The White Canoe. A Legend Of Niagara Falls.

A poem by Rosanna Eleanor Leprohon

In days long gone by it was the custom of the Indian warriors of the forest to assemble at the Great Cataract and offer a human sacrifice to the Spirit of the Falls. The offering consisted of a white canoe, full of ripe fruits and blooming flowers, which was paddled over the terrible cliff by the fairest girl of the tribe. It was counted an honor not only by the tribe to whose lot it fell to make the costly sacrifice, but even by the doomed maiden herself. The only daughter of a widowed Chief of the Seneca Indians was chosen as a sacrificial offering to the Spirit of Niagara. Tolonga, the Great Elk, was bravest among the warriors, and devotedly attached to his child, but, when the lot fell on her, he crushed down in the pride of Indian endurance the feelings of grief that filled his bosom. The eventful night arrived. The moon arose and shone brightly down oh the turmoil of Niagara, when the White Canoe and its precious freight glided from the bank and swept out into the dread rapid. The young girl calmly steered towards the centre of the stream, when suddenly another canoe shot forth upon the water and, under the strong impulse of the Seneca Chief, flew like an arrow to destruction. It overtook the first; the eyes of father and child met in a parting gaze of love, and then they plunged together over the Cataract into Eternity.




THE WHITE CANOE.

A Legend of Niagara Falls

A CANTATA.


MINAHITA, Indian Maiden.
OREIKA, Her Friend.
TOLONGA, Minahita's Father.
DOLBREKA, Indian Chief.


I.

Chorus.

In summer's rare beauty the earth is arrayed,
Gay flowers are blooming on hill-side and glade,
Embalming the air with sweet subtle perfume,
Enriching the earth with their beautiful bloom;
The moss, like green velvet, yields soft 'neath the tread,
The forest trees wave in luxuriance o'er head,
Whilst fresh dawning beauties of sky, wood and plain,
Proclaim that fair summer is with us again.
Let the choice, then, be made of the thrice-favored one
Whom Niagara's Spirit will soon call his own!
At morn, when the sun wakes refulgent on high
In billows of gold, hooding earth, sea and sky,
How glorious the music that welcomes his rays,
One loud choral song of rejoicing and praise:
The clear notes of birds and the soft rustling breeze
The murmur of waters, the sighing of trees,
And the thousand sweet voices, so tender and gay,
That haunt our old woods through the bright summer day.
Let the choice, then, be made of the thrice-favored one
Whom Niagara's Spirit will soon call his own!

DOLBREKA.

Ah! yes, the time and hour have come
To choose a fitting bride
For that Spirit who from his wat'ry home,
Speaks forth in might and pride;
Whilst the zephyrs toy with his sapphire waves,
He would bear her down to his crystal caves.

Seek the woods for buds to deck her brow;
And offerings must she bring,
Ripe blooming fruits and fragrant bough,
As gifts for the River King -
Gifts of earth's loveliest things, while she,
'Mid our maidens fair, must the fairest be!


II.

OREIKA.

The Sachems all have spoken, and the lot has fallen on one
As fair as any wild rose that blossoms 'neath the sun,
Her eyes, like starlit waters, are liquid, soft and clear;
Her voice like sweetest song-bird's in the springtime of the
year;
No merry fawn that lightly springs from forest tree to tree
Hath form so light and graceful, or footstep half as free;

Like plumage of the raven is her heavy silken hair,
Which she binds with scarlet blossoms - with strings of wampum
rare;
And the crimson hue that flushes her soft though dusky cheek
Is like the sunbeam's parting blush upon the mountain peak.
O, never since Niagara first thundered down in pride
Had the Spirit of its waters so beautiful a bride!

Chorus of Indian Women.

Ah, Minahita! sister fair,
What lot with thine can now compare?
'Mid all the daughters of our race
Peerless in beauty and in grace.
More blest than if in wifehood's pride
Thou stood'st at some young warrior's side,
Or with fair children round thy knee
Didst crown thy young maternity!


III.

MINAHITA.

My heart is throbbing with solemn joy,
May no earthly thoughts that bliss alloy,
By Sachems chosen and tribesmen all -
I gladly lead, and obey the call!

TOLONGA.

Ah, spoken well, my daughter, and worthy of thy sires,
Who've ever held an honored place around our council fires!
My foot treads earth more proudly, my heart beats quick and high,
To know that, like a Sachem's child, my daughter goes to die!
Though Mamtou denied me a son to glad mine age,
To follow in the warpath when our foes fierce combat wage.
I offer him, with grateful heart, thanksgiving deep and warm
That he has placed a warrior's heart within thy fragile form.

