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Poem by Emily Pauline Johnson


As Red Men Die


    Captive! Is there a hell to him like this?
    A taunt more galling than the Huron's hiss?
    He - proud and scornful, he - who laughed at law,
    He - scion of the deadly Iroquois,
    He - the bloodthirsty, he - the Mohawk chief,
    He - who despises pain and sneers at grief,
    Here in the hated Huron's vicious clutch,
    That even captive he disdains to touch!

    Captive! But never conquered; Mohawk brave
    Stoops not to be to any man a slave;
    Least, to the puny tribe his soul abhors,
    The tribe whose wigwams sprinkle Simcoe's shores.
    With scowling brow he stands and courage high,
    Watching with haughty and defiant eye
    His captors, as they council o'er his fate,
    Or strive his boldness to intimidate.
    Then fling they unto him the choice;

                 "Wilt thou
    Walk o'er the bed of fire that waits thee now -
    Walk with uncovered feet upon the coals,
    Until thou reach the ghostly Land of Souls,
    And, with thy Mohawk death-song please our ear?
    Or wilt thou with the women rest thee here?"
    His eyes flash like an eagle's, and his hands
    Clench at the insult. Like a god he stands.
    "Prepare the fire!" he scornfully demands.

    He knoweth not that this same jeering band
    Will bite the dust - will lick the Mohawk's hand;
    Will kneel and cower at the Mohawk's feet;
    Will shrink when Mohawk war drums wildly beat.

    His death will be avenged with hideous hate
    By Iroquois, swift to annihilate
    His vile detested captors, that now flaunt
    Their war clubs in his face with sneer and taunt,
    Not thinking, soon that reeking, red, and raw,
    Their scalps will deck the belts of Iroquois.

    The path of coals outstretches, white with heat,
    A forest fir's length - ready for his feet.
    Unflinching as a rock he steps along
    The burning mass, and sings his wild war song;
    Sings, as he sang when once he used to roam
    Throughout the forests of his southern home,
    Where, down the Genesee, the water roars,
    Where gentle Mohawk purls between its shores,
    Songs, that of exploit and of prowess tell;
    Songs of the Iroquois invincible.

    Up the long trail of fire he boasting goes,
    Dancing a war dance to defy his foes.
    His flesh is scorched, his muscles burn and shrink,
    But still he dances to death's awful brink.

    The eagle plume that crests his haughty head
    Will never droop until his heart be dead.
    Slower and slower yet his footstep swings,
    Wilder and wilder still his death-song rings,
    Fiercer and fiercer thro' the forest bounds
    His voice that leaps to Happier Hunting Grounds.
    One savage yell -

                 Then loyal to his race,
    He bends to death - but never to disgrace.



Emily Pauline Johnson


Emily Pauline Johnson's other poems:
  1. Where Leaps the Ste. Marie
  2. The Train Dogs
  3. The Art of Alma-Tadema
  4. Low Tide at St. Andrews
  5. The Flight of the Crows


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