Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hiawatha's Sailing

"Give me of your bark, O Birch Tree!

Of your yellow bark, O Birch Tree!

Growing by the rushing river,

Tall and stately in the valley!

I a light canoe will build me,

Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,

That shall float upon the river,

Like a yellow leaf in autumn,

Like a yellow water lily!

"Lay aside your cloak, O Birch Tree!

Lay aside your white skin wrapper,

For the summer time is coming,

And the sun is warm in heaven,

And you need no white skin wrapper!"

Thus aloud cried Hiawatha

In the solitary forest,

By the rushing Taquamenaw,

When the birds were singing gaily,

In the Moon of Leaves were singing,

And the Sun, from sleep awaking,

Started up and said, "Behold me!

Geezis, the great Sun, behold me!"

And the tree with all its branches

Rustled in the breeze of morning,

Saying, with a sigh of patience,

"Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!"

With his knife the tree he girdled;

Just beneath its lowest branches,

Just above the roots, he cut it,

Till the sap came oozing outward;

Down the trunk, from top to bottom,

Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,

With a wooden wedge he raised it,

Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

"Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!

Of your strong and pliant branches,

My canoe to make more steady,

Make more strong and firm beneath me!"

Through the summit of the Cedar

Went a sound, a cry of horror,

Went a murmur of resistance;

But it whispered, bending downward,

"Take my boughs, O Hiawatha!"

Down he hewed the boughs of cedar,

Shaped them straightway to a framework,

Like two bows he formed and shaped them,

Like two bended bows together.

"Give me of your roots, O Tamarack!

Of your fibrous roots, O Larch Tree!

My canoe to bind together,

So to bind the ends together

That the water may not enter,

That the river may not wet me!"

And the Larch with all its fibers,

Shivered in the air of morning,

Touched his forehead with its tassels,

Said, with one long sigh of sorrow,

"Take them all, O Hiawatha!"

From the earth he tore the fibers,

Tore the tough roots of the Larch Tree,

Closely sewed the bark together,

Bound it closely to the framework.

"Give me of your balm, O Fir Tree!

Of your balsam and your resin,

So to close the seams together

That the water may not enter,

That the river may not wet me!"

And the Fir Tree, tall and somber,

Sobbed through all its robes of darkness,

Rattled like a shore with pebbles,

Answered wailing, answered weeping,

"Take my balm, O Hiawatha!"

And he took the tears of balsam,

Took the resin of the Fir Tree,

Seamed therewith each seam and fissure,

Made each crevice safe from water.

"Give me of your quills, O Hedgehog!

All your quills, O Kagh, the Hedgehog!

I will make a necklace of them,

Make a girdle for my beauty,

And two stars to deck her bosom!"

From a hollow tree the Hedgehog

With his sleepy eyes looked at him,

Shot his shining quills, like arrows,

Saying, with a drowsy murmur,

Through the tangle of his whiskers,

"Take my quills, O Hiawatha!"

From the ground the quills he gathered,

All the little shining arrows,

Stained them red and blue and yellow,

With the juice of roots and berries;

Into his canoe he wrought them,

Round its waist a shining girdle,

Round its bows a gleaming necklace,

On its breast two stars resplendent.

Thus the Birch Canoe was builded,

In the valley, by the river,

In the bosom of the forest;

And the forest's life was in it,

All its mystery and its magic,

All the lightness of the birch tree,

All the toughness of the cedar,

All the larch's supple sinews;

And it floated on the river

Like a yellow leaf in autumn,

Like a yellow water lily.

Paddles none had Hiawatha,

Paddles none he had or needed,

For his thoughts as paddles served him,

And his wishes served to guide him;

Swift or slow at will he glided,

Veered to right or left at pleasure.