Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MON-DA-MIN; OR, THE ROMANCE OF MAIZE, by BAYARD TAYLOR

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MON-DA-MIN; OR, THE ROMANCE OF MAIZE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Long ere the shores of green america
Last Line: From whose abundance all the world may feed.
Alternate Author Name(s): Taylor, James Bayard
Subject(s): Death; Explorers; Legends; Dead, The; Exploring; Discovery; Discoverers


LONG ere the shores of green America
Were touched by men of Norse and Saxon blood,
What time the Continent in silence lay,
A solemn realm of forest and of flood,
Where Nature wantoned wild in zones immense,
Unconscious of her own magnificence;


Then to the savage race, who knew no world
Beyond the hunter's lodge, the council-fire,
The clouds of grosser sense were sometimes furled,
And spirits came to answer their desire, --
The spirits of the race, grotesque and shy;
Exaggerated powers of earth and sky.


For Gods resemble whom they govern: they,
The fathers of the soil, may not outgrow
The children's vision. In that earlier day,
They stooped the race familiarly to know;
From Heaven's blue prairies they descended then,
And took the shapes and shared the lives of men.


A chief there was, who in the frequent stress
Of want, yet in contentment, lived his days;
His lodge was built within the wilderness
Of Huron, clasping those transparent bays,
Those deeps of unimagined crystal, where
The bark canoe seems hung in middle air.


There, from the lake and from the uncertain chase
With patient heart his sustenance he drew;
And he was glad to see, in that wild place,
The sons and daughters that around him grew,
Although more scant they made his scanty store,
And in the winter moons his need was sore.


The eldest was a boy, a silent lad,
Who wore a look of wisdom from his birth;
Such beauty, both of form and face, he had,
As until then was never known on earth
And so he was (his soul so bright and far!)
Osseo named, -- Son of the Evening Star.


This boy by nature was companionless
His soul drew nurture only when it sucked
The savage dugs of Fable; he could guess
The knowledge other minds but slowly plucked
From out the heart of things; to him, as well
As to his Gods, all things were possible.


The heroes of that shapeless faith of his
Took life from him: when gusts of powdery snow
Whirled round the lodge, he saw Pauppuckewiss
Floundering amid the drifts, and he would go
Climbing the hills, while sunset faded wan,
To seek the feathers of the Rosy Swan.


He knew the lord of serpent and of beast,
The crafty Incarnation of the North;
He knew, when airs grew warm and buds increased,
The sky was pierced, the Summer issued forth,
And when a cloud concealed some mountain's crest
The Bird of Thunder brooded on his


Through Huron's mists he saw the enchanted boat
Of old Mishosha to his island go,
And oft he watched, if on the waves might float,
As once, the Fiery Plume of Wassamo;
And when the moonrise flooded coast and bay,
He climbed the headland, stretching far away;


For there -- so ran the legend -- nightly came
The small Puck-wudjees, ignorant of harm:
The friends of Man, in many a sportive game
The nimble elves consoled them for the charm
Which kept them exiled from their homes afar, --
The silver lodges of a twilight star.


So grew Osseo, as a lonely pine,
That knows the secret of the wandering breeze,
And ever sings its canticles divine,
Uncomprehended by the other trees:
And now the time drew nigh, when he began
The solemn fast whose issue proves the man.


His father built a lodge the wood within,
Where he the appointed space should duly bide,
Till such propitious time as he had been
By faith prepared, by fasting purified,
And in mysterious dreams allowed to see
What God the guardian of his life would be.


The anxious crisis of the Spring was past,
And warmth was master o'er the lingering cold.
The alder's catkins dropped; the maple cast
His crimson bloom, the willow's downy gold
Blew wide, and softer than a squirrel's ear
The white oak's foxy leaves began appear.


There was a motion in the soil. A sound
Lighter than falling seeds, shook out of flowers,
Exhaled where dead leaves, sodden on the ground,
Repressed the eager grass; and there for hours
Osseo lay, and vainly strove to bring
Into his mind the miracle of Spring.


The wood-birds knew it, and their voices rang
Around his lodge; with many a dart and whir
Of saucy joy, the shrewish catbird sang
Full-throated, and he heard the kingfisher,
Who from his God escaped with rumpled crest,
And the white medal hanging on his breast.