Aria.

Just sixteen spring-tides hast thou seen
Beneath the forest shade,
And ever sweet and mild of mien,
Like sunbeam hast thou played
Around my widowed home and heart -
Yet thou and I must quickly part.

As firmly as the towering oak,
Deep rooted in the earth,
Can brave the storm and thunder stroke,
So, even from thy birth,
Deep love for thee hath held my heart,
And yet, ungrieving, must we part.

And closely as the ivy clings
Around some forest tree,
Till from its glossy em'rald rings,
No bough or limb is free,
So art thou twined around my heart,
And yet, rejoicing, must we part!


IV.

OREIKA.

Alas, my sister, do not chide
That thoughts of grief, instead of pride,
Within my heart lie deep;
Fain would I speak with mien elate
Of thy predestined glorious fate,
And yet I can but weep.

When come the short'ning Autumn days,
While gathering in the golden maize,
I'll miss thy tender voice,
And when our merry maidens say:
"Oreika, join us in our play,"
How can I then rejoice?

And, oh! I will not grieve alone,
For when another moon has flown,
And Osseo will return,
Hopeful, to seek thee for his bride,
How deeply will his heart be tried
When he thy fate shall learn!

MINAHITA.

Enough, my sister, wouldst make me sad,
When my smile should be bright and my heart be glad?
You know 'tis an honor to sire and race,
And to shrink from my lot would bring dire disgrace.
For no earthly love must I weakly pine,
I yield to a suitor of rank divine.
To my girlhood's love must I say farewell -
To the dreams that were sweeter than words can tell!
The chill embrace of the waters cold,
Clasping my form in their viewless hold,
Laving my brow in their terrible play,
Tangling my locks with their glittering spray,
Freezing my warm blood, stifling my breath,
With awful kisses that bring but death, -
To such endearments I now must go
Where my Spirit bridegroom dwells below.

OREIKA.

'Tis fearful, alas! and must it be?

MINAHITA.

What would'st thou?

OREIKA.

Flee, oh quickly flee!
Through secret paths seek Osseo's side,
Who will gladly welcome and shield his bride;
To far-off lands thou with him canst fly,
In mutual love to live and die!

MINAHITA.

Thou forgettest, my sister! An Indian maid
Not of death, but dishonor, should be afraid.
Thou did'st couple love with dear Osseo's name,
But love would be short-lived if joined with shame!
My father bowed 'neath dark disgrace,
My name a bye-word to all my race,
I would find no joy in my rescued life,
Dogged by remorse and inward strife,
Till, hiding myself from all friendly ken,
I should die, despised by both Gods and men.
No, sister, better an early grave
In yon lone dell where the pine-trees wave;
Better a fiery death at the stake,
While foes fierce sport of the captive make,
With cruelest tortures that man can frame, -
Thrice better, than life with dishonored name!


V.

TOLONGA, MINAHITA, DOLBREKA.

TOLONGA.

Daughter of a dauntless race,
Now draws nigh the solemn hour,
Which, O maid of childlike grace,
Well might make the bravest cower!
Thundering down the awful steep,
Hear Niagara's waters leap,
Tossing, surging, flecked with foam,
Child, my child, they call thee home!

MINAHITA.

I am ready! See, I wear
Wampum belt and garments gay;
Mark my smoothly braided hair,
Decked with shells and wild flower spray,
My wrists their silver circlets bear,
Polished with maiden's patient care;
Unshrinking from the stormy foam,
I'm ready for my wild, chill home!

DOLBREKA.

Girl, thou art a worthy bride
For Niagara's fierce King!
Men will think of thee with pride,
Maidens will thy courage sing,
Sachems tell of thee with praise,
Warriors on thee proudly gaze,
While pure and fair as ocean foam,
Thou passest to the Spirit's home.

Chorus of Indian Braves.

We have launched the light canoe
Upon Niagara's waters blue,
'Tis white and bright as an ocean shell,
Swifter than the sea gull's wing,
Worthy the hand that will guide it well,
Amid the foam wreaths the wild waves fling.

Chorus of Indian Women.

And it is freighted with fragrant flowers,
The brightest culled 'mid our forest bowers,
Fruits ripened beneath the sun's warm rays -
And silky tassels of golden maize,
And with them the maid who is doomed to bring
These gifts to the pitiless Cataract King.

