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Henry Abbey

(11 July 1842 - 7 June 1911 / Kingston, NY)

Ontiora


Moons on moons ago,
In the sleep, or night, of the moon,
When evil spirits have power,
The monster, Ontiora,
Came down in the dreadful gloom.
The monster came stalking abroad,
On his way to the sea for a bath,
For a bath in the salt, gray sea.

In Ontiora's breast
Was the eyrie of the winds,
Eagles of measureless wing,
Whose screeching, furious swoop
Startled the sleeping dens.
His hair was darkness unbound,
Thick, and not mooned nor starred.
His head was plumed with rays
Plucked from the sunken sun.

To him the forests of oak,
Of maple, hemlock, and pine,
Were as grass that a bear treads down.
He trod them down as he came,
As he came from his white-peak'd tent,
At whose door, ere he started abroad,
He drew a flintless arrow
Across the sky's strip'd bow,
And shot at the evening star.

He came like a frowning cloud,
That fills and blackens the west.
He was wroth at the bright-plumed sun,
And his pale-faced wife, the moon,
With their twinkling children, the stars;
But he hated the red-men all,
The Iroquois, fearless and proud,
The Mohegans, stately and brave,
And trod them down in despite,
As a storm treads down the maize.
He trod the red-men down,
Or drove them out of the land
As winter drives the birds.

When near the King of Rivers,
The river of many moods,
To Ontiora thundered
Manitou out of a cloud.
Between the fountains crystal
And the waters that reach to the sky,
Manitou, Spirit of Good,
To the man-shaped monster spoke:
'You shall not go to the sea,
But be into mountains changed,
And wail in the blast, and weep
For the red-men you have slain.
You shall lie on your giant back
While the river rises and falls,
And the tide of years on years
Flows in from a boundless sea.'

Then Ontiora replied:
'I yield to the heavy doom;
Yet what am I but a type
Of a people who are to come?
Who as with a bow will shoot
And bring the stars to their feet,
And drive the red-man forth
To the Land of the Setting Sun.'

So Ontiora wild,
By eternal silence touched,
Fell backward in a swoon,
And was changed into lofty hills,
The Mountains of the Sky.

This is the pleasant sense
Of Ontiora's name,
'The Mountains of the Sky.'
His bones are rocks and crags,
His flesh is rising ground,
His blood is the sap of trees.

On his back with one knee raised,
He lies with his face to the sky,
A monstrous human shape
In the Catskills high and grand.
And from the valley below,
Where the slow tide ebbs and flows,
You can mark his knee and breast,
His forehead beetling and vast,
His nose and retreating chin.
But his eyes, they say, are lakes,
Whose tears flow down in streams
That seam and wrinkle his cheeks,
For the fate he endures, and for shame
Of the evil he did, as he stalked
In the vanquished and hopeless moon,
Moons on moons ago.

Submitted: Thursday, April 26, 2012

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