Friday, February 13, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe

Here is a study of the relationship between the poet Longfellow and Michigan's Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. I originally wrote it as an article for "Wooden Canoe" magazine. When it was published I was disappointed by the cutting the editor had done. Editors drive me nuts. I have had similar experiences with the editor of "Michigan History" magazine. That partially explains why I self-publish my narrative/monographs. Also, I can't imagine some publisher paying for my stuff or seeing my stuff in bookstores like Larry Massie, Kit Lane, or Tim Kent. I am happy with you, my select (and growing) audience.
                                       HIAWATHA'S CANOE
In his epic poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes how the legendary Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian hero and leader built his canoe:
Give me of your bark , O Birch-tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch-tree!
Growing by the rushing river,
Tall and stately in the valley!
I a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float upon the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily!
"Lay aside your cloak,O Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!"
    Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gaily,
In the Moon of leaves were singing,
And the sun from sleep awaking
Started up and said, "Behold me!
Geezis, the great Sun, behold me!"
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
"Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!"
With his knife the tree he girdled,
Just beneath its lower branches,
just above the roots, he cut it,
Till the sap came oozing outward,
Down the trunk, from top to bottom,
Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,
With a wooden wedge he raised it,
Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

The "Taquamenaw" is the tea-colored Taquamenon River located in the eastern part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Although smooth-flowing and serpentine throughout most of its length, it becomes Longfellow's "rushing Taquamenaw" as it dashes over a pair of falls a few miles before it enters Lake Superior.
The Lake Superior region is the locale for most of the Song of Hiawatha..."By the shores of Gitchie Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea Water."
NEXT: What Hiawatha asks of the Cedar, the Tamarack/Larch and the Balsam Fir.

Hiawatha illustration and Taquamenon photo by Andrea Kowch. Used with permission.

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