Ballads

Page 04

But the mother of Tamatea arose with death in her eyes. All night long, and the next, Taiarapu rang with her cries. As when a babe in the wood turns with a chill of doubt And perceives nor home, nor friends, for the trees have closed her about, The mountain rings and her breast is torn with the voice of despair: So the lion-like woman idly wearied the air For awhile, and pierced men's hearing in vain, and wounded their hearts. But as when the weather changes at sea, in dangerous parts, And sudden the hurricane wrack unrolls up the front of the sky, At once the ship lies idle, the sails hang silent on high, The breath of the wind that blew is blown out like the flame of a lamp, And the silent armies of death draw near with inaudible tramp: So sudden, the voice of her weeping ceased; in silence she rose And passed from the house of her sorrow, a woman clothed with repose, Carrying death in her breast and sharpening death with her hand.

Hither she went and thither in all the coasts of the land. They tell that she feared not to slumber alone, in the dead of night, In accursed places; beheld, unblenched, the ribbon of light {1i} Spin from temple to temple; guided the perilous skiff, Abhorred not the paths of the mountain and trod the verge of the cliff; From end to end of the island, thought not the distance long, But forth from king to king carried the tale of her wrong. To king after king, as they sat in the palace door, she came, Claiming kinship, declaiming verses, naming her name And the names of all of her fathers; and still, with a heart on the rack, Jested to capture a hearing and laughed when they jested back: So would deceive them awhile, and change and return in a breath, And on all the men of Vaiau imprecate instant death; And tempt her kings--for Vaiau was a rich and prosperous land, And flatter--for who would attempt it but warriors mighty of hand? And change in a breath again and rise in a strain of song, Invoking the beaten drums, beholding the fall of the strong, Calling the fowls of the air to come and feast on the dead. And they held the chin in silence, and heard her, and shook the head; For they knew the men of Taiarapu famous in battle and feast, Marvellous eaters and smiters: the men of Vaiau not least.

To the land of the Namunu-ura, {1j} to Paea, at length she came, To men who were foes to the Tevas and hated their race and name. There was she well received, and spoke with Hiopa the king. {1k} And Hiopa listened, and weighed, and wisely considered the thing. "Here in the back of the isle we dwell in a sheltered place," Quoth he to the woman, "in quiet, a weak and peaceable race. But far in the teeth of the wind lofty Taiarapu lies; Strong blows the wind of the trade on its seaward face, and cries Aloud in the top of arduous mountains, and utters its song In green continuous forests. Strong is the wind, and strong And fruitful and hardy the race, famous in battle and feast, Marvellous eaters and smiters: the men of Vaiau not least. Now hearken to me, my daughter, and hear a word of the wise: How a strength goes linked with a weakness, two by two, like the eyes. They can wield the omare well and cast the javelin far; Yet are they greedy and weak as the swine and the children are. Plant we, then, here at Paea, a garden of excellent fruits; Plant we bananas and kava and taro, the king of roots; Let the pigs in Paea be tapu {1l} and no man fish for a year; And of all the meat in Tahiti gather we threefold here. So shall the fame of our plenty fill the island, and so, At last, on the tongue of rumour, go where we wish it to go. Then shall the pigs of Taiarapu raise their snouts in the air; But we sit quiet and wait, as the fowler sits by the snare, And tranquilly fold our hands, till the pigs come nosing the food: But meanwhile build us a house of Trotea, the stubborn wood, Bind it with incombustible thongs, set a roof to the room, Too strong for the hands of a man to dissever or fire to consume; And there, when the pigs come trotting, there shall the feast be spread, There shall the eye of the morn enlighten the feasters dead. So be it done; for I have a heart that pities your state, And Nateva and Namunu-ura are fire and water for hate."

All was done as he said, and the gardens prospered; and now The fame of their plenty went out, and word of it came to Vaiau. For the men of Namunu-ura sailed, to the windward far, Lay in the offing by south where the towns of the Tevas are, And cast overboard of their plenty; and lo! at the Tevas feet The surf on all of the beaches tumbled treasures of meat. In the salt of the sea, a harvest tossed with the refluent foam; And the children gleaned it in playing, and ate and carried it home; And the elders stared and debated, and wondered and passed the jest, But whenever a guest came by eagerly questioned the guest; And little by little, from one to another, the word went round: "In all the borders of Paea the victual rots on the ground, And swine are plenty as rats.

Ballads Page 05

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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