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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - Hiawatha's Fishing

Forth upon the Gitche Gumee, 
On the shining Big-Sea-Water, 
With his fishing-line of cedar, 
Of the twisted bark of cedar, 
Forth to catch the sturgeon Nahma, 
Mishe-Nahma, King of Fishes, 
In his birch canoe exulting 
All alone went Hiawatha.
Through the clear, transparent water 
He could see the fishes swimming 
Far down in the depths below him; 
See the yellow perch, the Sahwa, 
Like a sunbeam in the water,
See the Shawgashee, the craw-fish, 
Like a spider on the bottom, 
On the white and sandy bottom.
At the stern sat Hiawatha, 
With his fishing-line of cedar; 
In his plumes the breeze of morning 
Played as in the hemlock branches; 
On the bows, with tail erected, 
Sat the squirrel, Adjidaumo; 
In his fur the breeze of morning 
Played as in the prairie grasses.
On the white sand of the bottom 
Lay the monster Mishe-Nahma, 
Lay the sturgeon, King of Fishes; 
Through his gills he breathed the water, 
With his fins he fanned and winnowed, 
With his tail he swept the sand-floor.
There he lay in all his armor; 
On each side a shield to guard him, 
Plates of bone upon his forehead, 
Down his sides and back and shoulders
Plates of bone with spines projecting 
Painted was he with his war-paints, 
Stripes of yellow, red, and azure, 
Spots of brown and spots of sable; 
And he lay there on the bottom, 
Fanning with his fins of purple, 
As above him Hiawatha 
In his birch canoe came sailing, 
With his fishing-line of cedar.
"Take my bait," cried Hiawatha, 
Dawn into the depths beneath him, 
"Take my bait, O Sturgeon, Nahma! 
Come up from below the water, 
Let us see which is the stronger!" 
And he dropped his line of cedar 
Through the clear, transparent water, 
Waited vainly for an answer, 
Long sat waiting for an answer, 
And repeating loud and louder, 
"Take my bait, O King of Fishes!"
Quiet lay the sturgeon, Nahma, 
Fanning slowly in the water, 
Looking up at Hiawatha, 
Listening to his call and clamor, 
His unnecessary tumult, 
Till he wearied of the shouting; 
And he said to the Kenozha, 
To the pike, the Maskenozha, 
"Take the bait of this rude fellow, 
Break the line of Hiawatha!"
In his fingers Hiawatha 
Felt the loose line jerk and tighten, 
As he drew it in, it tugged so 
That the birch canoe stood endwise, 
Like a birch log in the water, 
With the squirrel, Adjidaumo, 
Perched and frisking on the summit.
Full of scorn was Hiawatha 
When he saw the fish rise upward, 
Saw the pike, the Maskenozha, 
Coming nearer, nearer to him, 
And he shouted through the water, 
"Esa! esa! shame upon you! 
You are but the pike, Kenozha, 
You are not the fish I wanted, 
You are not the King of Fishes!"
Reeling downward to the bottom 
Sank the pike in great confusion, 
And the mighty sturgeon, Nahma, 
Said to Ugudwash, the sun-fish, 
To the bream, with scales of crimson, 
"Take the bait of this great boaster, 
Break the line of Hiawatha!"
Slowly upward, wavering, gleaming, 
Rose the Ugudwash, the sun-fish, 
Seized the line of Hiawatha, 
Swung with all his weight upon it, 
Made a whirlpool in the water, 
Whirled the birch canoe in circles, 
Round and round in gurgling eddies, 
Till the circles in the water 
Reached the far-off sandy beaches, 
Till the water-flags and rushes 
Nodded on the distant margins.
But when Hiawatha saw him 
Slowly rising through the water, 
Lifting up his disk refulgent, 
Loud he shouted in derision, 
"Esa! esa! shame upon you! 
You are Ugudwash, the sun-fish, 
You are not the fish I wanted, 
You are not the King of Fishes!"
Slowly downward, wavering, gleaming, 
Sank the Ugudwash, the sun-fish, 
And again the sturgeon, Nahma, 
Heard the shout of Hiawatha,
Heard his challenge of defiance, 
The unnecessary tumult, 
Ringing far across the water.
From the white sand of the bottom 
Up he rose with angry gesture, 
Quivering in each nerve and fibre, 
Clashing all his plates of armor, 
Gleaming bright with all his war-paint; 
In his wrath he darted upward, 
Flashing leaped into the sunshine, 
Opened his great jaws, and swallowed 
Both canoe and Hiawatha.
Down into that darksome cavern 
Plunged the headlong Hiawatha, 
As a log on some black river 
