“Long before the solitudes of western New York were disturbed by the advent of the white man, it was the custom of the Indian tribes to assemble occasionally at Niagara, and offer sacrifice to the Spirit of the Falls.
This sacrifice consisted of a white birch-bark canoe, which was sent over the terrible cliff, filled with ripe fruits and blooming flowers, and bearing the fairest girl in the tribe who had just attained the age of womanhood.”
MID the rush of mighty waters, in the thundering cataract’s roar,
Where Niagara’s streaming rapids down in headlong torrent pour ;
Where the serried waves like chargers madly leaping to the fray,
Fling aloft their snowy crests and toss their manes of flying spray,
Rearing, plunging, onward urging — Nature’s glorious cavalry !
Where th’ eternal sweep of waters like the unending surge of time,
Pulsing, throbs in rhythmic measure to a wondrous strain sublime :
Dwells, so ancient legends say, the mighty Spirit of the Falls,
Who from out the tumult, hoarsely, for unbounded homage calls.
Here the children of the forest, spellbound by that deafening roar,
Stopped to gaze with listening wonder, in the simpler days of yore ;
Awe-struck, gazed in silent worship, well beseeming Nature’s child,
As in chase they roamed the plain, or tracked in war the pathless wild :
And as often as they listened, on the voices of the flood
Deep were borne the Spirit’s mutterings, calling fierce for human blood ;
Ay, and sacrifice more cruel in that cry they understood :
Gift of Nature’s choicest treasure, peerless budding womanhood ! Continue reading “The Legend of the White Canoe by William Trumbull”→
Yon Rainbow, circling great Niagara’s brow,
Tells, children, of a chieftain’s awful vow;
Hark to its tale of sadness and of love,
All other legends of our race above:
The story of Wenona’s White Canoe,
The grand devotion of her lover true,
The fate that swept their youthful lives away,
Marked by Niagara’s Rainbow to this day.
For know, my children, in the days of yore,
Or ever white man’s foot had pressed this shore,
In forest deep and dark our fathers dwelt,
Before the Manitou devoted knelt,
Craved His protection and His mighty aid
Against the foe and famine — to Him prayed
When pestilence up-raised its baleful head,
Swelling the gruesome ranks of warrior dead.
But comes a day when prayer and offering fail,
When medicines of wise men naught avail,
When through the tribe, with footsteps grim and gaunt,
Stalk the twin spectres, Pestilence and Want.
In terror then, around the council fire
Gather the chiefs, their head Wenonah’s sire;
“What can we offer Thee, Oh! Manitou?”
Speaks the Great Spirit then: “The White Canoe!”
Full well they know the precious sacrifice
Demanded, but, though terrible the price,
To save the few still left it must be paid —
Niagara’s Water-god the fairest maid
Of all the tribe as offering must claim —
Her sacrifice to cleanse the tribe of blame.
Who shall it be? Alas! there is but one
On whom the lot can fall! The deed is done!
Like arrow to the mark each glance now turns
Toward fair Wenonah, and her sire’s heart yearns
At thought that she – his dear – his only child,
Must seek her fate beneath the waters wild.
Stately he rises in his place: “Nay! nay!”
He cries, “If naught but that our doom can stay,
We’ll brave the famine’s pestilential breath,
Till all the tribe lies stark and cold in death!”
Up springs Wenonah: “Father! hear me speak!
Though but a woman, think me not so weak
That I would shrink, a coward, from flood or fire,
To save my tribe! My blood is thine, my sire!
Lead on, Oh! warriors, to Niagara’s Fall
Its might shall not my woman’s heart appal!
Farewell, my sire! Uncas, my love, farewell!
Great Water-god! sound thou Wenonah’s knell!”
And now, through leagues of forest have they tracked
Their mournful way toward the Cataract.
Before that band of dusky warriors grim
Stalks, stern and silent, the gaunt form of him
Who, savage chieftain of a savage race,
Yet, sorrow pictured in his warrior face,
Now, torn with anguish, offers up his child,
A sacrifice unto the waters wild.
Amid the circle of her dusky maids,
Wenonah treads the darksome forest glades,
The fairest of her tribe — her Nation’s pride —
While Uncas walks dejected by her side.
And though her own brave eyes are filled with tears,
She strives with cheerful word to calm his fears,
But nought can give his troubled spirit rest,
Or loose those savage lips, with grief compressed.
Now, as she hears Niagara’s deep boom,
A premonition of her dreadful doom,
Reverberating through the forest aisles,
Up in her lover’s face she faintly smiles,
And whispers of that land beyond the grave,
That bourne of maiden pure and warrior brave,
Where she, though now torn weeping from his side,
In the Great Spirit’s home may be his bride.
