Ballads

Page 05

And now, when they fare to the sea, The men of the Namunu-ura glean from under the tree And load the canoe to the gunwale with all that is toothsome to eat; And all day long on the sea the jaws are crushing the meat, The steersman eats at the helm, the rowers munch at the oar, And at length, when their bellies are full, overboard with the store!" Now was the word made true, and soon as the bait was bare, All the pigs of Taiarapu raised their snouts in the air. Songs were recited, and kinship was counted, and tales were told How war had severed of late but peace had cemented of old The clans of the island. "To war," said they, "now set we an end, And hie to the Namunu-ura even as a friend to a friend."

So judged, and a day was named; and soon as the morning broke, Canoes were thrust in the sea and the houses emptied of folk. Strong blew the wind of the south, the wind that gathers the clan; Along all the line of the reef the clamorous surges ran; And the clouds were piled on the top of the island mountain-high, A mountain throned on a mountain. The fleet of canoes swept by In the midst, on the green lagoon, with a crew released from care, Sailing an even water, breathing a summer air, Cheered by a cloudless sun; and ever to left and right, Bursting surge on the reef, drenching storms on the height. So the folk of Vaiau sailed and were glad all day, Coasting the palm-tree cape and crossing the populous bay By all the towns of the Tevas; and still as they bowled along, Boat would answer to boat with jest and laughter and song, And the people of all the towns trooped to the sides of the sea And gazed from under the hand or sprang aloft on the tree, Hailing and cheering. Time failed them for more to do; The holiday village careened to the wind, and was gone from view Swift as a passing bird; and ever as onward it bore, Like the cry of the passing bird, bequeathed its song to the shore - Desirable laughter of maids and the cry of delight of the child. And the gazer, left behind, stared at the wake and smiled. By all the towns of the Tevas they went, and Papara last, The home of the chief, the place of muster in war; and passed The march of the lands of the clan, to the lands of an alien folk. And there, from the dusk of the shoreside palms, a column of smoke Mounted and wavered and died in the gold of the setting sun, "Paea!" they cried. "It is Paea." And so was the voyage done.

In the early fall of the night, Hiopa came to the shore, And beheld and counted the comers, and lo, they were forty score: The pelting feet of the babes that ran already and played, The clean-lipped smile of the boy, the slender breasts of the maid, And mighty limbs of women, stalwart mothers of men. The sires stood forth unabashed; but a little back from his ken Clustered the scarcely nubile, the lads and maids, in a ring, Fain of each other, afraid of themselves, aware of the king And aping behaviour, but clinging together with hands and eyes, With looks that were kind like kisses, and laughter tender as sighs. There, too, the grandsire stood, raising his silver crest, And the impotent hands of a suckling groped in his barren breast. The childhood of love, the pair well married, the innocent brood, The tale of the generations repeated and ever renewed - Hiopa beheld them together, all the ages of man, And a moment shook in his purpose.

But these were the foes of his clan, And he trod upon pity, and came, and civilly greeted the king, And gravely entreated Rahero; and for all that could fight or sing, And claimed a name in the land, had fitting phrases of praise; But with all who were well-descended he spoke of the ancient days. And "'Tis true," said he, "that in Paea the victual rots on the ground; But, friends, your number is many; and pigs must be hunted and found, And the lads troop to the mountains to bring the feis down, And around the bowls of the kava cluster the maids of the town. So, for to-night, sleep here; but king, common, and priest To-morrow, in order due, shall sit with me in the feast." Sleepless the live-long night, Hiopa's followers toiled. The pigs screamed and were slaughtered; the spars of the guest-house oiled, The leaves spread on the floor.

Ballads Page 06

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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