Catherine Tehgahkwitha, The Saint of Caughnawaga
Catherine Tegahkwitha, The Saint Of Caughnawaga.
In a tranquil lake where bright lilies blow,
And, at the touch of swans as white snow,
Tremble on their atems, and bending exhale
Their chaste effluvium, wafted by the gale
To isle and shore, at twilight and at dawn,
While o’er them curtains of green leaves are
In her light vessel, gliding silently,
Sat Tegahkwitha, singing her sweet song,
As she vowed herself, virgin meek strong:
When she had ecased to sing, and breathless stood,
To list intent,—from the lone reedy shore
A tuneful voice was heard, of liquid tone;
‘Twas that of a strange Lady, born in France,
Of high nobility and rich estate;
In bloom of life, that she might love but God,
From her old guilded manor she had fled;
Midst rocks and eliffs had sought in vain ti hide
Her life,—pursued from grot to grot more deep,
On snow-clad Pyrences, where roam grim bears,
Till she resolved to brave the Sea, and found
In Canada a safe retrent unknown,
A dark recess;—and there she dwelt in peace,
Of this lake-shore the fairy Solitaie.
Her ears had caught the wild maid’s votive song,
And she responded, in a wilder strain:
“Hail, daughter of the Mohawk Chief,
And of the jet-haired Algonquin!
Hail, stern and noble ‘Child of grief!’
Hail, chirstian maid of ruddy skin!
As free as thou, and lone am I;
As free as thou, I’ll still remain;
My heart will brook no human tie,
No carnal link, no earthly chain!
As faithful to the changeless One,
As to the pole the loadstone’s true,
My soul is merged in Him alone,
Like rivers in the ocean blue!
Oh, who can tell the flood of light,
The burning waves that tranceful heave,
When soars the soul on wings so bright,
The virgin soul contemplative?
That soul prophetic voices fill,
Soft breathings of the God unseen;
And with colestial jay and thrill,
She chants in ravishment serene!
As of the harp the Quiv’ring strings,
When by an angel’s fingers struck,
Thus tunefully, enrapt, she sings,
While music’s golden keys unlock;
And her sweet song, ocstatic born,
Is reveletion from above;
‘Tis poetry that rings to burn,
In streams of light and tides of love….!
How blest the virgin solitaire,
Who vows and reigns, without control,
To love but Him, and love for e’er,
As true as landstone to the pole!
When most she loves, she is most chaste;
Most pure and calm, when glowing most;
Serene, and yet enthusiant,
In visions bright of rapture lost!….
My heart, unfettered, I possess;
Unshared, to Him freely give
Who sanctified the wilderness,
And praised the life contemplative;
Who chose for harbinger uncouth
The stern and fearless Eremite,
The prophet bold of Gospel Truth,
In hair-cloth clad, with girdle tight:
Bred in the school of solitede,
As he who’dwelt in Carmel grot,
He preached to King and Multitude,
Reproved, denouneed, and dreaded not!
My heart I give to Mary’s Son,
Who, thirty years, beneath the roof
Of lowly home, rejoiced to shun
The crowd; and praying, kept aloof.
Along the sen-shore, in the field,
He oft was seen, with chosen few,
To walk,—from envious Seribes conoealed,
From busy mart and public view….
O Spouse divine, O Changeless One,
Whose love is fruitful joy and rest,
My song of praise to thee alone,
In whom I feel supremely blest!
From distant Europe to adore,
I’ve followed black-robe pioneers;
I’ve trod, unhurt, the wildest shore,
The pathless and remote frontiers;
I’ve fled, in tranquil, solemn mood,
To gloomy depths of forests green,
Where, safe from noisy multilane,
The lenfy cloisters guard and screen;
Midst savage Tribes, I’ve passed unblenched,
In tracks of deer and bison fleet,
And quenched my thirst where they had quenched,
And slept, secure, in their retreat.
Alone, in Nature’s deepest nooks,
In boundless prairies of the West,
I’ve learned to read in other books
Than those with skeptic thoughts impresses..
O Nature grand, cathedral vast,
With starry dome of azure built
Thou hast out-lived, and shalt out-last,
All painted monuments, or guilt!
O living Poem, over new,
Through thee ideal splendors shine,—
From stars to flow’rs pf ev’ry hue,—
Bright shadows of the Sun divine!….
Oh, come,ye birds, that freely rove;
Birds of America, with me,
The God of Beauty, Truth and Love,
The God of Poetry, sing ye!
With me, praise Him, whose image sweet
In ev’ry blossom smiles or glows;
Whose Voice, all voices glad repeat;
Whose bounty, this New World o’erflows!
Ye, soaring eagles, that rejoice
Above Ningam, and spy
Below its rainbows, let your voice
Be heard, and with its thunders vie:
Sing ye the One, of Mary born,
The God incarnated for me,
The Man of sorrows, crowned with thorn;
My Saviour and my Spouse, sing ye!
My soul, that’s wholly his for e’er,
By secret pow’r of grace allured,
Must breathe a purer atmosphere,
In cell by mountain heights immured!
Oh, who could chant, in mystic verse,—
Re-oched by angelic choir,—
What sainted poet could rehearse
My quiet bliss, on sweet-toned lyre?
What poet sing of maidenhood;
Of woman, freed by solemn vows;
Of paradise, in solitude;
Of heav’nly love for heav’nly Spouse?”
