Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The spirit of the vanished island

THE SPIRIT OF THE VANISHED ISLAND.

 

 

This island was once situated in the midst of the Falls of St. Anthony, on the Mississippi; it has disappeared long since, but its site is said to be haunted at early morning by the spirit of a young Indian, who perished there ages before white men crossed the Atlantic. She was distracted by the faithlessness of her husband, and embarking in her canoe with her first-born infant, drifted down the current of the mighty river, seeking death, which met her at the Falls, within sight of her assembled tribe. When all chance of rescue was past, she rose up and chanted her own death-song, with her child in her arms.

 

The Island of the Spirit hung
Midway above the wild cascade,
The spray a veil around it flung,
Where rainbows with the sunbeams play’d:
The Mississippi madly swept
In foaming haste on either side,
And then in thundering volume leapt
Over a front of granite wide.

Deep-rooted in the island ark,
Where humid mosses matted grew:
The mighty pines and cedars dark
Aloft their cone-fringed branches threw:
And tender blossoms gently cast
The petals from each calyx frail;
There foot of man had rarely past,
There fell the shadow of no sail.

But feather’d hosts high chorus kept,
And glossy wild-fowl rear’d their brood,
And tremulous mimosas wept
On that storm-cradled solitude.
An Indian girl, resolved to die,
Steer’d once adown those waters wild,
With steady hand and fearless eye,
Bearing along her first-born child.

Her braided hair with shell and flower,
And waving plume was drest;
Impatient of the evil hour
Her bursting heart sought rest;
Riding the death-stream fierce and strong,
Chanting her mournful funeral song.

 

 

I am unloved by thy sire, my boy;
I am unloved, and no more his joy;
I am unloved, and I’ve ceased to be
Aught but his slave, tho’ I brought him thee.
I went at dawning, with dewy feet,
My gallant hunter’s return to greet;
And my fire was kindled long before
He cast the burden of game he bore
Down on the earth at my cabin door!
It was for him that I cared to live;
It was to him that I loved to give
The dower an Indian maiden brought
Of faithful service, and careful thought,
Patience, and strength among hardships taught!
Skilful with arrow, and hook, and snare,
I stay’d the course of the timid hare.
I brought the bird from his joyous height,
I landed the salmon with scales of light;
And beneath my spear
The speckled deer
Hath fallen, when feeding nigh,
And the dusky blue
Of the death-mist grew
Over his large clear eye!
Boy, there are warriors who loved me well,
Warriors who love me yet,
Whose glances flashing and dark’ning tell
How they are under thy mother’s spell:
Shall we trust them and forget?
Revenge and relief
For desperate grief
In passion tumultuous finding?
Hush, tempters, hush!
Beyond ye I rush
To the shroud you spray is winding,
Nor venture again
Thro’ love and thro’ pain
On my heart new fetters binding!
To the good and brave
Our great Sire gave,
When their race of life was run,
The land of shades,
Plains, rivers, and glades,
Mid the hills of the setting sun;
And we are bound
For that hunting-ground,
Its beautiful tents and regions mild,
Dazed by the waters’ deafening sound;
We are passing, passing from sorrow, child!
Leaving the summer and spring behind,
Cast, in the green leaf, on tide and wind:
Nor will we stay
Tho’ thy sire may pray,
Travel we swiftly on till we sink.
Hark, he is crying,
See, he is trying
To call us back from the foam-crown’d brink!
Are we so dear
Now death is so near?
Then, it is his turn to sorrow in vain,
While he is losing he loves us again!

The Spirit of the Vanished Island - John Everett Millais.png

And I am regretted,
Neglected, who fretted
When the soft blast of the rain-wind blew,
At the dusk and the dawn,
On the lonely lawn,
In gloomy shadows the pine woods threw.
By mighty river and limpid lake,
Where tremulous reeds and branches quake,
I’ve hidden my grief for thy father’s sake.
But I forgive—
Tho’ I would not live,
E’en while he mourns us we’ll hasten hence;
Thou art my own,
My blood and my bone,
Nor will I leave thee in life’s suspense!
They harden’d thy sire
By steel and by fire,

Till he scoff’d at each racking pain;
His courage is strong,
He will not mourn long,
He will live and love again!
Not long, not long, will he roam that bank,
He will leave his grief behind,
For the prairie flowers and grasses rank
Are surging beneath the wind;
My gallant hunter will feed new hopes;
The elks, the swans, and the antelopes,
Bring joy to him with the time and tide,
The herd of buffaloes ranging wide,
The trooping wolves ’neath the winter moons,
The grisly bears and the ring’d racoons,
The whooping cranes on their broad white wings,
The beaver haunting the water springs,
The porcupine in the cypress trees,
Tribes of the river, and air, and seas—
All are his birthright, the bold and free!
Sometimes, among his brave joys, will he,
Sadly and kindly, remember me?
But she who won
Him from us, my son!
Will come with her treacherous smile:
She grudges us all—
E’en that tribute small
Of sorrowful thought away she’ll wile;
For what is the dead love—oh, my child!
Sleeping death’s sleep on the prairie wild,
Hidden in woods, with the owlet shrill,
Bedew’d by clouds on the funeral hill,
Moor’d on her bier among waters still?
The tribe moves on, she is left behind,
To rain and sunshine, to snow and wind:
Changing, and darkening, and crumbling away,
What is the Dead Love of yesterday?
Silent for ever, a thing of nought,
Only a shadow—a doleful thought,
Even to every man-child she brought
Let us go, let us go!
Be it ever so low.
Let waves whirl us and hurl us away
Over the granite wall,
Fathoms deep let us fall,
Youthful, exulting, death’s beautiful prey,
Wreathed and enshrouded in volumes of spray.”

Ages ago her grief was o’er,
Ages ago her sorrows slept,
The Isle is seen of men no more
Where willows and mimosas wept,
Cedars and pines away are swept;
But when the morning lights the sky,
Men see that Indian gliding by,
With airy plume and misty vest,
An infant shadow on her breast,
Chanting the sorrows that she knew;
Her oars keep time, her vague canoe
Still rides the maddest waters through.

Mrs. Acton Tindal.