Pauline Johnson

by Wanda Campbell


Pauline Johnson
1861-1913


Pauline Johnson was born March 10, 1861, on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford. She was the daughter of an English woman and a Mohawk chief, a mixed heritage revealed in the costume she chose for her stage recitals, beginning with buckskin and beads and ending with Victorian evening dress. Named Pauline after the sister of Napoleon, her father’s hero, she later added the name “Tekahionwake” (“Double Wampum”) to her signature in memory of her great grandfather, Jacob Johnson, named superintendent of the Six Nations Iroquois in 1755. She said she had read all of Scott and Longfellow, and “much of Byron, Shakespeare and Emerson” by the age of twelve. Her poetry began to appear from 1884 onward in such periodicals as Gems of Poetry (New York) and the Week (Toronto). In 1889, William Douw Lighthall, having “kept a few pages for the Indians” (McRaye 166), selected two of her poems for Songs of the Great Dominion, noting that “she is interesting on account of her race as well as her strong and cultured verse” (453). The British critic Theodore Watts-Dunton writes in his Introduction to a posthumously published edition of Flint and Feather:

I believe that Canada will, in future times, cherish her memory more and more, for of all Canadian poets she was the most distinctly a daughter of the soil, inasmuch as she inherited the blood of the great primeval race now so rapidly vanishing, and of the greater race that has supplanted it.
                                                                                            (xvi)

Johnson would have objected to the adjective “greater.” In a letter to Ernest Thompson Seton, who supplied her with the bear’s teeth necklace for her costume, Johnson wrote: “There are those who think they pay me a compliment in saying that I am just like a white woman. My aim, my joy, my pride is to sing the glories of my people” (quoted by Seton, Intro. to The Shagganappi, by Johnson [Toronto: Ryerson, 1913] 7-8). Though [Page 209] Johnson’s heritage may have kept her from slipping into obscurity like many of her contemporaries, it also drew attention away from her literary achievements.

    Johnson continues to appear in both Canadian and American anthologies. Margaret Atwood includes her in The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (1983), along with Drummond and Service who also “contain a good deal of blood and thunder on the one hand and sentimentality and kitsch on the other” while admitting she was a poet of “considerably more sophistication” (xxxiv). Charles G.D. Roberts, with whom Johnson maintained a twenty-five year correspondence, calls her “one of the acknowledged leaders of our Canadian group” (Letters 210). In a 1942 letter to Walter McRaye he wrote, “Her fame has suffered (temporarily!) through the lack of range of her themes! But in the genuineness of her lyric gift she stands second to none of us” (Letters 630).

    Reading “A Cry from an Indian Wife,” a poem based on the Riel Rebellion of 1885, Pauline was the surprise star of a Toronto recital that included Agnes Machar and William Wilfred Campbell, and was convinced to launch a career as a performer in order to earn the money to publish her first book of poems, The White Wampum. Her biographer Betty Keller notes that she continued to tour because the recitals popularized her poetry and she enjoyed the limelight, though she always considered herself a poet, albeit triply marginalized as a woman, a Native, and an actress. Billed as “The Mohawk Princess,” she toured extensively across Canada and the United States, as well as to London, England. The hectic pace took its toll on her writing because she wrote increasingly for the stage rather than the page. Her second collection, Canadian Born, was not well received. As early as 1894, Johnson had excused her own “literary pot-boiling” and “vulgar ‘catering’” to audiences on economic grounds:

…the public will not listen to lyrics, will not appreciate real poetry, will in fact not have me as an entertainer if I give them nothing but rhythm, cadence, beauty, thought…I could do so much better if they would only let me.
                                                                    (qtd. by Keller 72)

Ten years later she wrote: “I often think that a poet is like a mother with a family of small children. This is the baby, this is the pretty one and this is the cripple. Poems are our brain children—we love them too much to have them treated badly” (Keller 60). [Page 210]

    At Marjorie Pickthall’s suggestion, Johnson began to experiment in other genres, including fiction and children’s stories. She retired to Vancouver in 1909 to write full time only to discover that she had inoperable breast cancer. In 1912, Flint and Feather, inaccurately subtitled “The Complete Poems,” was published. Johnson died on March 7, 1913, and her ashes were buried in Stanley Park.

