Let us recall this legend hoar
Of old Lake Pepin's sylvan shore
Which floats adown tradition's stream
Not as a vague and shadowy dream,
But, as a high heroic theme,
A stern reality of yore,
Which hallowed once can die no more
Than the fixed star's eternal beam.
Record may fade and pile decay,
And town and rampart waste to dust,
And nations rise and pass away,
And time blot out their names with rust,
While deed and sacrifice sublime
Live freshly in the memory then,
Defying all the assaults of time,
While live and beat the hearts of men.
Ah! Indian maid, thy heart was tried
Long, long ago, as legends tell;
When in its fresh and virgin pride
Love oped its gushing founts all wide,
And sealed thee as the martyr bride
Too rashly loving, and too well.
Oh! She was graceful as the fawn,
The young, the peerless We-enonay,
And lovelier than the dappled dawn
On the blue skies of flowering May.
Of all the tribe, she was the flower,
The sweetest of the wildwood bower,
And here the star which ruled the hour,
And braves of fame and chiefs of power
On her enchanting beauty hung.
But only one of all the band
Had touched her heart with love sublime.
Though few in years, his deeds of fame
At war dance and at feast were sung,
And cowering fear came with his name,
When whispered by a hostile tongue.
She used, when pensive twilight brought
Sweet moments of romantic thought,
To hear him wake the warbling flute,
And to her mood the measure suit.
Warmed by her smiles, with vigorous start
First love upgrew within his heart;
And the wild passion of his soul
Did brook no barrier nor control.
But brothers ten of stern decree
Did promise her, in revelry,
To chieftain old with ample fame,
Who wore the proudest war-bird plume,
And terror ruled where'er his name
Did tales of great achievement prove,
And chronicled with former wars,
On brow and breast were glorious scars.
A beautiful lake is the Lake of Tears,
And wild fowl dream on its breast unscared;
The golden brooch of costly price
Is dim with its radiant wave compared.
And tribesmen dwelt on its banks of yore,
But a hundred years have vanished thrice
Since hearthstones smoked upon its shore.
Edged by a broad and silvery belt
Of pebbles bright, and glittering sand
The waters into music melt,
When breaking o'er the pebbly strand.
Victors in many a forest fight,
The bird of peace has taken flight;
The tree on which she framed her nest,
Smoothed the bright feathers of her breast,
Is shorn of its broad, leafy shield,
Profaning hands the bark has pealed!
Encamped the predatory horde; their only cheer,
Parched maize and smoked-dried flesh of deer.
Oft, brother, have the paths of war,
From home and country led us far,
And council on this shore had met,
And ominous of coming strife,
Clashed tomahawk and scalping-knife.
And Wapashaw, with eye of skill,
Took measurement of slope and hill,
And tents were pitched by his command,
On swells of undulating land
Well guarded on the weaker flank
By water and opposing bank.
The sentinel was shown the bounds,
Wherein to pace his lonely rounds.
A signal by the chief was made
To close the council, and obeyed,
Yet promptly with one voice decreed,
That We-enonay, the chieftain's daughter,
Should wed the brave, whose brow with might
Came decked and armed for the fight.
And she with savory nourishment,
And gourds of cooling water,
Was bade to cheer and grace the feast,
While her light form of forest tone
Breathed a low and whispered moan.
The chieftain, urged his suit again,
And Sire again renewed the strain,
And bade her bridal robes prepare,
Nor dare to look on Neemooshe,
whose bride of moons she ne'er should be.
A thing of beauty is the slender vine
That wreaths its verdant arm around the oak,
As if it there could safely intertwine,
Shielded from axe or lightning stroke, ~
Thus the maiden clung unto her love,
While scalding tears and sobs outbroke
From her o'er-labored bosom, while hear ears
Were filled with tones that did not soothe her fears.
She sought her warrior firm and true,
And then resolved, come weal, come woe,
With him to flee, and free to go
Where they might roam from day to day,
Till life should peaceful pass away.
