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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW: "Should You Ask Me, Whence..."

"Should You Ask Me, Whence..."

1855

(From "The Song of Hiawatha")
Should you ask me, whence these stories
Whence this legends and traditions,
With the odor of the forest,
With the dew and damp of meadows,
With the curling smoke of wigwams,
With the rushing of great rivers,
With their frequent repetitions,
As a thunder of the mountains?
I should answer, I should tell you,
“From the forests and the prairies,
From the land of Ojibways,
From the land of the Dacotahs,
From the mountains, moors and fen-lands,
Where the heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
Feeds among the reeds and rushes.
I repeat them as I heard them
From the lips of Nawadaha,
The musician, the sweet singer.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“There he sang of Hiawatha,
Sang the song of Hiawatha,
Sang his wondrous birth and being,
How he prayed and how he fasted,
How he lived and toiled and suffered,
That the tribes of men might prosper,
That he might advance his people!”
    Ye who love the haunts of Nature,
Love the sunshine of the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the wind among the branches,
And the rain shower and snow-storm,
And the rushing of great rivers
Through their palisades of pine-trees,
And the thunder of the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flip like eagles in their eyries; --
Listen to this wild traditions,
To this song of Hiawatha!
    Ye who love a nation’s legends,
Love the ballads of a people,
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and childlike,
Scarcely can the ear distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken; --
Listen to this Indian Legend,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
    Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and Nature,
Who believe that in all ages
Every human heart is human,
That in even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
That the feeble hands and helpless,
Touch God’s right hand in the darkness
And are lifted up and strengthened; --
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Hiawatha!
    Ye who sometimes in your rambles
Through the green lanes of the country,
Where the tangled barberry-bushes
Hang their tufts of crimson berries
Over stone walls gray with mosses,
Pause by some neglected graveyard,
For a while to muse and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with little skill of song-craft,
Homely phrases, but each letter
Full of hope and yet of heart break,
Full of all the tender pathos
Of the Here and the Hereafter; --
Stay and read this rude inscription,
Read the Song of Hiawatha!



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