In that same lake, on a thick-shaded isle,
Lived a young Lord, who had left all that’s dear,
To seek and find a peace and rest, in vain
He had pursued in the refined Old World,
In vain and long pursued, till be came here,
Enjoying Nature’s calm, and serving God
In solitude, as anchoret had done;
He had heard the song of the virgin squaw,
And the song of the noble Lady fair;
And with a thrilling voice, sang in his turn
A hymn to chastity;—with mingled joy
And deep fear, the wild virgin’s startled soul
Listened, entranced, while flouted, unpropelled,
Midst lilies, her light, graceful bark,—adrift;
“O maidenhood, O snowy chastity,
O thou, ethereal gem, angelic boon,
Whatever lustful men may say to soil,
Unfit thy purity to led and praise;
There is in thee a mild yet awful away,
A heav’nly power, a dignity supreme:
In thee, there is a spirit and a spell,
A winning charm of seraph-gentleness:
Thou art the fairest, loveliest child of grace!—
Tired in a royal, splendid robe of light,
The richest diadem on earth is thine!
Meek and serene, though stately in thy step,
So candid, smiling, graceful, yet so grave
So fixed in duty, resolute and strong,
O’er hearts and minds thy sway is still divine!
Heav’n-born, in heav’n with comeliness to reign,
Eternal like the holy Three in One,
Thou claim’st the promised crown of martyrdom!
All weddings soon must cease with life and flesh;
Virginity unchangeable shall last,
Unchangeable throughout eternity!
O maidenhood, how great thy privilege,
The Iamb Immaculate to follow close,
And new-framed anthems to his glory sing!
In dark antiquity, in ev’ry age,
How great thy privilege; thy sway, how mild!—
The pagan pontiff, prophetess and priest,
The sibyl, vestal and the Sacred Nine,
All sainted bards were crowned with holy oak,
And all revered as virgins, or as chaste!
E’en now, how great thy privilege on earth:
Thy sway o’er hearts, how awful, lovely, meek:
Thyself, how praised, though yet unpraised as
Unpraised, an worshipped, followed but by few!
Virginity, how name thee,—nameless yet?—
Thou art the mystic salt, the fragrant myrrh,
The precious balm, of sweet and heav’nly scent,
Whose virtues, from corruption guarding pure,
To flesh impart most glorious attributes!
By thee, frail man, exalted and transformed,
In youth for e’er renewed, and phenix-like,
Becomes a hero in his thoughts and deeds;
Becomes an angel, and almost a god!
Thou art the source of all ecstatic joy;
The spring of virtue, genius, holiness,
Of life and peace,—unutterable peace!
God’s spirit, breathing love in solitade,
In solitude with stainless lilies pleased,
God’s spirit, more familiar speaks to thee,
And all his secrets to thy heart reveals!
O maidenhood, heroic chastity,
To vow, to consecrate and persevere,
Thou need’st an adamantine soul and will!
Like amber, unconsumed, but purified,
Through fumy flame thou passeat whito an
All earthly, sensual joys, thou deem’dst too base
All last, thy godly pleasure is to curb!
Subdued, proud nature cowereth at thy feet;
And, though reluctantly, the worst admire;
The flesh-fiends and the world, thy shameful foes,
All blush; but fain in envy would defile—
The fair renown with calumny would taint!
Bland spirit-child, who could thy worth extol,
Thy beauty, meekness, grace and pow’r divine?
Who could, in strains sublime, and yet unsung,
With voice mellifluous, and heav’n-strung harp,
What muse, what angel could thy glory tell?
What man, what hell-born fiend thy brightness
The world, with skeptic smile, may speak and
The world, corrupt in thoughts, in words and
The world impure may speak to blemish thee;
But still thy name is bless’d by holiest men;
With rays undimmed, celestial, mystic-head,
Still beams the glorious halo round thy head;
Angelic queen on earth, immortal bride,
Thy beauty far surpasseth all we view;
In nature there is naught so fair, so bright,
Thou art what lilies seem in bloomy fields;
What seem,—O most unmeet comparisons!—
’Mongst noblest birds the eagle and the dove,
Stars in the skies, the snow on highest mounts,
The glitt’ring dew on desert flow’rs untouched,
Pearls in the deep, midst metals virgin gold;—
Veiled in thy beauty, humble though a queen,
Thou art, among thy wedded rivals proud,
What sparkling diamonds seem midst lesser
And e’en,—why not thy excellence proclaim?—
Thou art above the angel, far above;
For, wrapped in flesh, and victorious still,
Thon stand’st upright, undaunted heroine!
By sin unstained, thou lead’st an angel’s life,
Less happy, yet by virtue more than he;
Yes, more than he a spirit pure and safe,
From passions free, and settled now in bliss!
But, to thy growing fame, O chastity,
To thy unfading beauty, glory, worth,
To make thee known, and being known admired,
Though strained, and high-attuned each quiv’ring
Great my attempt, as great as I am weak,
To thy renown, O spotless child of grace,
What have I sang, what may I sing again!
My voice, how faint; an echoed, all my notes!
How scattered by the wind my leafless flow’rs!—
Thy worth, all eloquence, all poetry,
All words exceeds!—Why then, why speak and
I drop my theme;—I cease to strike my harp;—
With snowy lilies fraught to strew and deck,
I kneel in silence at thy sacred and deck,
I kneel, and how, and humbly worship thee!—
Yes, though I cannot love, admire and praise,
As thou shouldst be; though vain what I have
What I may sing,—I’ll strive to imitate;—
A faithful worshipper, in mind and soul,
I’ll follow thee on earth, in heav’n to meet,
In heav’n with thee eternally to reign!”
While sung the noble Lady, mild and fair,
And the young Lord, in lofty unison,—
Sung with impassioned tone of love intense,—
The Indian virgin, statue-like, stood mute,
As if bewildered, in her ravishment,
Gazing above, a lily in her hand.