Love hath more devices far,
When instant need to rescue calls,
Than all the strategy of war
Investing long beleaguered walls;
With stealthy step and agile limb
The unconscious sentinel is passed,
And now she stands alone by him
On whom her soul's great stake is cast.
Comely to look on was the youthful pair:
One, like the pine, erect and tall,
Was of imposing presence; his dark hair
Had caught its hue from night's descending pall;
Light was his tread, his port majestical,
And well his chieftain brow became a form
Of matchless beauty. And We-enonay,
Ah, what of her? Bright shapes beyond
This darkened earth were looks like those she wore.
Graceful her mien as lily of the pond
That nods to every wind that passes o'er,
Softer than ripple breaking on the shore
By moonlight was her voice, and in her breast
Pure thought a dwelling found ~ the bird of love a nest.
Safely the guarded door is passed,
The outer picket gained at last;
And now the uncovered way they take
With the soft speed of startled deer,
When bounding hoofs are winged with fear,
To gain the skiff upon the lake.
Gained is the lake and light canoe,
But as they quickly push from shore,
With whoop and yell and wild halloo,
Louder than battle's stormiest roar,
A hundred dusky forms are seen
Rushing along on either hand,
Now plunging through the tangled green,
Now madly leaping on the strand.
Now, lover, every sinew strain,
Let no false stroke your speed delay,
Your fierce pursuers on you gain!
Row for your lives, away! away!
The eastern beech is gained at last,
But scarcely have they sprung to land
And vanished in the forest vast,
Ere their pursuers gain the strand;
They leap like wolves, a howling band,
Up the steep bank and follow fast.
The maiden speeds her lover past,
And fleetly leads upon the trail;
Yet higher, nearer swells the roar.
She turns ~ a rocky steep is near,
Which lifts its flinty summit height ~
A landmark, desolate and drear,
Piercing the blue encircling sky ~
And leads her fearless lover there,
Not to surrender, but to die.
Far, far below, a depth profound,
The lake sends up a murmuring sound,
Meet place beneath the cloudless skies,
For love's last solemn sacrifice.
Far down from crag to crag swift leaping,
With eagle plume and eye of fire,
We-enonay sees her wrathful sire;
Above, one lightning glance he threw,
Then notched an arrow to the string,
And firm his trusty bow he drew;
The maiden sprang before her lover,
His form with her light form to cover,
That when the whizzing shaft should fly,
She, she alone, or both might die,
Still came the sire, his bow on high.
Nor shook his hand nor quailed his eye;
And well the desperate lovers knew
His arm was strong, his aim was true.
All bootless now the daughter's prayer,
The parent heart is dark and stern,
No throb of mercy softens there,
But fiercest fires of vengeance burn.
In vain she warns her maddened sire,
That sooner than give up her brave,
They both would seek a fearful grave,
And slumber in the embrace of death,
Far down the shelving gorge beneath.
He heard, but deigned her no reply,
And bade her brothers quickly fly;
They come~ and from that beetling hill
In close embrace the lovers leap!
Two forms are flying down the steep ~
A sullen sound, and all is still.
The warriors stand like wolves at bay,
When baulked all sudden of their prey;
But as that sound greets the quick ear
From the steep brow, they blanch and start,
And a strange awe of chilling fear
Creeps through the chief's bold heart.
Little dreamed he, relentless brave,
That this, his soft and timid dove,
By the transforming power of love,
Would the bold, tameless eagle prove.
One hurried glance he gives below,
Then calmly readjusts his bow,
And on his awe-struck warriors calls.
Far down that steep, by the sylvan lake,
Two hollow graves they quickly make,
And there they laid them side by side
In their fearful wedlock, bridegroom and bride.
And ever yet, in the leafy June,
When full on the lake shines the round, bright moon,
And the winds are hushed and the waves are still,
And the echoes sleep on the sacred hill,
Two forms steal out from the covert shore,
With shadowy bark and spectral oar;
And with never a wake or ripple, glide
Slow and serene o'er the silvery tide;
But the whoop and the yell, and the wild uproar
Of fierce pursuers, are heard no more.