    In his reconsideration of Johnson, George Lyon refers to the “semiotic confusion” (139) in her work caused by conflicting ancestries and aspirations and compares her with Crawford. Johnson remained popular for many years and generations of school children knew her poem “The Song My Paddle Sings” by heart. Flint and Feather remains in print to this day, and several internet sites are dedicated to Johnson. Her life and work are generating new interest among academics and Native writers. For the latter, writes Donald Precosky, she represents “a life to be respected and a model to be overcome” (164).

Selected Bibliography

The White Wampum (London: Lane, 1895)
Canadian Born (Toronto: Morang, 1903)
Flint and Feather (Toronto: Musson, 1912) Enlarged (1913 and     1914)

William Douw Lighthall, Songs of the Great Dominion (London: Scott, 1889); Charles G.D. Roberts, Collected Letters of Charles G.D. Roberts, ed. Laurel Boone (Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1989); Walter McRaye, Pauline Johnson and Her Friends (Toronto: Ryerson, 1947) The Native Voice: Special Pauline Johnson Centenary Edition 15:7 (July 1961); Marcus Van Steen, Pauline Johnson: Her Life and Work (Toronto: Musson, 1965); Betty Keller, Pauline: a Biography of Pauline Johnson (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1981); Carole Gerson, “Some Notes Concerning Pauline Johnson,” Canadian Notes & Queries 34 (1985): 16-19; George Lyon, “Pauline Johnson: a Reconsideration,” Studies in Canadian Literature 15.2 (1990): 136-59; Donald A. Precosky, Dictionary of Literary Biography 92 (1990): 162-64; Beth Brant, Writing as Witness (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1994); The Pauline Johnson Archive. Ed. Geoffrey Rockwell and Charlotte Stewart. Oct. 1996. McMaster U. 10 Sept. 1999. <http://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~pjohnson/>. [Page 211]

 

A Cry from an Indian Wife

 

 
My Forest Brave, my Red-skin love, farewell;
We may not meet to-morrow; who can tell
What mighty ills befall our little band,
Or what you’ll suffer from the white man’s hand?
Here is your knife! I thought ’twas sheathed for aye.
5
No roaming bison calls for it to-day;
No hide of prairie cattle will it maim;
The plains are bare, it seeks a nobler game:
’Twill drink the life-blood of a soldier host.
Go; rise and strike, no matter what the cost.
10
Yet stay. Revolt not at the Union Jack,
Nor raise Thy hand against this stripling pack
Of white-faced warriors, marching West to quell
Our fallen tribe that rises to rebel.
They all are young and beautiful and good;
15
Curse to the war that drinks their harmless blood.
Curse to the fate that brought them from the East
To be our chiefs—to make our nation least
That breathes the air of this vast continent.
Still their new rule and council is well meant.
20
They but forget we Indians owned the land
From ocean unto ocean; that they stand
Upon a soil that centuries agone
Was our sole kingdom and our right alone.
They never think how they would feel to-day,
25
If some great nation came from far away,
Wresting their country from their hapless braves,
Giving what they gave us—but wars and graves.
Then go and strike for liberty and life,
And bring back honour to your Indian wife.
30
Your wife? Ah, what of that, who cares for me?
Who pities my poor love and agony?
What white-robed priest prays for your safety here,
As prayer is said for every volunteer
That swells the ranks that Canada sends out?
35
Who prays for vict’ry for the Indian scout? [Page 212]
Who prays for our poor nation lying low?
None—therefore take your tomahawk and go.
My heart may break and burn into its core,
But I am strong to bid you go to war.

40
Yet stay, my heart is not the only one
That grieves the loss of husband and of son;
Think of the mothers o’er the inland seas;
Think of the pale-faced maiden on her knees;
One pleads her God to guard some sweet-faced child
45
That marches on toward the North-West wild.
The other prays to shield her love from harm,
To strengthen his young, proud uplifted arm.
Ah, how her white face quivers thus to think,
Your tomahawk his life’s best blood will drink.
50
She never thinks of my wild aching breast,
Nor prays for your dark face and eagle crest
Endangered by a thousand rifle balls,
My heart the target if my warrior falls.
O! coward self I hesitate no more;
55
Go forth, and win the glories of the war.
Go forth, nor bend to greed of white men’s hands,
By right, by birth we Indians own these lands,
Though starved, crushed, plundered, lies our nation low…
Perhaps the white man’s God has willed it so.
60

 

Week                                                                 The White Wampum
18 June 1885 (2:457)                                                                 1895

 

The Fourth Act

 

Pine trees sobbing a weird unrest
                                        In saddened strains,
Crows flying slowly into the West
                                        As daylight wanes,
Breezes that die in a stifled breath:
5
O happy breezes, embraced by death. [Page 213]

Fir trees reaching toward the sky
                                        In giant form
Lift me up into your arms, that I
                                        May brave the storm.

