The White Wampum

by Emily Pauline Johnson




THE autumn afternoon is dying o’er
    The quiet western valley where I lie
Beneath the maples on the river shore,
    Where tinted leaves, blue waters and fair sky
    Environ all; and far above some birds are flying by

To seek their evening haven in the breast
    And calm embrace of silence, while they sing
Te Deums to the night, invoking rest
    For busy chirping voice and tired wing—
    And in the hush of sleeping trees their sleeping cradles swing.

In forest arms the night will soonest creep,
    Where somber pines a lullaby intone,
Where Nature’s children curl themselves to sleep,
    And all is still at last, safe where alone
    A band of black, belated crows arrive from lands unknown.
    [Page 43]

Strange sojourn has been theirs since waking day,
    Strange sights and cities in their wanderings blend
With fields of yellow maize, and leagues away
    With rivers where their sweeping waters wend
    Past velvet banks to rocky shores, in cañons bold to end.

O’er what vast lakes that stretch superbly dead,
    Till lashed to life by storm clouds, have they flown?
In what wild lands, in laggard flight have led
    Their aërial career unseen, unknown,
    ’Till now with twilight come their cries in lonely monotone?

The flapping of their pinions in the air
    Dies in the hush of distance, while they light
Within the fir tops, weirdly black and bare,
    That stand with giant strength and peerless height,
    To shelter fairy, bird and beast throughout the closing night.

Strange black and princely pirates of the skies,
    Would that your wind-tossed travels I could know!
Would that my soul could see, and, seeing, rise [Page 44]
To unrestricted life where ebb and flow
Of Nature’s pulse would constitute a wider life below!

Could I but live just here in Freedom’s arms,
    A kingly life without a sovereign’s care!
Vain dreams! Day hides with closing wings her charms,
And all is cradled in repose, save where
Yon band of black, belated crows still frets the evening air.
    [Page 45]