John G. Neihardt

The Song of Hugh Glass

From Lyric and Dramatic Poems.Macmillan Company, 1926.

I

GRAYBEARD AND GOLDHAIR

The year was eighteen hundred twenty three.

‘Twas when the guns that blustered at the Ree
Had ceased to brag, and ten score martial clowns
Turned from the unwhipped Aricara towns,
Earning the scornful laughter of the Sioux.
A withering blast the arid South still blew,
And creeks ran thin beneath the glaring sky;
For ’twas a month ere honking geese would fly
Southward before the Great White Hunter’s face :
And many generations of their race,
As bow-flung arrows, now have fallen spent.

It happened then that Major Henry went
With eighty trappers up the dwindling Grand,
Bound through the weird, unfriending barren-land
For where the Big Horn meets the Yellowstone ;
And old Hugh Glass went with them.
Large of bone,

Deep-chested, that his great heart might have play,
Gray-bearded, gray of eye and crowned with gray
Was Glass. It seemed he never had been young;
And, for the grudging habit of his tongue,
None knew the place or season of his birth.
Slowly he ‘woke to anger or to mirth ;
Yet none laughed louder when the rare mood fell,
And hate in him was like a still, white hell,
A thing of doom not lightly reconciled.
What memory he kept of wife or child
Was never told ; for when his comrades sat
About the evening fire with pipe and chat,
Exchanging talk of home and gentler days,
Old Hugh stared long upon the pictured blaze,
And what he saw went upward in the smoke.

But once, as with an inner lightning stroke,
The veil was rent, and briefly men discerned
What pent-up fires of selfless passion burned
Beneath the still gray smoldering of him.
There was a rakehell lad, called Little Jim,
Jamie -or Petit Jacques; for scarce began
The downy beard to mark him for a man.
Blue-eyed was he and femininely fair.
A maiden might have coveted his hair

Reproduced from Lyric and Dramatic Poems by John G. Neihardt by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1926 Macmillan Company.
Copyright renewed 1954 by John G. Neihardt.