Verse > John Greenleaf Whittier > The Poetical Works in Four Volumes
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John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892).  The Poetical Works in Four Volumes.  1892.
 
Narrative and Legendary Poems
The Truce of Piscataqua
 
          In the winter of 1675–76, the Eastern Indians, who had been making war upon the New Hampshire settlements, were so reduced in numbers by fighting and famine that they agreed to a peace with Major Waldron at Dover, but the peace was broken in the fall of 1676. The famous chief, Squando, was the principal negotiator on the part of the savages. He had taken up the hatchet to revenge the brutal treatment of his child by drunken white sailors, which caused its death.
  It not unfrequently happened during the Border wars that young white children were adopted by their Indian captors, and so kindly treated that they were unwilling to leave the free, wild life of the woods; and in some instances they utterly refused to go back with their parents to their old homes and civilization.

RAZE these long blocks of brick and stone,
These huge mill-monsters overgrown;
Blot out the humbler piles as well,
Where, moved like living shuttles, dwell
The weaving genii of the bell;        5
Tear from the wild Cocheco’s track
The dams that hold its torrents back;
And let the loud-rejoicing fall
Plunge, roaring, down its rocky wall;
And let the Indian’s paddle play        10
On the unbridged Piscataqua!
Wide over hill and valley spread
Once more the forest, dusk and dread,
With here and there a clearing cut
From the walled shadows round it shut;        15
Each with its farm-house builded rude,
By English yeoman squared and hewed,
And the grim, flankered block-house bound
With bristling palisades around.
So, haply shall before thine eyes        20
The dusty veil of centuries rise,
The old, strange scenery overlay
The tamer pictures of to-day,
While, like the actors in a play,
Pass in their ancient guise along        25
The figures of my border song:
What time beside Cocheco’s flood
The white man and the red man stood,
With words of peace and brotherhood;
When passed the sacred calumet        30
From lip to lip with fire-draught wet,
And, puffed in scorn, the peace-pipe’s smoke
Through the gray beard of Waldron broke,
And Squando’s voice, in suppliant plea
For mercy, struck the haughty key        35
Of one who held, in any fate,
His native pride inviolate!
 
“Let your ears be opened wide!
He who speaks has never lied.
Waldron of Piscataqua,        40
Hear what Squando has to say!
 
“Squando shuts his eyes and sees,
Far off, Saco’s hemlock-trees.
In his wigwam, still as stone,
Sits a woman all alone,        45
 
“Wampum beads and birchen strands
Dropping from her careless hands,
Listening ever for the fleet
Patter of a dead child’s feet!
 
“When the moon a year ago        50
Told the flowers the time to blow,
In that lonely wigwam smiled
Menewee, our little child.
 
“Ere that moon grew thin and old,
He was lying still and cold;        55
Sent before us, weak and small,
When the Master did not call!
 
“On his little grave I lay;
Three times went and came the day,
Thrice above me blazed the noon,        60
Thrice upon me wept the moon.
 
“In the third night-watch I heard,
Far and low, a spirit-bird;
Very mournful, very wild,
Sang the totem of my child.        65
 
“‘Menewee, poor Menewee,
Walks a path he cannot see:
Let the white man’s wigwam light
With its blaze his steps aright.
 
“‘All-uncalled, he dares not show        70
Empty hands to Manito:
Better gifts he cannot bear
Than the scalps his slayers wear.’
 
“All the while the totem sang,
Lightning blazed and thunder rang;        75
And a black cloud, reaching high,
Pulled the white moon from the sky.
 
“I, the medicine-man, whose ear
All that spirits hear can hear,—
I, whose eyes are wide to see        80
All the things that are to be,—
 
“Well I knew the dreadful signs
In the whispers of the pines,
In the river roaring loud,
In the mutter of the cloud.        85
 
“At the breaking of the day,
From the grave I passed away;
Flowers bloomed round me, birds sang glad,
But my heart was hot and mad.
 
“There is rust on Squando’s knife,        90
From the warm, red springs of life;
On the funeral hemlock-trees
Many a scalp the totem sees.
 
“Blood for blood! But evermore
Squando’s heart is sad and sore;        95
And his poor squaw waits at home
For the feet that never come!
 
