A Celebration of Women Writers

"Indian Woman's Death-Song" by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) Records of Woman: With Other Poems. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, & London: T. Cadell, 1828, second edition. pp. 103-108.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


[Page 103] 

INDIAN WOMAN'S DEATH-SONG.


An Indian woman, driven to despair by her husband's desertion of her for another wife, entered a canoe with her children, and rowed it down the Mississippi towards a cataract. Her voice was heard from the shore singing a mournful death-song, until overpowered by the sound of the waters in which she perished. The tale is related in Long's Expedition to the source of St. Peter's River.


[Page 104] 

INDIAN WOMAN'S DEATH-SONG.


Non, je ne puis vivre avec un coeur brisé. Il faut que je retrouve la joie, et que je m'unisse aux esprits libres de l'air.    
Bride of Messina,  
Translated by MADAME DE STAËL.

Let not my child be a girl, for very sad is the life of a woman.
The Prairie.


DOWN a broad river of the western wilds,
Piercing thick forest glooms, a light canoe
Swept with the current: fearful was the speed
Of the frail bark, as by a tempest's wing
Borne leaf-like on to where the mist of spray
Rose with the cataract's thunder.–Yet within,
Proudly, and dauntlessly, and all alone,
Save that a babe lay sleeping at her breast,
A woman stood. Upon her Indian brow

[Page 105] 

Sat a strange gladness, and her dark hair wav'd
As if triumphantly. She press'd her child,
In its bright slumber, to her beating heart,
And lifted her sweet voice that rose awhile
Above the sound of waters, high and clear,
Wafting a wild proud strain, her Song of Death.


Roll swiftly to the Spirit's land, thou mighty stream and free!
Father of ancient waters, 5 roll! and bear our lives with thee!
The weary bird that storms have toss'd would seek the sunshine's calm,
And the deer that hath the arrow's hurt flies to the woods of balm.

Roll on!–my warrior's eye hath look'd upon another's face,
And mine hath faded from his soul, as fades a moonbeam's trace;

[Page 106] 

My shadow comes not o'er his path, my whisper to his dream,
He flings away the broken reed–roll swifter yet, thou stream!

The voice that spoke of other days is hush'd within his breast,
But mine its lonely music haunts, and will not let me rest;
It sings a low and mournful song of gladness that is gone,–
I cannot live without that light–Father of waves! roll on!

Will he not miss the bounding step that met him from the chase?
The heart of love that made his home an ever sunny place?

[Page 107] 

The hand that spread the hunter's board, and deck'd his couch of yore?–
He will not!–roll, dark foaming stream, on to the better shore!

Some blessed fount amidst the woods of that bright land must flow,
Whose waters from my soul may lave the memory of this wo;
Some gentle wind must whisper there, whose breath may waft away
The burden of the heavy night, the sadness of the day.

And thou, my babe! tho' born, like me, for woman's weary lot,
Smile!–to that wasting of the heart, my own! I leave thee not;

[Page 108] 

Too bright a thing art thou to pine in aching love away,
Thy mother bears thee far, young Fawn! from sorrow and decay.

She bears thee to the glorious bowers where none are heard to weep,
And where th' unkind one hath no power again to trouble sleep;
And where the soul shall find its youth, as wakening from a dream,–
One moment, and that realm is ours.–On, on, dark rolling stream!

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom