Found: The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha

Hiawatha

For decades, I’ve had a snippet of a poem running around in my head:

“Simple math and shrubbery pruning, checkers, lunch and water polo.”

This comes to mind often when I consider the un-challenging slate of classes for which I see many college freshmen sign up.

Today someone posted something on Facebook – which, thanks to the lack of a search function I can no longer find – that made me think of it again, and despite earlier searches on Google coming up poor, this time I got a hit.

The link took me to a page in the Gainesville Sun from August 10, 1985, in a column by Bill Henderson. He credited the source thusly:

“To honor the coming season I would have you read an ode to the football player himself. An ode I stole some years back from some fellow hack that I would acknowledge if I could remember his name.”

Having seen the full text of the poem again, I was pretty sure the original appearance of the poem was in Mad Magazine, of which I was a faithful and voracious reader through the 60s and 70s. A bit more Googling, and I had located the source: Mad #100, January 1966: “The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha” – with apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha.”

So here, for your gratuitous enjoyment, is the full text of the poem as it appeared in Mad. Be warned – this is politically incorrect for our day and age, and needs to be framed in the mindset of the 60s.

Edit: With thanks to commenter Dave Meek who pointed out that a line was missing in the first stanza. A search for verification led to a discovery of the entire issue of Mad #100 online in PDF format, enabling me to add the image above, as well as an entire stanza that was also missing.

The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha
Text: Tom Koch / Art: Don Martin.

By a pond in Minnesota
Near the stagnant Green-Scum-Water
Stood the campus of Nokomis,
Rotten football school, Nokomis;
Sent forth players weak and gentle:
(Mostly horticulture majors.)

Then one autumn thru the pine trees
Through the black and gloomy forest,
Strode the freshman, Hiawatha;
Strong with limbs like reindeer sinew,
Signed to play for Memphis Normal,
He was lost and asked directions.

“Shut my mouth,” drawled Coach Kowalksi,
‘Ya’ll are here; the South awaits thee,”
Hiawatha gazed in wonder
At the snow up to his armpits.
“This is Dixie?” thus he mumbled,
“Stupid Redskin,” joshed Kowalski.

So it was that Hiawatha,
Son of Ishkoodah, the comet,
Donned his new Nokomis beanie;
Huddled in the bunk assigned him.
“Geez, it’s cold!” wailed Hiawatha.
“Hush, my fullback,” cooed Kowalski.

Soon the young brave, Hiawatha,
Found himself matriculated;
Signed for classes that befit him;
Simple math and Shrubbery Pruning,
Checkers, Lunch and Water Polo,
(Perfect course; wrong institution.)

In their quest for football players,
All the frats sought Hiawatha
‘Til they studied close his features,
Then, as one wheel aptly put it,
“I dunno, Could be an Injun’
Yet to me, he still looks Jewish.”

One by one did Hiawatha
Learn to know the campus creatures;
Erickson, the hot rod owner,
Nippersink, the brooding Commie;
Best of all, he soon discovered
Emmie Sue, the Chi Omega.

“Ee-wa-voom!” yowled Hiawatha,
(Football practice now forgotten),
I was taught by wrinkled Grandma
How to woo the elk and otter,
Speak of marriage to the pine cone.
THIS the old crone failed to mention.”

Days of torment quickly followed
For the harried Coach Kowalski,
Left with three men in his backfield
While the fourth played hanky-panky
Out behind the pipestone quarry;
Fiendish plans engulfed the mentor.

On that frigid autumn evening,
Emmie Sue, the Chi Omega,
Listened with a wide-eyed horror
As the coach, most confidential
Warned her darkly of “the nut who
Thinks he’s living now in Memphis.”

Came the dawn and grieving Emmie
Sought the help of Doctor Swinehorst,
Dean of studies Psychiatric
At the Med School of Nokomis.
“All’s not lost,” the Doc assured her,
“If you think you can afford me.”

Soon the young brave, Hiawatha,
Lay upon the couch of Swinehorst,
Lay there fearless as the birch tree,
“Tell me of your childhood trauma,”
Said that Doc with notebook handy;
“What of Mom and Dad and siblings?”

Hiawatha answered calmly,
“Daddy was a white-fire comet;
Mom a songbird in the willows,
I had many forest brothers:
Brown bear, moose and timid rabbit.”
“Ach du Lieber!” cried out Swinehorst.

Emmie Sue, the Chi Omega,
Heard the tragic diagnosis.
“Crazy as a loon,” said Swinehorst,
“Even thinks the loon’s his sister,
I’d suggest you drop this savage;
Date instead my son, the dentist.”

Hiawatha, brokenhearted,
Now without his love beside him
Turned his thoughts at last to football;
Learn what meant the mumbled signals
Of the quarterback, Wochowicz;
Scrimmaged ’til his bridgework rattled.

Happy then was Coach Kowalski,
Dreamed he in untroubled slumber
Neath the full moon, Nu-see-wah-goo,
Of Nokomis, undefeated;
Dreamed of glory soon to come on
New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

Only Gitchee-Goomee Teachers
Hated rival of Nokomis,
Barred the path the coach envisioned,
Waiting tensely for the kickoff,
Hiawatha eyed the bleachers;
There sat Emmie with the dentist.

“Aush-wea-ecch,” moaned Hiawatha
As the pigskin bounced before him,
Caromed off his furrowed forehead
Toward the goal where Gitchee-Goomee’s
Tackle grabbed it unmolested,
Scored the first of 14 touchdowns.

With the Dean on Monday morning,
Hiawatha got the message:
“F” in Math and Shrubbery Pruning.
“Memphis pledged I’d pass,” he bleated.
Roared the Dean in tones like thunder,
“Memphis! Buster, you’re in Flunksville.”

Quiet reigns now in Nokomis.
Gone is Emmie; gone the dentist;
Gone the mob lynched Kowalski.
All that’s left; a voice heard faintly;
Hiawatha, college dropout,
Back home chatting with the chipmunk.

I can now present you with the original in all its glory, accompanied by Don Martin’s hilarious illustrations (click each image to enlarge):

Hia1  Hia2  Hia3  Hia4

You’re welcome.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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10 responses to “Found: The Swan Song of a Modern Hiawatha

  1. Great but I believe your source left out a line. All of the stanzas are 6 lines, except the first. If my memory serves, there is a line after “Stood the campus of Nokomis” that goes “(Rotten football school Nokomis)”.

    But, as they say, What? Me worry?

    • As you can see, you were correct; my search for further verification led me to a pdf of the original. I added the missing line which your memory rightly pegged, plus another missing stanza, and made several other small corrections, along with images of the original. Thanks so much!

  2. Damn, this is funny stuff! Mad magazine was considered VERY hip back in the ’60s.

    Does anyone remember Mad’s version of W.S. Gilbert’s satirical poem “Etiquette” — printed verbatim but embellished with the wonderfully lunatic illustrations of Don Martin?

  3. I’m a bit late to the post. Yes. I, too, was a voracious reader of MAD. Having a brother 7 years my senior I read his MAD mags like they were bibles- beginning in the late 50’s with their original paperback editions. This Poem has rung in my head for over 50 years. Each bouncy, perfect line like a mantra- Even the line about “Simple math and shrubbery pruning, checkers, lunch and water polo.” Thank you so much for posting this 🙂

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