“Waldron of Cocheco, hear!
Squando speaks, who laughs at fear;
Take the captives he has ta’en;        100
Let the land have peace again!”
 
As the words died on his tongue,
Wide apart his warriors swung;
Parted, at the sign he gave,
Right and left, like Egypt’s wave.        105
 
And, like Israel passing free
Through the prophet-charmëd sea,
Captive mother, wife, and child
Through the dusky terror filed.
 
One alone, a little maid,        110
Middleway her steps delayed,
Glancing, with quick, troubled sight,
Round about from red to white.
 
Then his hand the Indian laid
On the little maiden’s head,        115
Lightly from her forehead fair
Smoothing back her yellow hair.
 
“Gift or favor ask I none;
What I have is all my own:
Never yet the birds have sung,        120
‘Squando hath a beggar’s tongue.’
 
“Yet for her who waits at home,
For the dead who cannot come,
Let the little Gold-hair be
In the place of Menewee!        125
 
“Mishanock, my little star!
Come to Saco’s pines afar;
Where the sad one waits at home,
Wequashim, my moonlight, come!”
 
“What!” quoth Waldron, “leave a child        130
Christian-born to heathens wild?
As God lives, from Satan’s hand
I will pluck her as a brand!”
 
“Hear me, white man!” Squando cried;
“Let the little one decide.        135
Wequashim, my moonlight, say,
Wilt thou go with me, or stay?”
 
Slowly, sadly, half afraid,
Half regretfully, the maid
Owned the ties of blood and race,—        140
Turned from Squando’s pleading face.
 
Not a word the Indian spoke,
But his wampum chain he broke,
And the beaded wonder hung
On that neck so fair and young.        145
 
Silence-shod, as phantoms seem
In the marches of a dream,
Single-filed, the grim array
Through the pine-trees wound away.
 
Doubting, trembling, sore amazed,        150
Through her tears the young child gazed.
“God preserve her!” Waldron said;
“Satan hath bewitched the maid!”
 
Years went and came. At close of day
Singing came a child from play,        155
Tossing from her loose-locked head
Gold in sunshine, brown in shade.
 
Pride was in the mother’s look,
But her head she gravely shook,
And with lips that fondly smiled        160
Feigned to chide her truant child.
 
Unabashed, the maid began:
“Up and down the brook I ran,
Where, beneath the bank so steep,
Lie the spotted trout asleep.        165
 
“‘Chip!’ went squirrel on the wall,
After me I heard him call,
And the cat-bird on the tree
Tried his best to mimic me.
 
“Where the hemlocks grew so dark        170
That I stopped to look and hark,
On a log, with feather-hat,
By the path, an Indian sat.
 
“Then I cried, and ran away;
But he called, and bade me stay;        175
And his voice was good and mild
As my mother’s to her child.
 
“And he took my wampum chain,
Looked and looked it o’er again;
Gave me berries, and, beside,        180
On my neck a plaything tied.”
 
Straight the mother stooped to see
What the Indian’s gift might be.
On the braid of wampum hung,
Lo! a cross of silver swung.        185
 
Well she knew its graven sign,
Squando’s bird and totem pine;
And, a mirage of the brain,
Flowed her childhood back again.
 
Flashed the roof the sunshine through,        190
Into space the walls outgrew;
On the Indian’s wigwam-mat,
Blossom-crowned, again she sat.
 
Cool she felt the west-wind blow,
In her ear the pines sang low,        195
And, like links from out a chain,
Dropped the years of care and pain.
 
From the outward toil and din,
From the griefs that gnaw within,
To the freedom of the woods        200
Called the birds, and winds, and floods.
 
Well, O painful minister!
Watch thy flock, but blame not her,
If her ear grew sharp to hear
All their voices whispering near.        205
 
Blame her not, as to her soul
All the desert’s glamour stole,
That a tear for childhood’s loss
Dropped upon the Indian’s cross.
 
When, that night, the Book was read,        210
And she bowed her widowed head,
And a prayer for each loved name
Rose like incense from a flame,
 
With a hope the creeds forbid
In her pitying bosom hid,        215
To the listening ear of Heaven
Lo! the Indian’s name was given.

  1860.
 
 
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