The Death of Œnone, and Other Poems


Alfred Tennyson

Kapiolani was a great chieftainess who lived in the Sandwich Islands at the beginning of this century. She won the cause of Christianity by openly defying the priests of the terrible goddess Peelè. In spite of their threats of vengeance she ascended the volcano Mauna-Loa, then clambered down over a bank of cinders 400 feet high to the great lake of fire (nine miles round)—Kilauēä— the home and haunt of the goddess, and flung into the boiling lava the consecrated berries which it was sacrilege for a woman to handle.

WHEN from the terrors of Nature a people have fashion’d and worship a Spirit of Evil,
Blest he the Voice of the Teacher who calls to them
‘Set yourselves free!’

Noble the Saxon who hurl’d at his Idol a valorous weapon in olden England!
Great and greater, and greatest of women, island heroine, Kapiolani
Clomb the mountain, and flung the berries, and dared the Goddess, and freed the people
Of Hawa-i-ee!

A people believing that Peelè the Goddess would wallow in fiery riot and revel
On Kilauēä,
Dance in a fountain of flame with her devils, or shake with tier thunders and shatter her island,
Rolling her anger
Thro’ blasted valley and flaring forest in blood-red cataracts down to the sea!

Long as the lava-light
Glares from the lava-lake
Dazing the starlight,
Long as the silvery vapour in daylight
Over the mountain
Floats, will the glory of Kapiolani be mingled with either on Hawa-i-ee.

What said her Priesthood?
‘Woe to this island if ever a woman should handle or gather the berries of Peelè!
Accurséd were she!
And woe to this island if ever a woman should climb to the dwelling of Peelè the Goddess!
Accurséd were she!’

One from the Sunrise
Dawn’d on His people, and slowly before him
Vanish’d shadow-like
Gods and Goddesses,
None but the terrible Peelè remaining as Kapiolani ascended her mountain,
Baffled her priesthood,
Broke the Taboo,
Dipt to the crater,
Call’d on the Power adored by the Christian, and crying ‘I dare her, let Peelè avenge herself ’!
Into the flame-billow dash’d the berries, and drove the demon from Hawa-i-ee.

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