Excerpt from Hiawatha's Childhood
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (1807-1882)

  • Thus was born my Hiawatha,
  • Thus was born the child of wonder;
  • But the daughter of Nokomis,
  • Hiawatha's gentle mother,
  • In her anguish died deserted
  • By the West-Wind, false and faithless,
  • By the heartless Mudjekeewis.
  • For her daughter long and loudly
  • Wailed and wept the sad Nokomis;
  • "O that I were dead!" she murmured,
  • "O that I were dead, as thou art!
  • No more work, and no more weeping,
  • Wahonowin! Wahonowin!"
  • 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.
  • There the wrinkled old Nokomis
  • Nursed the little Hiawatha,
  • Rocked him in his linden cradle,
  • Bedded soft in moss and rushes,
  • Safely bound with reindeer sinews;
  • Stilled his fretful wail by saying,
  • "Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!"
  • Lulled him into slumber, singing,
  • "Ewa-yea! my little owlet!
  • Who is this, that lights the wigwam?
  • With his great eyes lights the wigwam?
  • Ewa-yea! my little owlet!"
  • Many things Nokomis taught him
  • Of the stars that shine in heaven;
  • Showed him Ishkoodah, the comet,
  • Ishkoodah, with fiery tresses;
  • Showed the Death-Dance of the spirits,
  • Warriors with their plumes and war-clubs,
  • Flaring far away to northward
  • In the frosty nights of Winter;
  • Showed the broad white road in heaven,
  • Pathway of the ghosts, the shadows,
  • Running straight across the heavens,
  • Crowded with the ghosts, the shadows.
  • At the door on summer evenings
  • Sat the little Hiawatha;
  • Heard the whispering of the pine-trees,
  • Heard the lapping of the waters,
  • Sounds of music, words of wonder;
  • 'Minne-wawa!" said the Pine-trees,
  • Mudway-aushka!" said the water.
  • Saw the fire-fly, Wah-wah-taysee,
  • Flitting through the dusk of evening,
  • With the twinkle of its candle
  • Lighting up the brakes and bushes,
  • And he sang the song of children,
  • Sang the song Nokomis taught him:
  • "Wah-wah-taysee, little fire-fly,
  • Little, flitting, white-fire insect,
  • Little, dancing, white-fire creature,
  • Light me with your little candle,
  • Ere upon my bed I lay me,
  • Ere in sleep I close my eyelids!"
  • Saw the rainbow in the heaven,
  • In the eastern sky, the rainbow,
  • Whispered, "What is that, Nokomis?"
  • And the good Nokomis answered:
  • "'T is the heaven of flowers you see there;
  • All the wild-flowers of the forest,
  • All the lilies of the prairie,
  • When on earth they fade and perish,
  • Blossom in that heaven above us."
  • When he heard the owls at midnight,
  • Hooting, laughing in the forest,
  • 'What is that?" he cried in terror,
  • "What is that," he said, "Nokomis?"
  • And the good Nokomis answered:
  • "That is but the owl and owlet,
  • Talking in their native language,
  • Talking, scolding at each other."
  • Then the little Hiawatha
  • Learned of every bird its language,
  • Learned their names and all their secrets,
  • How they built their nests in Summer,
  • Where they hid themselves in Winter,
  • Talked with them whene'er he met them,
  • Called them "Hiawatha's Chickens."
  • 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."
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  • Notes from the University of Virginia Library.
  • Wahonowin....is an exclamation of grief, "alas."
  • Gitche Gumee....means "great sea," or Lake Superior.
  • Ewa-yea....is the beginning of an Indian lullaby.
  • The "Death-Dance of the spirits"....is the aurora borealis, or northern lights,
  • thought by the Indians to be the ghosts of departed braves dancing in shining raiment.
  • The "pathway of the ghosts"....is the Milky Way.
  • Minne-wawa and Mudway-aushka....these two Indian words are intended,
  • by onomatopoeia, to represent the sounds made by the wind blowing
  • through the trees and rippling on the shore.
  • This chant to the fire-fly is a children's song among the Algonquins.