10

O darling, unclasp your fair, warm hand;
’Tis better I should misunderstand.

Turn in pity those tender eyes
                                        Away from me.
The burning sorrow that in them lies

15
                                        Is misery.
O, gentlest pleader my life has known,
Goodbye. The night and I are alone.

 

Gems of Poetry 1885                                     Pauline Johnson: Her
cf. Week 21 January                                         Life and Work 1965
1886 (3:117)

 

Shadow River
Muskoka

 

A stream of tender gladness,
Of filmy sun, and opal tinted skies;
Of warm midsummer air that lightly lies
                                     In mystic rings,
                                     Where softly swings
5

The music of a thousand wings
That almost tones to sadness.

Midway ’twixt earth and heaven,
A bubble in the pearly air, I seem
To float upon the sapphire floor, a dream

10
                                     Of clouds of snow,
                                     Above, below,
Drift with my drifting, dim and slow,
As twilight drifts to even.

The little fern-leaf, bending

15
Upon the brink, its green reflection greets, [Page 214]
And kisses soft the shadow that it meets
                                     With touch so fine,
                                     The border line
The keenest vision can’t define;

20
So perfect is the blending.

The far, fir trees that cover
The brownish hills with needles green and gold,
The arching elms o’erhead, vinegrown and old,
                                     Repictured are

25
                                     Beneath me far,
Where not a ripple moves to mar
Shades underneath, or over.

Mine is the undertone;
The beauty, strength, and power of the land

30
Will never stir or bend at my command;
                                     But all the shade
                                     Is marred or made,
If I but dip my paddle blade;
And it is mine alone.
35

O! pathless world of seeming!
O! pathless life of mine whose deep ideal
Is more my own than ever was the real.
                                     For others Fame
                                     And Love’s red flame,
40
And yellow gold: I only claim
The shadows and the dreaming.

 

Saturday Night                                                 The White Wampum
20 July 1889 (2:6)                                                                         1895

 

Rondeau

 

Some bittersweet that lately grew
When flowers failed and leaves were few,
Tossed thro’ the dull November day [Page 215]
Their saucy coral colors gay
Where wind and rain in dashes blew.

5

A kindly hand upstretching thro’
The vines their clusters downward drew
And broke their stems and took away
Some bittersweet.

And brought their berries bright unto

10
My weary life that lived anew,
Because they made the days less grey.
O! hand that gave, return and stay,
O friend of mine—is all my due
Some bittersweet.
15

 

Saturday Night
16 November 1889 (2:6)

 

The Idlers

 

The sun’s red pulses beat,
Full prodigal of heat,
Full lavish of its lustre unrepressed;
But we have drifted far
From where his kisses are,
5
And in this landward-lying shade we let our paddles rest.

The river, deep and still,
The maple-mantled hill,
The little yellow beach whereon we lie,
The puffs of heated breeze,

10
All sweetly whisper—These
Are days that only come in a Canadian July.

So, silently we two
Lounge in our still canoe,
Nor fate, nor fortune matters to us now:

15
So long as we alone [Page 216]
May call this dream our own,
The breeze may die, the sail may droop, we care not when or how.

Against the thwart, near by,
Inactively you lie,

20
And all too near my arm your temple bends.
Your indolently crude,
Abandoned attitude,
Is one of ease and art, in which a perfect languor blends.

Your costume, loose and light,

25
Leaves unconcealed your might
Of muscle, half-suspected, half defined;
And falling well aside,
Your vesture opens wide,
Above your splendid sunburnt throat that pulses unconfined.
30

With easy unreserve,
Across the gunwale’s curve,
Your arm superb is lying, brown and bare;
Your hand just touches mine
With import firm and fine,
35
(I kiss the very wind that blows about your tumbled hair).

