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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

From Legends of New England (1831)

 

 

The Indian's Tale

 

NOTE. — It was generally believed, by the first settlers of New-England, that a mortal pestilence had, a short time previous to their arrival, in a great measure depopulated some of the finest portions of the country on the seaboard. The Indians themselves corroborated this opinion, and gave the English a terrific description of the ravages of the unseen Destroyer.

 

 

THE War-God did not wake to strife,
The strong men of our forest-land,
No red hand grasped the battle-knife
At Areouski's high command:—
We held no war-dance by the dim
And red light of the creeping flame;
Nor warrior-yell, nor battle-hymn
Upon the midnight breezes came.

There was no portent in the sky,
No shadow on the round, bright sun,
With light and mirth and melody,
The long, fair summer days came on;
We were a happy people then,
Rejoicing in our hunter-mood;
No foot-prints of the pale-faced men
Had marred our forest-solitude.

The land was ours—this glorious land—
With all its wealth of wood and streams—
Our warriors strong of heart and hand—
Our daughters beautiful as dreams.
When wearied at the thirsty noon,
We knelt us where the spring gushed up
To taste our Father's blessed boon—
Unlike the white-man's poison cup.

There came unto my father's hut,
A wan, weak creature of distress;
The red man's door is never shut
Against the lone and shelterless;
And when he knelt before his feet,
My father led the stranger in—
He gave him of his hunter-meat—
Alas! it was a deadly sin!

 

The stranger's voice was not like ours—
His face at first was sadly pale,
Anon 'twas like the yellow flowers,
Which tremble in the meadow-gale—
And when he laid him down to die—
And murmured of his father-land,
My mother wiped his tearful eye,
My father held his burning hand!

He died at last—the funeral yell
Rang upward from his burial sod,
And the old Powwah knelt to tell
The tidings to the white man's God!
The next day came—my father's brow
Grew heavy with a fearful pain,
He did not take his hunting-bow—
He never sought the woods again!

He died even as the white-man died—
My mother, she was smitten too,
My sisters vanished from my side,
Like diamonds from the sun-lit dew.
And then we heard the Powwahs say—
That God had sent his angel forth,
To sweep our ancient tribes away—
And poison and unpeople Earth.

And it was so—from day to day
The Spirit of the Plague went on—
And those at morning blithe and gay,
Were dying at the set of sun.
They died—our free, bold hunters died—
The living might not give them graves—
Save when along the water-side
They cast them to the hurrying waves.

The carrion crow—the ravenous beast,
Turned loathing from the ghastly dead;
Well might they shun the funeral feast
By that destroying angel spread!
One after one, the red-men fell,
Our gallant war-tribe passed away—
And I alone am left to tell
The story of its swift decay.

 

 

Alone—alone—a withered leaf,
Yet clinging to its naked bough;
The pale race scorn the aged chief,
And I will join my fathers now.
The Spirits of my people bend
At midnight from the solemn West,
To me their kindly arms extend—
To call me to their home of rest!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892: Legends of New England (1831) : a facsimile reproduction / by John Greenleaf Whittier ; with an introduction by John B. Pickard [electronic text]

 

Courtesy of the The American Verse Project, the University of Michigan Humanities Text Initiative (HTI), and the University of Michigan Press.

 

 

 

 

 

Source:  Legends of New England (1831) : a facsimile reproduction by  John Greenleaf Whittier.  Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints.  Gainesville, Florida, 1965.  Pages 100-103.



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