Ballads

Page 06

In many a mountain glen The moon drew shadows of trees on the naked bodies of men Plucking and bearing fruits; and in all the bounds of the town Red glowed the cocoanut fires, and were buried and trodden down. Thus did seven of the yottowas toil with their tale of the clan, But the eighth wrought with his lads, hid from the sight of man. In the deeps of the woods they laboured, piling the fuel high In fagots, the load of a man, fuel seasoned and dry, Thirsty to seize upon fire and apt to blurt into flame.

And now was the day of the feast. The forests, as morning came, Tossed in the wind, and the peaks quaked in the blaze of the day And the cocoanuts showered on the ground, rebounding and rolling away: A glorious morn for a feast, a famous wind for a fire. To the hall of feasting Hiopa led them, mother and sire And maid and babe in a tale, the whole of the holiday throng. Smiling they came, garlanded green, not dreaming of wrong; And for every three, a pig, tenderly cooked in the ground, Waited, and fei, the staff of life, heaped in a mound For each where he sat;--for each, bananas roasted and raw Piled with a bountiful hand, as for horses hay and straw Are stacked in a stable; and fish, the food of desire, {1m} And plentiful vessels of sauce, and breadfruit gilt in the fire; - And kava was common as water. Feasts have there been ere now, And many, but never a feast like that of the folk of Vaiau.

All day long they ate with the resolute greed of brutes, And turned from the pigs to the fish, and again from the fish to the fruits, And emptied the vessels of sauce, and drank of the kava deep; Till the young lay stupid as stones, and the strongest nodded to sleep. Sleep that was mighty as death and blind as a moonless night Tethered them hand and foot; and their souls were drowned, and the light Was cloaked from their eyes. Senseless together, the old and the young, The fighter deadly to smite and the prater cunning of tongue, The woman wedded and fruitful, inured to the pangs of birth, And the maid that knew not of kisses, blindly sprawled on the earth. From the hall Hiopa the king and his chiefs came stealthily forth. Already the sun hung low and enlightened the peaks of the north; But the wind was stubborn to die and blew as it blows at morn, Showering the nuts in the dusk, and e'en as a banner is torn, High on the peaks of the island, shattered the mountain cloud. And now at once, at a signal, a silent, emulous crowd Set hands to the work of death, hurrying to and fro, Like ants, to furnish the fagots, building them broad and low, And piling them high and higher around the walls of the hall. Silence persisted within, for sleep lay heavy on all; But the mother of Tamatea stood at Hiopa's side, And shook for terror and joy like a girl that is a bride. Night fell on the toilers, and first Hiopa the wise Made the round of the house, visiting all with his eyes; And all was piled to the eaves, and fuel blockaded the door; And within, in the house beleaguered, slumbered the forty score. Then was an aito dispatched and came with fire in his hand, And Hiopa took it.--"Within," said he, "is the life of a land; And behold! I breathe on the coal, I breathe on the dales of the east, And silence falls on forest and shore; the voice of the feast Is quenched, and the smoke of cooking; the rooftree decays and falls On the empty lodge, and the winds subvert deserted walls."

Therewithal, to the fuel, he laid the glowing coal; And the redness ran in the mass and burrowed within like a mole, And copious smoke was conceived. But, as when a dam is to burst, The water lips it and crosses in silver trickles at first, And then, of a sudden, whelms and bears it away forthright: So now, in a moment, the flame sprang and towered in the night, And wrestled and roared in the wind, and high over house and tree, Stood, like a streaming torch, enlightening land and sea.

But the mother of Tamatea threw her arms abroad, "Pyre of my son," she shouted, 'debited vengeance of God, Late, late, I behold you, yet I behold you at last, And glory, beholding! For now are the days of my agony past, The lust that famished my soul now eats and drinks its desire, And they that encompassed my son shrivel alive in the fire. Tenfold precious the vengeance that comes after lingering years! Ye quenched the voice of my singer?--hark, in your dying ears, The song of the conflagration! Ye left me a widow alone? - Behold, the whole of your race consumes, sinew and bone And torturing flesh together: man, mother, and maid Heaped in a common shambles; and already, borne by the trade, The smoke of your dissolution darkens the stars of night."

Thus she spoke, and her stature grew in the people's sight.

Ballads Page 07

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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