Monday, August 27, 2007

Hiawatha's Childhood (Selections) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hiawatha's Childhood (Selections)

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them.
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.

Of all beasts he learned the language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How the beavers built their lodges.
Where the squirrels hid their acorns,
How the reindeer ran so swiftly,
Why the rabbit was so timid,
Talked with them whene'er he met them,
Called them "Hiawatha's Brothers."

Then Iagoo the great boaster,
He the marvelous story-teller,
He the traveler and the talker,
He the friend of old Nokomis,
Made a bow for Hiawatha;
From a branch of ash he made it,
From an oak bough made the arrows,
Tipped with flint, and winged with feathers,
And the cord he made of deerskin.

Then he said to Hiawatha:
"Go, my son, into the forest,
Where the red deer herd together,
Kill for us a famous roebuck,
Kill for us a deer with antlers!"

Forth into the forest straightway
All alone walked Hiawatha
Proudly, with his bow and arrows;
And the birds sang round him, o'er him
"Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!"
Sang the robin, sang the bluebird,
"Do not shoot us, Hiawatha!"

And the rabbit from his pathway
Leaped aside, and at a distance
Sat erect upon his haunches,
Half in fear and half in frolic,
Saying to the little hunter,
"Do not shoot me, Hiawatha!"

But he heeded not, nor heard them,
For his thoughts were with the red deer;
On their tracks his eyes were fastened,
Leading downward to the river,
To the ford across the river,
And as one in slumber walked he.

Hidden in the alder bushes,
There he waited till the deer came,
Till he saw two antlers lifted,
Saw two eyes look from the thicket,
Saw two nostrils point to windward,
And a deer came down the pathway,
Flecked with leafy light and shadow.
And his heart within him fluttered
Trembled like the leaves above him,
Like the birch-leaf palpitated,
As the deer came down the pathway.

Then, upon one knee uprising,
Hiawatha aimed an arrow;
Scarce a twig moved with his motion,
Scarce a leaf was stirred or rustled,
But the wary roebuck darted,
Stamped with all his hoofs together,
Listened with one foot uplifted,
Leaped as if to meet the arrow;
Ah! the singing, fatal arrow,
Like a wasp it buzzed, and stung him.

Dead he lay there in the forest,
By the ford across the river;
Beat his timid heart no longer;
But the heart of Hiawatha
Throbbed and shouted and exulted,
As he bore the red deer homeward.
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For a long time, I thought that the poem in Disney's Silly Symphony short, Little Hiawatha, was pretty much directly quoting from the Longfellow original. And if not directly quoting, then at least just embellishing, like they did with Casey at the Bat. When I went looking for the poem, though, I found that it was ENORMOUS, and went on FOREVER, and yet there was no part of it which told a story even remotely like the one I remembered, except for the line, "Do not shoot us Hiawatha."

What I've posted here is a distillation of the childhood section to show the bits which I figure must have been the inspiration for the short. Here's a link to the short itself for your ten minutes of viewing pleasure. And below, I have slaved away to provide you with a transcript, which I believe to be the only one available on the web (though it's probably copyrighted material, I think that putting it here for scholarly comparison should be considered "fair use" right?)

Down the stream and through the canyon
Down the rushing Paw-paw-mee-naw
Sailing through its bends and windings
Sailing through its deeps and shadows
Came the little Hiawatha
Came in his canoe of birch bark
Came in his canoe Ma-chi-maw
To the falls of Minehaha
And the birds sang round him, o'er him
Sang the bluebird, sang the robin
"Do not shoot us Hiawatha"

Down the rapids in the river
Down the stream went Hiawatha.
Though a whirlpool in the water
Whirled the birch canoe in circles
Round and Round in gurgling eddies
Still the little Hiawatha
Bravely paddled on undaunted.

For he'd come to hunt the red deer
Hunt the rabbit the wa-baw-so
Hunt the swuirrel the Awg-guamo
Hunt the great bear mi-shi-mo-qua
Fearless was this mighty warrior
Skilled in all the craft of hunters
Sure of foot was Hiawatha

(break for instrumental pantomime of him hunting, failing, cornering a rabbit, pitying it too much to shoot, tracking a baby bear, being chased by the mother bear, escaping with the help of the animals, etc)

So it was that Hiawatha
Came to end his day of hunting
And the beaver called him brother
Helped him as he journeyed homeward
While the rabbit and the red squirrel
And the little deer that watched him
Watched him as a friend departing
Mighty hunter Hiawatha
Mighty warrior Hiawatha
Mighty chieftain Hiawatha
Mighty little Hiawatha
I can't find the link now, but I read a humorous piece of literary criticism where the author, in perfect meter, described how he could write verse in this style for days on end without breaking a sweat. I thought it might have been Mark Twain, so I searched for his name and Hiawatha, and though it wasn't the piece I was looking for, found a cute little story he wrote on the subject, which I'll encourage you to read as I sign off. Mark Twain's Hiawatha Memory

Special addition! After initially posting this blog entry, I found, in the Wikipedia article on The Song of Hiawatha, that it was Lewis Carroll that I was looking for. Go to that article for the quote, and some other fun parodies.


  1. The only other time I've heard of the Lake Gitche Gumee was in Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," the song that most consistently gets me just this side of crying. I recommend it to everyone if you can spare the dollar to buy a copy online. It's best listened to on a windy, overcast day next to a lake or other large body of water.

  2. Yeah...That's a good one. Maybe I'll post the lyrics for this week's Sea Poem.

    There's one other thing I wanted to say about Hiawatha. As I was reading about all the people who made fun of the simple meter and nonexistant rhyme scheme, I thought about what the poet was trying to achieve. It reminded me of Beowulf somehow. It's the sort of style that would really work for the Oral Tradition -- where you know the stories and the common poetic devices, but you're half making it up as you go along. You'd want to have a style that would be easy to compose on the fly so you could tailor the performance to your audience.

  3. One of the classic filk songs is to the tune of that song. It's about the Apollo 13 mission. Unfortunately, I can't find the lyrics anywhere, and I'm not sure if it was ever released on CD.


  4. It's called "The ballad of Apollo XIII." The lyrics are by William Warren. It was published in 1982 in a book of songs called "Minus Ten and Counting: Songs of the Space Age." It has been recorded by Julia Ecklar: here's another song she sang about Apollo 11, kind of similar in flavor. com/watch? v=7cVOOXQo22o
    When recordings become available on ebay, they go for hundreds of dollars because it has never been rereleased.


  5. Dear Karen,
    you are right to recall the meter as a part of Oral Tradition. Longfellow's epic is written to correspond with the metre of the Finnish epic "Kalevala" which is written by Elias Lönnrot. You'll propably find some background knowledge on this from Wikibedia.