherhood that,
threading the fens and the forest,
Stood afar by the turbulent flood
at the falls of the Father of Waters.

In the lodge of the Stranger[O] he sat,
awaiting the crown of a martyr;
His sad face compassion begat
in the heart of the dark-eyed Winona.
Oft she came to the teepee and spoke;
she brought him the tongue of the bison,
Sweet nuts from the hazel and oak,
and flesh of the fawn and the mallard.
Soft hánpa[P] she made for his feet
and leggins of velvety fawn-skin,
A blanket of beaver complete,
and a hood of the hide of the otter.
And oft at his feet on the mat,
deftly braiding the flags and the rushes,
Till the sun sought his teepee
she sat, enchanted with what he related
Of the white-wingèd ships on the sea
and the teepees far over the ocean,
Of the love and the sweet charity of the Christ
and the beautiful Virgin.

She listened like one in a trance
when he spoke of the brave, bearded Frenchmen,
From the green, sun-lit valleys of France
to the wild Hochelága[Q] transplanted,
Oft trailing the deserts of snow
in the heart of the dense Huron forests,
Or steering the dauntless canoe
through the waves of the fresh-water ocean.
"Yea, stronger and braver are they,"
said the aged Menard to Winona,
"Than the head-chief, tall Wazi-kuté,[74]
but their words are as soft as a maiden's,
Their eyes are the eyes of the swan,
but their hearts are the hearts of the eagles;
And the terrible Mása Wakán[R]
ever walks by their side like a spirit;
Like a Thunder-bird, roaring in wrath,
flinging fire from his terrible talons,
He sends to their enemies death
in the flash of the fatal Wakándee."[S]

The Autumn was past and the snow
lay drifted and deep on the prairies;
From his teepee of ice came the foe
came the storm-breathing god of the winter.
Then roared in the groves, on the plains,
on the ice-covered lakes and the river,
The blasts of the fierce hurricanes
blown abroad from the breast of Wazíya. [3]
The bear cuddled down in his den,
and the elk fled away to the forest;
The pheasant and gray prairie-hen
made their beds in the heart of the snow-drift;
The bison herds huddled and stood
in the hollows and under the hill-sides,
Or rooted the snow for their food
in the lee of the bluffs and the timber;
And the mad winds that howled from the north,
from the ice-covered seas of Wazíya,
Chased the gray wolf and silver-fox forth
to their dens in the hills of the forest.

Poor Father Menard he was ill;
in his breast burned the fire of a fever;
All in vain was the magical skill
of Wicásta Wakán [61] with his rattle;
Into soft, child-like slumber he fell,
and awoke in the land of the blessèd
To the holy applause of "Well-done!"
and the harps in the hands of the angels.
Long he carried the cross and he won
the coveted crown of a martyr.

In the land of the heathen he died,
meekly following the voice of his Master,
One mourner alone by his side
Ta-té-psin's compassionate daughter.
She wailed the dead father with tears,
and his bones by her kindred she buried.
Then winter followed winter. The years
sprinkled frost on the head of her father;
And three weary winters she dreamed
of the fearless and fair, bearded Frenchmen;
At midnight their swift paddles gleamed
on the breast of the broad Mississippi,
And the eyes of the brave strangers beamed
on the maid in the midst of her slumber.

She lacked not admirers;
the light of the lover oft burned in her teepee
At her couch in the midst of the night,
but she never extinguished the flambeau.
The son of Chief Wazi-kuté
a fearless and eagle-plumed warrior
Long sighed for Winona,
and he was the pride of the band of Isántees.
Three times, in the night at her bed,
had the brave held the torch of the lover, [75]
And thrice had she covered her head
and rejected the handsome Tamdóka. [T]

'Twas Summer. The merry-voiced birds
trilled and warbled in woodland and meadow;
And abroad on the prairies the herds
cropped the grass in the land of the lilies,
And sweet was the odor of rose
wide-wafted from hillside and heather;
In the leaf-shaded lap of repose
lay the bright, blue-eyed babes of the summer;
And low was the murmur of brooks,
and low was the laugh of the Ha-Ha; [76]
And asleep in the eddies and nooks
lay the broods of magá [60]and the mallard.
'Twas the moon of Wasúnpa. [71]
The band lay at rest in the tees at Ka-thá-ga,
And abroad o'er the beautiful land
walked the spirits of Peace and of Plenty
Twin sisters, with bountiful hand
wide scattering wild-rice and the lilies.
An-pé-tu-wee[70] walked in the west
to his lodge in the far-away mountains,
And the war-eagle flew to her nest
in the oak on the Isle of the Spirit.[U]
And now at the end of the day,
by the shore of the Beautiful Island,[V]
A score of fair maidens and gay
made joy in the midst of the waters.
Half-robed in their dark, flowing hair,
and limbed like the fair Aphroditè,
They played in the waters, and there
they dived and they swam like the beavers,
Loud-laughing like loons on the lake
when the moon is a round shield of silver,
And the songs of the whippowils wake
on the shore in the midst of the maples.

But hark! on the river a song,
strange voices commingled in chorus;
On the current a boat swept along
with DuLuth and his hardy companions;
To the stroke of their paddles they sung,
and this the refrain that they chanted:

"Dans mon chemin j'ai rencontré
Deux cavaliers bien montés.
Lon, lon, laridon daine,
Lon, lon, laridon da."