The White Canoe receives its precious freight
Of flowers and fruit, and clad in mimic state,
Reclines amid the bloom, Wenonah fair —
Most luscious fruit, and fairest blossom there.
The warriors grim, smile on such beauteous bribe,
To lure the spirits’ blessing on their tribe,
And all save Uncas gaze with eager eye,
As bark and burden down the current fly.
But not alone must poor Wenonah brave
That dreadful vortex, for, though nought can save,
A love there is, death even cannot part,
And such the love that fills brave Uncas’ heart;
A single stroke and they are side by side,
Alone — together — ‘mid the boiling tide!
Hand clasped in hand as plunging o’er the brink —
Heart throbs with heart as in the flood they sink.
The striken warriors turn in mute dismay,
Then silent — saddened — take their homeward way,
And on their heads, from out the cloudless blue,
The spray-drops fall, tinted with rainbow’s hue
“The Spirit weeps,” they cry, “for Uncas brave —
The Spirit’s bow lies upon Uncas’ Grave!”
And still the mists from her vexed bosom rise,
Niagara’s tears for Love’s great sacrifice,
And still o’er Uncas’ grave the spirit’s rainbow lies.
Source: Willard Parker. Niagara’s Rainbow: The Legend of the White Canoe. Conshohocken, PA: Willard Parker Publishing Co., 1922.
(From an old Indian legend of the maiden and her lover who went over Niagara Falls)
The beautiful Lelawala
With the light of the moon in her hair.
With the warmth of a fire in her voice;
And her eyes — Lelawala —
With the grace
And the gentleness of a doe.
With the swiftness of a swallow
To help those in sorrow.
With the wisdom of owls, Lelawala,
With a heart warm for everyone;
To good for any man, meant for a god.
Source: Grol, Lini, ed. by Kevin McCabe and Lynne Prunskus. Lake to Lake: Lini Grol’s Niagara. St. Catharines: Blarney Stone Books, c2000.
NIAGARA, how charms thy name
Resounding from thy high walled sheer!
How sweet thy water's far acclaim
That bursts upon my pricking ear!
How beams my eye with kindling flame
As to thy presence I draw near,
Where beautied grandure's falling swell
Weaves still time's awful, mystic spell!
I gaze at thee from nearest shore,
Close by the impending brink,
In wonder at thy fearful pour
Of waters, til, amazèd more
Than I can tell or think,
I only see thy mist's fine shower
That wafts upon these walls,
And vision dim that mighty Power,
The Great Spirit of the Falls.
But lo ! up stream, in fitful dream,
The rolling, rumbling rapids roar,
And toss and tilt and turn and teem,
And gurgle in their cascades' gleam
From isle to isle and isle to shore;
And oft repeat the dazzling feat,
Display their leaping wonders more,
Rush round the rocks with flaring locks,
Lead as bellweathers do their flocks,
While through their tree-trimmed way they pour,
These bounding waters, fleet, more fleet,
To gather in one onward rush
Adown their troubled, rocky bed,
And struggle, straggle, gurgle, gush,
To follow where their leaders led;
But panting now for breath,
They stagger to the edge
Of overhanging ledge,
Fearing the plunge beneath;
When forth in foam their fellows come,
Cheering and jeering the faltering and fearing,
Till onto the precipice they rush with a roar,
Exulting and leaping, as comrades before;
Yet staring, stumbling, crashing, crumbling,
As host with host o'erpowering,
Each glistening wight of air commingled,
They fall in gulf devouring;
Or, flaring, flashing, darting, dashing,
To break as gleaming snow,
While splitting, splashing, gnawing, gnashing
Upon the rocks below;
Whence o'er the heights their spirits towering,
Sweeping, swaying, rising, lowering,
Rejoin the ceaseless flow,
That with recurring, falling shock,
Born on the wind's bluff blast,
Wears e'er amain the shelving rock,
And undermines aghast.
There as by mighty hand,
A cavern forms, carved by the storms
Of vexed spray's pelting wave;
And in that rocky cave
Rough columns stand with altar grand;
While fittingly conforms
The spray-worn dome and bowlder pave,
Round which reëcho e'er a stave
Of wailing wind's weird band;
And there before the cavern door,
Attended with intoning roar,
E'er falls the Bridal Veil
And sweeps the filmy rail,
Which now through Bridal Hall are fanned,
Now screen that Wind's Cave from the land.
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