Shoots and plunges down the rapids, 
Found himself in utter darkness, 
Groped about in helpless wonder, 
Till he felt a great heart beating, 
Throbbing in that utter darkness.
And he smote it in his anger, 
With his fist, the heart of Nahma, 
Felt the mighty King of Fishes 
Shudder through each nerve and fibre, 
Heard the water gurgle round him 
As he leaped and staggered through it, 
Sick at heart, and faint and weary.
Crosswise then did Hiawatha 
Drag his birch-canoe for safety, 
Lest from out the jaws of Nahma, 
In the turmoil and confusion, 
Forth he might be hurled and perish. 
And the squirrel, Adjidaumo, 
Frisked and chatted very gayly, 
Toiled and tugged with Hiawatha 
Till the labor was completed.
Then said Hiawatha to him, 
"O my little friend, the squirrel,
Bravely have you toiled to help me; 
Take the thanks of Hiawatha, 
And the name which now he gives you; 
For hereafter and forever 
Boys shall call you Adjidaumo, 
Tail-in-air the boys shall call you!"
And again the sturgeon, Nahma, 
Gasped and quivered in the water, 
Then was still, and drifted landward 
Till he grated on the pebbles, 
Till the listening Hiawatha 
Heard him grate upon the margin, 
Felt him strand upon the pebbles, 
Knew that Nahma, King of Fishes, 
Lay there dead upon the margin.
Then he heard a clang and flapping, 
As of many wings assembling, 
Heard a screaming and confusion, 
As of birds of prey contending, 
Saw a gleam of light above him, 
Shining through the ribs of Nahma, 
Saw the glittering eyes of sea-gulls, 
Of Kayoshk, the sea-gulls, peering, 
Gazing at him through the opening, 
Heard them saying to each other, 
"'T is our brother, Hiawatha!"
And he shouted from below them, 
Cried exulting from the caverns: 
"O ye sea-gulls! O my brothers! 
I have slain the sturgeon, Nahma; 
Make the rifts a little larger, 
With your claws the openings widen, 
Set me free from this dark prison, 
And henceforward and forever 
Men shall speak of your achievements, 
Calling you Kayoshk, the sea-gulls, 
Yes, Kayoshk, the Noble Scratchers!"
And the wild and clamorous sea-gulls
Toiled with beak and claws together, 
Made the rifts and openings wider 
In the mighty ribs of Nahma, 
And from peril and from prison, 
From the body of the sturgeon, 
From the peril of the water, 
They released my Hiawatha.
He was standing near his wigwam, 
On the margin of the water, 
And he called to old Nokomis, 
Called and beckoned to Nokomis, 
Pointed to the sturgeon, Nahma, 
Lying lifeless on the pebbles, 
With the sea-gulls feeding on him.
"I have slain the Mishe-Nahma,
Slain the King of Fishes!" said he' 
"Look! the sea-gulls feed upon him,
Yes, my friends Kayoshk, the sea-gulls; 
Drive them not away, Nokomis, 
They have saved me from great peril 
In the body of the sturgeon, 
Wait until their meal is ended, 
Till their craws are full with feasting, 
Till they homeward fly, at sunset, 
To their nests among the marshes; 
Then bring all your pots and kettles, 
And make oil for us in Winter."
And she waited till the sun set, 
Till the pallid moon, the Night-sun, 
Rose above the tranquil water, 
Till Kayoshk, the sated sea-gulls, 
From their banquet rose with clamor, 
And across the fiery sunset 
Winged their way to far-off islands, 
To their nests among the rushes.
To his sleep went Hiawatha, 
And Nokomis to her labor, 
Toiling patient in the moonlight,
Till the sun and moon changed places, 
Till the sky was red with sunrise, 
And Kayoshk, the hungry sea-gulls, 
Came back from the reedy islands, 
Clamorous for their morning banquet.
Three whole days and nights alternate 
Old Nokomis and the sea-gulls 
Stripped the oily flesh of Nahma, 
Till the waves washed through the rib-bones, 
Till the sea-gulls came no longer, 
And upon the sands lay nothing 
But the skeleton of Nahma. 

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Added: Jun 9 2005 | Viewed: 4963 times | Comments and analysis of Hiawatha's Fishing by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Comments (20)

Hiawatha's Fishing - Comments and Information

Poet: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poem: Hiawatha's Fishing
Volume: The Song of Hiawatha
Poem of the Day: May 30 2010

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