The aquilegia sprinkled on the rocks
A scarlet rain; the yellow violet
Sat in the chariot of its leaves; the phlox
Held spikes of purple flame in meadows wet,
And all the streams with vernal-scented reed
Were fringed, and streaky bells of miskodeed.


The boy went musing: What are these, that burst
The sod and grow, without the aid of man?
What father brought them food? what mother nursed
Them in her earthy lodge, till Spring began?
They cannot speak; they move but with the air;
Yet souls of evil or of good they bear.


How are they made, that some with wholesome juice
Delight the tongue, and some are charged with death?
If spirits them inhabit, they can loose
Their shape sometimes, and talk with human breath:
Would that in dreams one such would come to me,
And thence my teacher and my guardian be!


So, when more languid with his fast, the boy
Kept to his lodge, he pondered much thereon,
And other memories gave his mind employ;
Memories of winters when the moose were gone, --
When tales of Manabozo failed to melt
The hunger-pang his pinirg brothers felt.


He thought: The Mighty Spirit knows all things,
Is master over all. Could He not choose
Design his children food to ease the stings
Of hunger, when the lake and wood refuse?
If He will bless me with the knowledge, I
Will for my brothers fast until I die.


Four days were sped since he had tasted meat;
Too faint he was to wander any more,
When from the open sky, that, blue and sweet,
Looked in upon him through the lodge's door,
With quiet gladness he beheld a fair
Celestial Shape descending through the air.


He fell serenely, as a winged seed
Detached in summer from the maple bough;
His glittering clothes unruffled by the speed,
The tufted plumes unshaken on his brow:
Bright, wonderful, he came without a sound,
And like a burst of sunshine struck the ground.


So light he stood, so tall and straight of limb,
So fair the heavenly freshness of his face,
With beating heart Osseo looked at him,
For now a God had visited the place.
More brave a God his dreams had never seen:
The stranger's garments were a shining green.


Sheathing his limbs in many a stately fold,
That, parting on his breast, allowed the eye
To note beneath, his vest of scaly gold
Whereon the drops of slaughter, scarcely dry,
Disclosed their blushing stain: his shoulders fair
Gave to the wind long tufts of silky hair.


The plumy crest, that high and beautiful
Above his head its branching tassels hung,
Shook down a golden dust, while, fixing full
His eyes upon the boy, he loosed his tongue.
Deep in his soul Osseo did rejoice
To hear the reedy music of his voice:


"By the Great Spirit I am hither sent,
He knows the wishes whereupon you feed, --
The soul, that, on your brothers' good intent,
Would sink ambition to relieve their need:
This thing is grateful to the Master's eye,
Nor will His wisdom what you seek deny.


"But blessings are not free; they do not fall
In listless hands; by toil the soul must prove
Its steadfast purpose master over all,
Before their wings in pomp of coming move:
Here, wrestling with me, must you overcome,
In me, the secret, -- else, my lips are dumb."


No match for his, Osseo's limbs appeared,
Weak with the fast; and yet in soul he grew
Composed and resolute, by accents cheered,
That spake in light what he but darkly knew.
He rose, unto the issue nerved; he sent
Into his arms the hope of the event.


The shining stranger wrestled long and hard,
When, disengaging weary limbs, he said:
"It is enough; with no unkind regard
The Master's eye your toil hath visited.
He bids me cease; to-day let strife remain;
But on the morrow I will come again."


And on the morrow came he as before,
Dropping serenely down the deep-blue air:
More weak and languid was the boy, yet more
Courageous he, that crowning test to bear.
His soul so wrought in every fainting limb,
It seemed the cruel fast had strengthened him.


Again they grappled, and their sinews wrung
In desperate emulation; and again
Came words of comfort from the stranger's tongue
When they had ceased. He scaled the heavenly plain,
His tall, bright stature lessening as he rose,
Till lost amid the infinite repose.


On the third day descending as before,
His raiment's gleam surprised the silent sky;
And weaker still the poor boy felt, yet more
Courageous he, and resolute to die,
So he might first the promised good embrace,
And leave a blessing unto all his race.


