“When George Was King” and Other Poems

by Emily Pauline Johnson



The Legend of Qu’Appelle Valley


 

I am the one who loved her as my life,
      Had watched her grow to sweet young womanhood;
Won the dear privilege to call her wife,
      And found the world, because of her, was good.
I am the one who heard the spirit voice,
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      Of which the paleface settlers love to tell;
From whose strange story they have made their choice
      Of naming this fair valley the “Qu’Appelle.”

She had said fondly in my eager ear—
      “When Indian summer smiles with dusky lip,
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Come to the lakes, I will be first to hear
      The welcome music of thy paddle dip.
I will be first to lay in thine my hand,
      To whisper words of greeting on the shore;
And when thou would’st return to thine own land,
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      I’ll go with thee, thy wife for evermore.”

Not yet a leaf had fallen, not a tone
      Of frost upon the plain ere I set forth,
Impatient to possess her as my own—
      This queen of all the women of the North.
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I rested not at even or at dawn,
      But journeyed all the dark and daylight through—
Until I reached the Lakes, and, hurrying on,
      I launched upon their bosom my canoe.

Of sleep or hunger then I took no heed,
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      But hastened o’er their leagues of waterways;
But my hot heart outstripped my paddle’s speed
      And waited not for distance or for days,
But flew before me swifter than the blade
      Of magic paddle ever cleaved the Lake,
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Eager to lay its love before the maid,
      And watch the lovelight in her eyes awake.

So the long days went slowly drifting past;
      It seemed that half my life must intervene
Before the morrow, when I said at last—
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      “One more day’s journey and I win my queen!”
I rested then, and, drifting, dreamed the more
      Of all the happiness I was to claim,—
When suddenly from out the shadowed shore,
      I heard a voice speak tenderly my name.
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“Who calls?” I answered; no reply; and long
      I stilled my paddle blade and listened. Then
Above the night’s wind melancholy song
      I heard distinctly that strange voice again—
A woman’s voice, that through the twilight came
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      Like to a soul unborn—a song unsung
I leaned and listened—yes, she spoke my name.
      And then I answered in the quaint French tongue, [Page 7]

“Qu’Appelle? Qu’Appelle?” No answer, and the night
      Seemed stiller for the sound, till round me fell
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The far-off echoes from the far-off height—
      “Qu’Appelle?” my voice came back, “Qu’Appelle?                   Qu’Appelle?”
This—and no more; I called aloud until
      I shuddered as the gloom of night increased,
And, like a pallid spectre wan and chill,
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      The moon arose in silence from the east.

I dare not linger on the moment when
      My boat I beached beside her tepee door;
I heard the wail of women and of men,—
      I saw the death-fires lighted on the shore.
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No language tells the torture or the pain,
      The bitterness that flooded all my life,—
When I was led to look on her again,
      That queen of women pledged to be my wife.

To look upon the beauty of her face,
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      The still closed eyes, the lips that knew no breath;
To look, to learn,—to realize my place
      Had been usurped by my one rival—Death.
A storm of wrecking sorrow beat and broke
      About my heart, and life shut out its light
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Till through my anguish some one gently spoke,
      And said, “Twice did she call for thee last night.”
I started up—and bending o’er my dead,
      Asked when did her sweet lips in silence close.
“She called thy name—then passed away,” they said,
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      “Just on the hour whereat the moon arose.”

Among the lonely lakes I go no more,
      For she who made their beauty is not there;
The paleface rears his tepee on the shore
      And says the vale is fairest of the fair.
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Full many years have vanished since, but still
      The voyageurs beside the campfire tell
How, when the moonrise tips the distant hill,
      They hear strange voices through the silence swell.
The paleface loves the haunted lakes they say,
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      And journeys far to watch their beauty spread
Before his vision; but to me the day,
      The night, the hour, the seasons all are dead.
I listen heartsick, while the hunters tell
      Why white men named the valley The Qu’Appelle. [Page 8]
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