A Legend Of The Northland

Away, away in the Northland,

Where the hours of the day are few,

And the nights are so long in winter

They cannot sleep them through;

Where they harness the swift reindeer

To the sledges, when it snows;

And the children look like bears' cubs

In their funny, furry clothes;

They tell them a curious story--

I don't believe 'tis

And yet you may learn a lesson

If I tell the tale to you.

Once, when the good Saint Peter

Lived in the world below,

And walked about it, preaching,

Just as he did, you know,

He came to the door of a cottage,

In travelling round the earth,

Where a little woman was making cakes

And baking them on the hearth;

And being faint with fasting,

For the day was almost done,

He asked her from her store of cakes

To give him a single one.

So she made a very little cake,

But as it baking lay,

She looked at it, and thought it seemed

Too large to give away.

Therefore she kneaded another,

And still a smaller one,

But it looked, when she turned it over,

As large as the first had done.

Then she took a tiny scrap of dough,

And rolled and rolled it flat;

And baked it as thin as a wafer--

But she couldn't part with that.

For she said, "My cakes that seem too small,

When I eat them myself,

Are yet too large to give away."

So she put them on the shelf.

Then the good Saint Peter grew angry,

For he was hungry and faint;

And surely such a woman

Was enough to provoke a saint.

And he said, "You are far too selfish

To dwell in a human form,

To have both food and shelter,

And fire to keep you warm.

"Now, you shall build as the birds do,

And shall get your scanty food

By boring, and boring, and boring,

All day in the hard dry wood."

Then up she went through the chimney,

Never speaking a word,

And out of the top flew a woodpecker,

For she was changed to a bird.

She had a scarlet cap on her head,

And that was left the same,

But all the rest of her clothes were burned

Black as a coal in the flame.

And every country schoolboy

Has seen her in the wood;

Where she lives in the trees till this very day,

Boring and boring for food.

And this is the lesson she teaches:

Live not for yourself alone,

Lest the needs you will not pity

Shall one day be your own.

Give plenty of what is given you,

Listen to pity's call;

Don't think the little you give is great,

And the much you get is small.

Now, my little boy, remember that,

And try to be kind and good,

When you see the woodpecker's sooty dress,

And see her scarlet hood.

You mayn't be changed to a bird, though you live

As selfishly as you can;

But you will be changed to a smaller thing--

A mean and a selfish man.

--Phoebe Cary.