The Ballad Of Yaada

A poem by Emily Pauline Johnson


There are fires on Lulu Island, and the sky is opalescent
With the pearl and purple tinting from the smouldering of peat.
And the Dream Hills lift their summits in a sweeping, hazy crescent,
With the Capilano canyon at their feet.

There are fires on Lulu Island, and the smoke, uplifting, lingers
In a faded scarf of fragrance as it creeps across the day,
And the Inlet and the Narrows blur beneath its silent fingers,
And the canyon is enfolded in its grey.

But the sun its face is veiling like a cloistered nun at vespers;
As towards the alter candles of the night a censer swings,
And the echo of tradition wakes from slumbering and whispers,
Where the Capilano river sobs and sings.

It was Yaada, lovely Yaada, who first taught the stream its sighing,
For 'twas silent till her coming, and 'twas voiceless as the shore;
But throughout the great forever it will sing the song undying
That the lips of lovers sing for evermore.

He was chief of all the Squamish, and he ruled the coastal waters -
And he warred upon her people in the distant Charlotte Isles;
She, a winsome basket weaver, daintiest of Haida daughters,
Made him captive to her singing and her smiles.

Till his hands forgot to havoc and his weapons lost their lusting,
Till his stormy eyes allured her from the land of Totem Poles,
Till she followed where he called her, followed with a woman's trusting,
To the canyon where the Capilano rolls.

And the women of the Haidas plied in vain their magic power,
Wailed for many moons her absence, wailed for many moons their prayer,
"Bring her back, O Squamish foeman, bring to us our Yaada flower!"
But the silence only answered their despair.

But the men were swift to battle, swift to cross the coastal water,
Swift to war and swift of weapon, swift to paddle trackless miles,
Crept with stealth along the canyon, stole her from her love and brought her
Once again unto the distant Charlotte Isles.

But she faded, ever faded, and her eyes were ever turning
Southward toward the Capilano, while her voice had hushed its song,
And her riven heart repeated words that on her lips were burning:
"Not to friend - but unto foeman I belong.

"Give me back my Squamish lover - though you hate, I still must love him.
"Give me back the rugged canyon where my heart must ever be -
Where his lodge awaits my coming, and the Dream Hills lift above him,
And the Capilano learned its song from me."

But through long-forgotten seasons, moons too many to be numbered,
He yet waited by the canyon - she called across the years,
And the soul within the river, though centuries had slumbered,
Woke to sob a song of womanly tears.

For her little, lonely spirit sought the Capilano canyon,
When she died among the Haidas in the land of Totem Poles,
And you yet may hear her singing to her lover-like companion,
If you listen to the river as it rolls.

But 'tis only when the pearl and purple smoke is idly swinging
From the fires on Lulu Island to the hazy mountain crest,
That the undertone of sobbing echoes through the river's singing,
In the Capilano canyon of the West.

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