"Deux cavaliers bien montés;
L'un à cheval, et l'autre à pied.
Lon, lon, laridon daine,
Lon, lon, laridon da."[W]

Like the red, dappled deer in the glade
alarmed by the footsteps of hunters,
Discovered, disordered, dismayed,
the nude nymphs fled forth from the waters,
And scampered away to the shade,
and peered from the screen of the lindens.

A bold and adventuresome man was DuLuth,
and a dauntless in danger,
And straight to Kathága he ran,
and boldly advanced to the warriors,
Now gathering, a cloud on the strand,
and gazing amazed on the strangers;
And straightway he offered his hand
unto Wázi-kuté, the Itáncan.[X]
To the Lodge of the Stranger were led
DuLuth and his hardy companions;
Robes of beaver and bison were spread,
and the Peace-pipe[23] was smoked with the Frenchman.

There was dancing and feasting at night,
and joy at the presents he lavished.
All the maidens were wild with delight
with the flaming red robes and the ribbons,
With the beads and the trinkets untold,
and the fair, bearded face of the giver;
And glad were they all to behold
the friends from the Land of the Sunrise.
But one stood apart from the rest
the queenly and silent Winona,
Intently regarding the guest
hardly heeding the robes and the ribbons,
Whom the White Chief beholding admired,
and straightway he spread on her shoulders
A lily-red robe and attired
with necklet and ribbons the maiden.
The red lilies bloomed in her face,
and her glad eyes gave thanks to the giver,
And forth from her teepee apace
she brought him the robe and the missal
Of the father poor René Menard;
and related the tale of the "Black Robe."
She spoke of the sacred regard
he inspired in the hearts of Dakotas;
That she buried his bones with her kin,
in the mound by the Cave of the Council;
That she treasured and wrapt in the skin
of the red-deer his robe and his prayer book
"Till his brothers should come from the East
from the land of the far Hochelága,
To smoke with the braves at the feast,
on the shores of the Loud-laughing Waters. [16]
For the 'Black Robe' spake much of his youth
and his friends in the Land of the Sunrise;
It was then as a dream; now in truth
I behold them, and not in a vision."
But more spake her blushes, I ween,
and her eyes full of language unspoken,
As she turned with the grace of a queen
and carried her gifts to the teepee.

Far away from his beautiful France
from his home in the city of Lyons,
A noble youth full of romance,
with a Norman heart big with adventure,
In the new world a wanderer, by chance
DuLuth sought the wild Huron forests.
But afar by the vale of the Rhone,
the winding and musical river,
And the vine-covered hills of the Saône,
the heart of the wanderer lingered,
'Mid the vineyards and mulberry trees,
and the fair fields of corn and of clover
That rippled and waved in the breeze,
while the honey-bees hummed in the blossoms.
For there, where th' impetuous Rhone,
leaping down from the Switzerland mountains,
And the silver-lipped, soft-flowing Saône,
meeting, kiss and commingle together,
Down winding by vineyards and leas,
by the orchards of fig-trees and olives,
To the island-gemmed, sapphire-blue seas
of the glorious Greeks and the Romans;
Aye, there, on the vine-covered shore,
'mid the mulberry-trees and the olives,
Dwelt his blue-eyed and beautiful Flore,
with her hair like a wheat-field at harvest,
All rippled and tossed by the breeze,
and her cheeks like the glow of the morning,
Far away o'er the emerald seas,
as the sun lifts his brow from the billows,
Or the red-clover fields when the bees,
singing sip the sweet cups of the blossoms.
Wherever he wandered
alone in the heart of the wild Huron forests,
Or cruising the rivers unknown
to the land of the Crees or Dakotas
His heart lingered still on the Rhone,
'mid the mulberry trees and the vineyards,
Fast-fettered and bound by the zone
that girdled the robes of his darling.
Till the red Harvest Moon[71] he remained
in the vale of the swift Mississippi.
The esteem of the warriors he gained,
and the love of the dark-eyed Winona.
He joined in the sports and the chase;
with the hunters he followed the bison,
And swift were his feet in the race
when the red elk they ran on the prairies.
At the Game of the Plum-stones[77] he played,
and he won from the skillfulest players;
A feast to Wa'tánka[78] he made,
and he danced at the feast of Heyôka.[16]
With the flash and the roar of his gun
he astonished the fearless Dakotas;
They called it the "Máza Wakán"
the mighty, mysterious metal.
"'Tis a brother," they said, "of the fire
in the talons of dreadful Wakinyan,'[32]
When he flaps his huge wings in his ire,
and shoots his red shafts at Unktéhee."[69]

The Itáncan,[74] tall Wází-kuté,
appointed a day for the races.
From the red stake that stood by his tee,
on the southerly side of the Ha-ha,
O'er the crest of the hills and the dunes
and the billowy breadth of the prairie,
To a stake at the Lake of the Loons[79]
a league and return was the distance.
They gathered from near and afar,
to the races and dancing and feasting;
Five hundred tall warriors were there
from Kapóza[6] and far-off Keóza;[8]
Remnica[Y] too, furnished a share
of the legions that thronged to the races,
And a bountiful feast was prepared
by the diligent hands of the women,
And gaily the multitudes fared
in the generous tees of Kathága.
The chief of the mystical clan
appointed a feast to Unktéhee
The mystic "Wacípee Wakán"[Z]
at the end of the day and the races.
A band of sworn brothers are they,
and the secrets of each one are sacred,
And death to the lips that betray
is the doom of the swarthy avengers,
And the son of tall Wází-kuté
was the chief of the mystical order.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Winona.' by Hanford Lennox Gordon

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy