Lake Lyrics and Other Poems

by William Wilfred Campbell


 

THE LEGEND OF RESTLESS RIVER


 

INTO the vague unrest
Of Huron’s mighty breast,
    Runneth the Restless River.
Into the north and west,
Out of the forest’s rest
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  Its face is set forever.

Moons wane through spaces white,
As marsh-birds wheel their flight,
As dawns reel into night,
    And souls from souls dissever;

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But over the sands to the bay,
Past the forests that pray,
    The river it runneth forever.

It was a curse and worse,
    A curse on the Restless River;

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Moons and moons ago,
Before the ages of snow,
And ice, and rains that shiver,
    Came the curse of the Restless River.

What was this terrible curse?

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Never in tale or verse,
Did singer or chief rehearse;
    Warrior sang it never;
But only the Manitou,
Who knoweth all things, knew,
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The moons and ages through,
    The secret of Restless River.

Where other streams might sleep,
In eddies cool and deep,
Beneath where cascades leap

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    In sunny snowy surges;
With never a dreaming place,
With never a breathing space,
In one wild tortuous race,
    Its maddened tide it urges.
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Why this horrible dread,
This fear of the midnight dead,
When the stars peer overhead,
    Out of lone spaces winging?
Men said that the stars and moon 
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At the silence of midnight noon,
    Never mirrored themselves in its singing.

That its song was only a moan;
For a sin it could never atone,
Of all earth’s waters alone, 

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    It runs in the darkness forever;
And that never the song of bird,
Save only in sadness, is heard
    On the shores of the Restless River.

Men say, at noon of day, 

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In thickets far away,
Where skies are dim and gray,
    And birches stir and shiver,
That out of the gloomy air,
A voice goes up in prayer, 
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    From the shores of the Restless River.

Whatever its sin hath been,
Its shores are just as green,
And over it kindly lean
    Great forests heavenward growing; 

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And its waters are just as sweet,
And its tides more strong and fleet
    Than any river flowing.

But for all its outward mirth
And the glow that spans its girth, 

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Its voices from air and earth,
    Its walls of leaves that quiver;
Men say an awful curse
And dread as death, and worse,
    Hangs over the Restless River. 
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And the dreamy Indian girl.
As she sees its waters curl,
In many a silver whirl,
    Hath pity on Restless River,
For she knows that long ago, 
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Its tides that once were slow,
By reason of some dread woe,
    Went suddenly swift forever;
That a dread and unknown curse,
For a sin, or something worse, 
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    Was laid on the Restless River.