Ah! Dear, I am unwise
In echoing your eyes
Whene’er they leave their far-off gaze, and turn
To melt and blur my sight;

40
For every other light
Is servile to your cloud-grey eyes, wherein cloud shadows burn.

But once the silence breaks,
But once your ardour wakes
To words that humanize this lotus-land;

45
So perfect and complete
Those burning words and sweet,
So perfect is the single kiss your lips lay on my hand. [Page 217]

The paddles lie disused,
The fitful breeze abused,

50
Has dropped to slumber, with no after-blow;
And hearts will pay the cost,
For you and I have lost
More than the homeward blowing wind that died an hour ago.

 

Saturday Night                                                 The White Wampum
Summer Issue 1890 (18)                                                             1895

 

Two Women

 

She stands where a thousand candles
Broadcast their yellow rays,
Where laugh and song ring all night long,
And music sweeps and sways,
A woman pure and peerless as
5
The diamonds in her hair,
Her regal footsteps never pass
But heroes worship there,
For queen of all ’mid song and light,
She’s conquered every heart to-night.
10

Alone with the night, a woman
Watches a setting star,
Her heaving breast, her lips compressed
Bespeak a soul at war,
In pure and peerless womanhood,
15
She threw her world away,
And suffered for another’s good
Self sacrifice to-day,
The victor in a noble fight,
She’s queen of but herself to-night. [Page 218]
20

 

Saturday Night
10 September 1890 (3:6)

 

“Through Time And Bitter Distance”

 

Unknown to you, I walk the cheerless shore.
        The cutting blast, the hurl of biting brine
May freeze, and still, and bind the waves at war,
        Ere you will ever know, O! Heart of mine,
That I have sought, reflected in the blue
5
        Of these sea depths, some shadow of your eyes;
Have hoped the laughing waves would sing of you,
        But this is all my starving sight descries—

 

I

 

                Far out at sea a sail
                            Bends to the freshening breeze,
10
                Yields to the rising gale
                            That sweeps the seas;

 

II

 

                Yields, as a bird wind-tossed,
                            To saltish waves that fling
                Their spray, whose rime and frost
15
                            Like crystals cling

 

III

 

                To canvas, mast and spar,
                            Till, gleaming like a gem,
                She sinks beyond the far
                            Horizon’s hem.
20

 

IV

 

                Lost to my longing sight,
                            And nothing left to me
                Save an oncoming night,—
                            An empty sea. [Page 219]

 

Saturday Night                                                 Canadian Born 1903
13 December 1890 (4:6)

 

Re-voyage

 

What of the days when we two dreamed together?
                                     Days marvellously fair,
As lightsome as a skyward floating feather
                                     Sailing on summer air—
Summer, summer, that came drifting through
5
Fate’s hand to me, to you.

What of the days, my dear? I sometimes wonder
                                     If you too wish this sky
Could be the blue we sailed so softly under,
                                     In that sun-kissed July;

10
Sailed in the warm and yellow afternoon,
With hearts in touch and tune.

Have you no longing to re-live the dreaming,
                                     Adrift in my canoe?
To watch my paddle blade all wet and gleaming

15
                                     Cleaving the waters through?
To lie wind-blown and wave-caressed, until
Your restless pulse grows still?

Do you not long to listen to the purling
                                     Of foam athwart the keel?

20
To hear the nearing rapids softly swirling
                                     Among their stones, to feel
The boat’s unsteady tremor as it braves
The wild and snarling waves?

What need of question, what of your replying?

25
                                     Oh! well I know that you
Would toss the world away to be but lying
                                     Again in my canoe,
In listless indolence entranced and lost,
Wave-rocked, and passion tossed. [Page 220]
30

Ah me! my paddle failed me in the steering
                                     Across love’s shoreless seas;
All reckless, I had ne’er a thought of fearing
                                     Such dreary days as these,
When through the self-same rapids we dash by,
35
My lone canoe and I.

 

Saturday Night                                                 The White Wampum
8 August 1891 (4:6)                                                                     1895

 

The Song My Paddle Sings

 

West wind, blow from your prairie nest
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west.
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
O! wind of the west, we wait for you.
Blow, blow!
5
I have wooed you so,
But never a favour you bestow.
You rock your cradle the hills between,
But scorn to notice my white lateen.

I stow the sail, unship the mast:

10
I wooed you long but my wooing’s past;
My paddle will lull you into rest.
O! drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
Sleep, sleep,
By your mountain steep,
15
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep!
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.

