Flint and Feather

by Emily Pauline Johnson


 

THE BALLAD OF YAADA*

(A LEGEND OF THE PACIFIC COAST)


 

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 cañon at their feet.

There are fires on Lulu Island, and the smoke, uplifting, lingers
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    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 cañon is enfolded in its grey. [Page 162]

But the sun its face is veiling like a cloistered nun at vespers;
    As towards the altar candles of the night a censer swings,
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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
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    That the lips of lovers sing for evermore.

He was the 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.
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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 cañon where the Capilano rolls. [Page 163]

And the women of the Haidas plied in vain their magic power,
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    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
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           miles,
Crept with stealth along the cañon, 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:
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    “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 cañon 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.” [Page 164]
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But through long-forgotten seasons, moons too many to be            numbered,
    He yet waited by the cañon—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 cañon,
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    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,
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That the undertone of sobbing echoes through the river’s singing,
    In the Capilano cañon of the West. [Page 165]

 


* “The Ballad of Yaada” is the last complete poem written by the author. It was placed for publication with the “Saturday Night” of Toronto, and did not appear in print until several months after Miss Johnson’s death. The publishers express their gratitude to the “Saturday night” for permission to include this poem in the revised edition of “Flint and Feather.” [back]