The White Wampum

by Emily Pauline Johnson


 

DAWENDINE


 

THERE’s a spirit on the river, there’s a ghost upon the shore,
They are chanting, they are singing through the starlight             evermore,
As they steal amid the silence,
                   And the shadows of the shore.

You can hear them when the Northern candles light the Northern
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            sky,
Those pale, uncertain candle flames, that shiver, dart and die,
Those dead men’s icy finger tips,
                   Athwart the Northern sky.

You can hear the ringing war cry of a long forgotten brave
Echo through the midnight forest, echo o’er the midnight wave,
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And the Northern lanterns tremble
                   At the war cry of that brave. [Page 19]

And you hear a voice responding, but in soft and tender song;
It is Dawendine’s spirit singing, singing all night long;
And the whisper of the night wind
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                   Bears afar her Spirit song.

And the wailing pine trees murmur with their voice attuned to hers,
Murmur when they ’rouse from slumber as the night wind through             them stirs;
And you listen to their legend,
                   And their voices blend with hers.
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There was feud and there was bloodshed near the river by the hill;
And Dawendine listened, while her very heart stood still:
Would her kinsman or her lover
                   Be the victim by the hill?

Who would be the great unconquered? who come boasting how
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            he dealt
Death? and show his rival’s scalplock fresh and bleeding at his             belt.
Who would say, “O Dawendine!
                   Look upon the death I dealt?” [Page 20]

And she listens, listens, listens—till a war-cry rends the night,
Cry of her victorious lover, monarch he of all the height;
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And his triumph wakes the horrors,
                   Kills the silence of the night.

Heart of her! it throbs so madly, then lies freezing in her breast,
For the icy hand of death has chilled the brother she loved best;
And her lover dealt the deathblow;
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                   And her heart dies in her breast.

And she hears her mother saying, “Take thy belt of wampum             white;
Go unto yon evil savage while he glories on the height;
Sing and sue for peace between us:
                   At his feet lay wampum white,
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“Lest thy kinsmen all may perish, all thy brothers and thy sire
Fall before his mighty hatred as the forest falls to fire;
Take thy wampum pale and peaceful,
                   Save thy brothers, save thy sire.” [Page 21]

And the girl arises softly, softly slips toward the shore;
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Loves she well the murdered brother, loves his hated foeman             more,
Loves, and longs to give the wampum;
                   And she meets him on the shore.

“Peace,” she sings, “O mighty victor, Peace! I bring thee             wampum white.
Sheathe thy knife whose blade has tasted my young kinsman’s
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            blood to-night
Ere it drink to slake its thirsting,
                   I have brought thee wampum white.”

Answers he, “O Dawendine! I will let thy kinsmen be,
I accept thy belt of wampum; but my hate demands for me
That they give their fairest treasure,
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                   Ere I let thy kinsmen be.

“Dawendine, for thy singing, for thy suing, war shall cease;
For thy name, which speaks of dawning, Thou shalt be the dawn             of peace;
For thine eyes whose purple shadows tell of dawn,
                   My hate shall cease. [Page 22]
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“Dawendine, Child of Dawning, hateful are thy kin to me;
Red my fingers with their heart blood, but my heart is red for thee:
Dawendine, Child of Dawning,
                   Wilt thou fail or follow me?”

And her kinsmen still are waiting her returning from the night,
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Waiting, waiting for her coming with her belt of wampum white;
But forgetting all, she follows,
                   Where he leads through day or night.

There’s a spirit on the river, there’s a ghost upon the shore,
And they sing of love and loving through the starlight evermore,
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As they steal amid the silence,
                   And the shadows of the shore. [Page 23]