August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while paddle, canoe and I,

20
Drift, drift,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift. [Page 221]
The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;

25
Dip, dip,
While the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.

And oh, the river runs swifter now;
The eddies circle about my bow.

30
Swirl, swirl!
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!

And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore.

35
Dash, dash,
With a mighty crash,
They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.

Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!
The reckless waves you must plunge into.

40
Reel, reel.
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.

We’ve raced the rapid, we’re far ahead!
The river slips through its silent bed.

45
Sway, sway,
As bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,

50
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings. [Page 222]

 

Saturday Night                                                 The White Wampum
27 February 1892 (5:1)                                                                 1895

 

Rainfall

 

From out the west, where darkling storm-clouds float,
The ’waking wind pipes soft its rising note.

From out the west, o’erhung with fringes grey,
The wind preludes with sighs its roundelay,

Then blowing, singing, piping, laughing loud,

5
It scurries on before the grey storm-cloud;

Across the hollow and along the hill
It whips and whirls among the maples, till

With boughs upbent, and green of leaves blown wide,
The silver shines upon their underside.

10

A gusty freshening of humid air,
With showers laden, and with fragance rare;

And now a little sprinkle, with a dash
Of great cool drops that fall with sudden splash;

Then over field and hollow, grass and grain,

15
The loud, crisp whiteness of the nearing rain.

 

Saturday Night                                                  The White Wampum
6 August 1892 (5:6)                                                                      1895

 

The Portage

 

Now for a careful beach atween the towering
    Gray rocks that yawn like tombs.
Aft lies the lake, blurred by our paddles’ scouring,
    Forward, the portage looms.
        Beyond its fastnesses, a river creeping,
5
        Then—rapids leaping. [Page 223]

Now for a bracing up of stalwart shoulders,
    And now, a load to lift.
An uphill tramp through briars and boulders,
    The irksome weight to shift.

10
        And through it all, the far incessant calling
        Of waters falling.

What of the heat? The toil? The sun’s red glaring?
    The blistered fingers too?
What of the muscles teased and strained in bearing
15
    The fearless, fleet canoe?
        Brief is the labour, then the wild sweet laughter
        Of rapids after.

 

American Canoe Club                                 Pauline Johnson: Her
Year Book 1893                                                 Life and Work 1965

 

Ojistoh

 

I am Ojistoh, I am she, the wife
Of him whose name breathes bravery and life
And courage to the tribe that calls him chief.
I am Ojistoh, his white star, and he
Is land, and lake, and sky—and soul to me.
5

Ah! but they hated him, those Huron braves,
Him who had flung their warriors into graves,
Him who had crushed them underneath his heel
Whose arm was iron, and whose heart was steel
To all—save me, Ojistoh, chosen wife
10
Of my great Mohawk, white star of his life.

Ah! but they hated him, and councilled long
With subtle witchcraft how to work him wrong;
How to avenge their dead, and strike him where
His pride was highest, and his fame most fair.

15
Their hearts grew weak as women at his name:
They dared no war-path since my Mohawk came [Page 224]
With ashen bow, and flinten arrow-head
To pierce their craven bodies; but their dead
Must be avenged. Avenged? They dared not walk

20
In day and meet his deadly tomahawk;
They dared not face his fearless scalping knife;
So—Niyoh*—then they thought of me, his wife.

O! evil, evil face of them they sent
With evil Huron speech: “Would I consent

25
To take of wealth? be queen of all their tribe?
Have wampum ermine?” Back I flung the bribe
Into their teeth, and said, “While I have life
Know this—Ojistoh is the Mohawk’s wife.”

Wah! how we struggled! But their arms were strong.

30
They flung me on their pony’s back, with thong
Round ankle, wrist, and shoulder. Then upleapt
The one I hated most: his eye he swept
Over my misery, and sneering said,
“Thus, fair Ojistoh, we avenge our dead.”
35

And we two rode, rode as a sea wind-chased,
I, bound with buckskin to his hated waist,
He, sneering, laughing, jeering, while he lashed
The horse to foam, as on and on we dashed.
Plunging through creek and river, bush and trail,
40
On, on we galloped like a northern gale.
At last, his distant Huron fires aflame
We saw, and nearer, nearer still we came.

I, bound behind him in the captive’s place,
Scarcely could see the outline of his face.