This time with intertwining limbs they strove;
The God's green mantle shook in every fold,
And o'er Osseo's heated forehead drove
His silky hair, his tassel's dusty gold,
Till, spent and breathless, he at last forbore,
And sat to rest beside the lodge's door.


"My friend," he said, "the issue now is plain;
Who wrestles in his soul must victor be;
Who bids his life in payment shall attain
The end he seeks, -- and you will vanquish me.
Then, these commands fulfilling, you shall win
What the Great Spirit gives in Mon-da-Min.


"When I am dead, strip off this green array,
And pluck the tassels from my shrivelled hair;
Then bury me where summer rains shall play
Above my breast, and sunshine linger there.
Remove the matted sod; for I would have
The earth lie lightly, softly on my grave.


"And tend the place, lest any noxious weed
Through the sweet soil should strike its bitter root;
Nor let the blossoms of the forest breed,
Nor the wild grass in green luxuriance shoot;
But when the earth is dry and blistered, fold
Thereon the fresh and dainty-smelling mould.


"The clamoring crow, the blackbird swarms that make
The meadow trees their hive, must come not near:
Scare thence all hurtful things; nor quite forsake
Your careful watch until the woods appear
With crimson blotches deeply dashed and crossed, --
Sign of the fatal pestilence of Frost.


"This done, the secret, into knowledge grown,
Is yours forevermore." With that, he took
The yielding air. Osseo, left alone,
Followed his flight with hope-enraptured look.
The pains of hunger fled; a happy flame
Danced in his heart until the trial came.


It happened so, as Mon-da-Min foretold;
Osseo's soul, at every wreathing twist
Of palpitating muscle, grew more bold,
And from the limbs of his antagonist
Celestial vigor to his own he drew,
Till with one mighty heave he overthrew.


Then from the body, beautiful and cold,
He stripped the shining clothes; but on his breast
He left the vest, engrained with blushing gold,
And covered him in decent burial-rest.
At sunset to his father's lodge he passed,
And soothed with meat the anguish of his fast.


Naught did he speak of all that he had done
But day by day in secrecy he sought
An opening in the forest, where the sun
Warmed the new grave: so tenderly he wrought,
So lightly heaped the mould, so carefully
Kept all the place from choking herbage free,


That in a little while a folded plume
Pushed timidly the covering soil aside,
And, fed by fattening rains, took broader room,
Until it grew a stalk, and rustled wide
Its leafy garments, lifting in the air
Its tasselled top, and knots of silky hair.


Osseo marvelled to behold his friend
In this fair plant; the secret of the Spring
Was his at length; and till the Summer's end
He guarded him from every harmful thing.
He scared the cloud of blackbirds, wheeling low;
His arrow pierced the reconnoitring crow.


Now came the brilliant mornings, kindling all
The woody hills with pinnacles of fire;
The gum's ensanguined leaves began to fall,
The buckeye blazed in prodigal attire,
And frosty vapors left the lake at night
To string the prairie grass with spangles white.


One day, from long and unsuccessful chase
The chief returned. Osseo through the wood
In silence led him to the guarded place,
Where now the plant in golden ripeness stood.
"Behold, my father!" he exclaimed, "our friend,
Whom the Great Spirit unto me did send,


"Then, when I fasted, and my prayer He knew,
That He would save my brothers from their want;
For this, His messenger I overthrew,
And from his grave was born this glorious plant.
'T is Mon-da-Min: his sheathing husks enclose
Food for my brothers in the time of snows.


"I leave you now, my father! Here befits
Me longer not to dwell. My pathway lies
To where the West-wind on the mountain sits,
And the Red Swan beyond the sunset flies:
There may superior wisdom be in store."
And so he went, and he returned no more.


But Mon-da-Min remained, and still remains;
His children cover all the boundless land,
And the warm sun and frequent mellow rains
Shape the tall stalks and make the leaves expand.
A mighty army they have grown: he drills
Their green battalions on the summer hills.


And when the silky hair hangs crisp and dead,
Then leave their rustling ranks the tasselled peers,
In broad encampment pitch their tents instead,
And garner up the ripe autumnal ears:
The annual storehouse of a nation's need,
From whose abundance all the world may feed.

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