THE SYREN OF TSELICA;
A TRADITION OF THE FRENCH BROAD.
The tradition of the Cherokees asserts the existence of a Syren, in the French Broad, who implores the Hunter to the stream, and strangles him in her embrace, or so infects him with some mortal disease, that he invariably perishes. The story, stripped of all poetry, would seem to be that of a youth, who, overcome with fatigue and heat together, sought the cool waters of the river, and was seized with cramp or spasms; or, too much exhausted for reaction, sunk under the shock. It does not much concern us, however, what degree of faith is due to the tradition. Enough that such exists, and that its locality is one of the most magnificent regions, for its scenery, in the known world. Tselica is the Indian name of the river.
’Twas in summer prime, the noontide hour,
Sleep lay heavy o’er the sunny vale;
Droop’d the sad leaves ’neath the fiery vapor,
Droop’d and panted for the evening gale.
Gloomy, lonely, and with travail weary,
Down the mountain slopes the stranger came ;
Droop’d his eyes, and in his fainting bosom
Lay the pulsing blood, a lake of flame.
Oh, how cool in sight the rushing river,
With its thousand barrier-rocks at strife,
All its billows tossing high their foam wreaths,
As if maddening with the impatient life.
Wild, with ceaseless shout they hurried onward,
Laughing ever with their cheerful glee,
O’er the antique rocks their great limbs flinging,
With a frantic joy was strange to see.
They, of all, possess’d the life and action,
Silence else had sovereign sway alone,
All the woods were hush’d, and the gray mountain
Look’d with stony eyes from crumbling throne.
Sad the youth sank down in the great shadows,
Close beside the waters as they ran,
Very hopeless was he of his travail,
Very weary since it first began.
Friends and fortune he had none to cheer him,
And the growing sorrow at his heart
Wrought the bitter thought to bitter feeling,
And he yearn’d to perish and depart.
“Why,” he murmurs, “ still in toil unresting,
Should I strive for aye in fruitless strife ;
Where the hopes and loves that used to glad me,
When I first began the race of life?
“Where’s the pride of triumph that was promised,
That should crown me with the immortal wreath ;
Where the fond heart that in youth embraced me—
Gone, forever gone—and where is Death?
“ Give me peace, ye skies and rocks: ye waters,
Peace yourselves ye know not, but your flow
Tells of calm and rest beneath your billows-—
Coolness, for the fiery griefs I know.”
Thus, with languid soul beside the river,
Gazed he sadly as that hour he lay ;
Gloomy with the past, and of the future
Hopeless,——hence his guilty prayer that day.
Brooding thus, and weary, a song rises,
From the very billows, soft and clear;
Such as evening bird, with parting ditty,
Pours at twilight to the floweret’s ear.
Wild and sweet, and passionate and tender;
Now full, now faint; with such a touching art,
His soul dissolves in weakness, and his spirit
Goes with the throbbing sweetness at his heart.
He looks with strain’d eyes at the lapsing waters,
And gleaming bright beneath the billows, lo!
Flashes white arms, and glides a lovely damsel,
Bright eyes, dark locks, and bosom white as snow.
He sees, but still in moment glimpses only,
Gleams of strange beauty, from an eye all bright,—
As when some single star, at midnight, flashes
From the cold cloud, above the mountain’s height.
As raven black as night float free her tresses,
Outflung above the waves by snowy arms,
Now o’er her bosom spread, and half betraying,
While half concealing still her sunny charms.
And then again ascends her song of pleading——
“Ah, but thou failest with the noonday heat,
Thy brow is pale with care, thine eyelids drooping,
Thy soul is sad, and weary-worn thy feet.
“ Oh I come to me, and taste my waves of cooling;
I’ll soothe thy sorrows; I will bring thee rest;
Thy fainting limbs grow strong in my embraces,
Thy burning cheek find pillow on my breast.
“ Oh l come to me !” was still the loving burden,
With charm of such a sweetness in its swell,
That every fancy in his bosom kindled,
And every feeling woke to work the spell.
Wild was the dreamy passion that possess’d him ;
I Won by the syren song, and glimpsing charms,
He leapt to join her in the wave, but shudder’d
At the first foldings of her death-cold arms.
Fiercely against her own she press’d his bosom ;—
’Tis the ice-mountain whose embrace he feels ;
Within his eyes she shot her dazzling glances :
’Tis Death’s own stony stare the look reveals.
He breaks away, the shore in horror seeking;
But all too late,—-the doom is in his heart :
He sinks beside the fatal stream, and dying,
Deplores the prayer that pleaded to depart.
His dying sense still hears the fatal Syren;
She sings her triumph now, her love no more :
A fearful hate was in the eldritch music,
And terror now, where beauty sway’d before.
No more the pleasing wile, the plaintive ditty:
He strives in vain the wizard strain to flee;
“ Death,” ran the song,——no more of peace and pity,
“To him who madly seeks embrace with me I.”
- William Gilmore Simms, 1853