A LEGEND OF THE DELAWARES
BY WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT
The air is dark with cloud on cloud,
And, through the leaden-colored mass,
With thunder-crashes quick and loud,
A thousand shafts of lightning pass.
And to and fro they glance and go,
Or, darting downward, smite the ground.
What phantom arms are those that throw
The shower of fiery arrows round?
A louder crash! a mighty oak
Is smitten from that stormy sky.
Its stem is shattered by the stroke;
Around its root the branches lie.
Fresh breathes the wind; the storm is o'er;
The piles of mist are swept away;
And from the open sky, once more,
Streams gloriously the golden day.
A dusky hunter of the wild
Is passing near, and stops to see
The wreck of splintered branches piled
About the roots of that huge tree.
Lo, quaintly shaped and fairly strung,
Wrought by what hand he cannot know,
On that drenched pile of boughs, among
The splinters, lies a polished bow.
He lifts it up; the drops that hang
On the smooth surface glide away:
He tries the string, no sharper twang
Was ever heard on battle-day.
Homeward Onetho bears the prize:
Who meets him as he turns to go?
An aged chief, with quick, keen eyes,
And bending frame, and locks of snow.
"See, what I bring, my father, see
This goodly bow which I have found
Beneath a thunder-riven tree,
Dropped with the lightning to the ground."
"Beware, my son; it is not well"--
The white-haired chieftain makes reply--
"That we who in the forest dwell
Should wield the weapons of the sky.
"Lay back that weapon in its place;
Let those who bore it bear it still,
Lest thou displease the ghostly race
That float in mist from hill to hill."
"My father, I will only try
How well it sends a shaft, and then,
Be sure, this goodly bow shall lie
Among the splintered boughs again."
So to the hunting-ground he hies,
To chase till eve the forest-game,
And not a single arrow flies,
From that good bow, with erring aim.
And then he deems that they, who swim
In trains of cloud the middle air,
Perchance had kindly thoughts of him
And dropped the bow for him to bear.
He bears it from that day, and soon
Becomes the mark of every eye,
And wins renown with every moon
That fills its circle in the sky.
None strike so surely in the chase;
None bring such trophies from the fight;
And, at the council-fire, his place
Is with the wise and men of might.
And far across the land is spread,
Among the hunter tribes, his fame;
Men name the bowyer-chief with dread
Whose arrows never miss their aim.
See next his broad-roofed cabin rise
On a smooth river's pleasant side,
And she who has the brightest eyes
Of all the tribe becomes his bride.
A year has passed; the forest sleeps
In early autumn's sultry glow;
Onetho, on the mountain-steeps,
Is hunting with that trusty bow.
But they, who by the river dwell,
See the dim vapors thickening o'er
Long mountain-range and severing dell,
And hear the thunder's sullen roar.
Still darker grows the spreading cloud
From which the booming thunders sound,
And stoops and hangs a shadowy shroud
Above Onetho's hunting-ground.
Then they who, from the river-vale,
Are gazing on the distant storm,
See in the mists that ride the gale
Dim shadows of the human form--
Tall warriors, plumed, with streaming hair
And lifted arms that bear the bow,
And send athwart the murky air
The arrowy lightnings to and fro.
Loud is the tumult of an hour--
Crash of torn boughs and howl of blast,
And thunder-peal and pelting shower,
And then the storm is overpast.
Where is Onetho? what delays
His coming? why should he remain
Among the plashy woodland ways,
Swoln brooks and boughs that drip with rain?
He comes not, and the younger men
Go forth to search the forest round.
They track him to a mountain-glen,
And find him lifeless on the ground.
The goodly bow that was his pride
Is gone, but there the arrows lie;
And now they know the death he died,
Slain by the lightnings of the sky.
They bear him thence in awe and fear
Back to the vale with stealthy tread;
There silently, from far and near,
The warriors gather round the dead.
But in their homes the women bide;
Unseen they sit and weep apart,
And, in her bower, Onetho's bride
Is sobbing with a broken heart.
They lay in earth their bowyer-chief,
And at his side their hands bestow
His dreaded battle-axe and sheaf
Of arrows, but without a bow.
"Too soon he died; it is not well"--
The old men murmured, standing nigh--
"That we, who in the forest dwell,
Should wield the weapons of the sky."