Thursday, February 9, 2017

Spectral Lovers...of the Great Dismal Swamp

"Lake Drummond in The Great Dismal Swamp
National Wildlife Refuge" photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
 Northeast Region via Wikimedia Commons
One of only two natural lakes in Virginia is surrounded by 100,000 acres of deep, dark wetlands straddling that state's southeastern border with its neighbor, North Carolina. Lake Drummond sits in the midst of the Great Dismal Swamp and, along with its mysterious swamplands, is the source of many ghostly tales. As this intriguing natural wonder is central to my latest work-in-progress (a middle-grade novel entitled Zephyr Stone, Ghost Charmer,) and as this is the romantic month of 
February, I am sharing one of the swamp's most famous stories.
"Thomas Moore" by Martin Archer Shee

One of the oldest tales of the Great Dismal Swamp is the enduring legend of the Lady of the Lake. The earliest people to populate the swamp were Native Americans who are thought to have first lived there 13,000 years into the past. It is not surprising, then, that this long-lived tale features those early inhabitants. It is said that a young Native American woman died just before her wedding day and her ghostly image can be seen paddling a white canoe through the dark waters of Lake Drummond. While visiting Norfolk, Virginia in 1803, Irish poet Thomas Moore immortalized the Lady and her distraught bridegroom in his poem, "A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp." This was part of Moore's book, Epistles, Odes, and Other Poems, written in 1806 about his experiences and impressions during his visit to Bermuda and the eastern region of America. His introduction to the collection is a scathing criticism of the people he encountered in the young nation. His poem about the spectral lovers, however, is the height of romanticism.

From the Sheet Music Collection of
Samuel S. Levy at Johns Hopkins University
A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp
by Thomas Moore

“They made her a grave, too cold and damp 
For a soul so warm and true; 
And she’s gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp, 
Where, all night long, by a fire-fly lamp, 
She paddles her white canoe. 

“And her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see, 
And her paddle I soon shall hear; 
Long and loving our life shall be, 
And I’ll hide the maid in a cypress tree,
When the footstep of death is near.” 

Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds— 
His path was rugged and sore, 
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds,
Through many a fen where the serpent feeds, 
And man never trod before. 

And when on the earth he sunk to sleep, 
If slumber his eyelids knew, 
He lay where the deadly vine doth weep 
"Stained Glass of Dismal Swamp" photo by KL Wood
Its venomous tear and nightly steep 
The flesh with blistering dew! 

And near him the she-wolf stirr’d the brake, 
And the copper-snake breath’d in his ear, 

Till he starting cried, from his dream awake, 
“Oh! when shall I see the dusky Lake, 
And the white canoe of my dear?” 

He saw the Lake, and a meteor bright 
Quick over its surface play’d— 
“Welcome,” he said, “my dear one’s light!” 
And the dim shore echoed for many a night 
The name of the death-cold maid. 
"Beaver Dam, Dismal Swamp" photo by KL Wood

Till he hollow’d a boat of the birchen bark, 
Which carried him off from shore; 
Far, far he follow’d the meteor spark, 
The wind was high and the clouds were dark, 
And the boat return’d no more. 

But oft, from the Indian hunter’s camp, 
This lover and maid so true 
Are seen at the hour of midnight damp 
To cross the Lake by a fire-fly lamp, 
And paddle their white canoe!

    My husband and I visited the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, today, with
"Tree in Road, Dismal Swamp" photo by KL Wood
the intention of driving to Lake Drummond. Unfortunately, a victim of this morning's wind storm blocked our path half-way, its long branches stretching across the narrow road, its large root base upended over the canal leading to the lake. Oh well. Another day. Who knows, perhaps the Lady of the Lake did not wish to be disturbed today.

Thanks for stopping by...y'all come back now.  And Happy Valentine's Day!

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