Chorus of Male and Female Voices.

Fair are the flowers, but she's fairer far,
Lovelier she than the Evening Star,
Pure as the moonbeams that tremulous shine,
Flooding the earth with their sheen divine.


VI.

TOLONGA.

Oh weary heart! I have wandered lone
Close to Niagara's awful throne;
I've gazed till his roar and fearful might
Have dulled mine ear and blinded my sight;
I've heard the hoarse and terrible song
Of the mountain waves as they rolled along,
And plunged down the watery precipice steep,
Like white-robed furies that whirl and leap.
I thought of my child's fair form and face
Grasped in their stormy, cruel embrace,
The tender arms that have clasped me oft
In dying agony flung aloft,
The delicate limbs a helpless prey
To their maddened rage, or demon play;
And I turned aside in anguish wild.
Oh, wretched Father! My child, my child!
But I must be calm and act a part,
Nor show the fierce grief that rends my heart;
A Seneca chief must learn to hide
His pangs 'neath a mask of stoic pride.


VII.

MINAHITA. Prayer.

Hear me, Thou great and glorious One!
Protector of my race!
Whom in the far-off Spirit Land
I shall soon see face to face;
I ask Thee, humbly bending
Before Thy Mighty Throne,
To cleanse me from all stain of sin
And make me soon thine own:
My people guard and bless,
All wrongs and ills redress,
Their enemies subdue,
And for the youth, the life, I freely yield,
Give them peace, plenty, victory in the field,
And honest hearts and true.


VIII.

TOLONGA. Duet

My daughter, let me press thee
Close to my yearning heart,
Ah! once more softly bless thee
Ere we for ever part!
I adjure thee not to falter
In the trial now so nigh,
But, as victim on the altar,
A Sachem's daughter die.

MINAHITA.

Father, courage will be given
In that awful hour supreme,
When all earth's ties are riven,
And I float down death's dark stream.

Both Voices.

Yes, courage not to falter
In the trial now so nigh,
But, as victim on the altar,
A Sachem's daughter die.


IX.

OREIKA.

One lingering, last, farewell embrace I take!

MINAHITA.

Yes, one for thine and one for Osseo's sake.

OREIKA.

How solace him beneath his trial sore?

MINAHITA.

Tell him I loved him well, but honor more.

Chorus - Voices approaching.

The moon is gilding the Cataract's brow,
And tinging his foam-robe as white as snow, -
Like silver it gleams
'Neath the bright moon beams,
Whilst soft and slow
The waters flow;
For his lovely bride he is waiting now!

OREIKA.

The hour is come! despair - despair!

TOLONGA.

Girl, such idle words forbear!

MINAHITA.

In the Spirit Land we shall meet again,
Where unknown are parting and grief and pain.


X.

OREIKA.

Ah! the cruel rite is over
And the fearful Spirit Lover
Clasps the dear pearl of our race;
Like the blushing summer flower,
Or the clouds of sunset hour,
She has passed, and left no trace!

DOLBREKA.

Thou wast not there? Then listen, child,
Unto a tale of sorrow wild,
That has o'erwhelmed with gloom and grief
Heart of warrior brave and chief:
Rose from the banks the sound of song,
Lights were gleaming the trees among,
All were awaiting the hour of fate
When the white canoe and precious freight
From shore swept out and swiftly sped
Into the boiling rapid dread -

OREIKA.

Ah me! in that last moment drear
How looked she?

DOLBREKA.

Tranquil, without fear,
But steered her course with quiet mien,
And the stately grace of a maiden Queen.
Then rose beneath the moon's full rays
Glad voices, blent in love and praise,
Till, sudden as arrow from the bow,
Flashed 'mid the rapid's dark, swift flow
Another bark - it held - oh grief!
Tolonga, our brave, Beloved chief.

OREIKA.

What! her father, didst thou say?
Our chief - our Sachem?

DOLBREKA.

Aye!
'Neath his strong arm the bark swift flew;
It soon o'ertook the White Canoe,
And then, amid our outcries wild
The eyes of father and of child
Met in one long, last, loving look,
That ne'er each other's glance forsook
Till they glided o'er Niagara's steep,
And plunged into the darkness deep.

Final Chorus.

Ah! never since first with thundering roar
Niagara shook the trembling shore,
Hath earth bestowed him such offering bright,
As he's clasped to his mighty breast to-night.

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