45
I smiled, and laid my cheek against his back:
“Loose thou my hands,” I said. “This pace let slack.
Forget we now that thou and I are foes.
I like thee well, and wish to clasp thee close; [Page 225]
I like the courage of thine eye and brow;

50
I like thee better than my Mohawk now.”

He cut the cords; we ceased our maddened haste
I wound my arms about his tawny waist;
My hand crept up the buckskin of his belt;
His knife hilt in my burning palm I felt;

55
One hand caressed his cheek, the other drew
The weapon softly—“I love you, love you,”
I whispered, “love you as my life,”
And—buried in his back his scalping knife.

Ha! how I rode, rode as a sea wind-chased,

60
Mad with sudden freedom, mad with haste,
Back to my Mohawk and my home. I lashed
That horse to foam, as on and on I dashed.
Plunging thro’ creek and river, bush and trail,
On, on I galloped like a northern gale.
65
And then my distant Mohawk’s fires aflame
I saw, as nearer, nearer still I came,
My hands all wet, stained with a life’s red dye,
But pure my soul, pure as those stars on high—
“My Mohawk’s pure white star, Ojistoh, still am I.”
70

 

* God, in the Mohawk language. [back]

 

The White Wampum
1895

 

Marshlands

 

A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,
And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.

The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,
Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold.

Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,

5
In monotone the lizard shrills his tune. [Page 226]

The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,
Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.

Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,
Sail up the silence with the nearing night.
10

And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,
Steals twilight and its shadows o’er the swale.

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,
Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.

 

The White Wampum
1895

 

Penseroso

 

Soulless is all humanity to me
To-night. My keenest longing is to be
Alone, alone with God’s grey earth that seems
Pulse of my pulse and consort of my dreams.

To-night my soul desires no fellowship,

5
Or fellow-being; crave I but to slip
Thro’ space on space, till flesh no more can bind,
And I may quit for aye my fellow kind.

Let me but feel athwart my cheek the lash
Of whipping wind, but hear the torrent dash

10
Adown the mountain steep, ’twere more my choice
Than touch of human hand, than human voice.

Let me but wander on the shore night-stilled,
Drinking its darkness till my soul is filled;
The breathing of the salt sea on my hair,

15
My outstretched hands but grasping empty air. [Page 227]

Let me but feel the pulse of Nature’s soul
Athrob on mine, let seas and thunders roll
O’er night and me; sands whirl; winds, waters beat;
For God’s grey earth has no cheap counterfeit.
20

 

The White Wampum
1895

 

Fire-Flowers

 

And only where the forest fires have sped,
Scorching relentlessly the cool north lands,
A sweet wild flower lifts its purple head,
And, like some gentle spirit sorrow-fed,
It hides the scars with almost human hands.
5

And only to the heart that knows of grief,
Of desolating fire, of human pain,
There comes some purifying sweet belief,
Some fellow-feeling beautiful, if brief.
And life revives, and blossoms once again.
10

 

Globe                                                                 Canadian Born 1903
15 December 1894

 

Silhouette

 

The sky-line melts from the russet into blue,
Unbroken the horizon, saving where
A wreath of smoke curls up the far, thin air,
And points the distant lodges of the Sioux.

Etched where the lands and cloudlands touch and die

5
A solitary Indian tepee stands,
The only habitation of these lands,
That roll their magnitude from sky to sky. [Page 228]

The tent poles lift and loom in thin relief,
The upward floating smoke ascends between,
10
And near the open doorway, gaunt and lean,
And shadow-like, there stands an Indian Chief.

With eyes that lost their lustre long ago,
With visage fixed and stern as fate’s decree,
He looks towards the empty west, to see

15
The never-coming herd of buffalo.

Only the bones that bleach upon the plains,
Only the fleshless skeletons that lie
In ghastly nakedness and silence, cry
Out mutely that naught else to him remains.

20

 

Globe                                                                 Canadian Born 1903
15 December 1894

 

The Corn-Husker

 

Hard by the Indian lodges, where the bush
         Breaks in a clearing, through ill-fashioned fields,
She comes to labour, when the first still hush
         Of autumn follows large and recent yields.

Age in her fingers, hunger in her face,
5
         Her shoulders stooped with weight of work and years,
But rich in tawny colouring of her race,
         She comes a-field to strip the purple ears.

And all her thoughts are with the days gone by,
         Ere might’s injustice banished from their lands
10
Her people, that to-day unheeded lie,
         Like the dead husks that rustle through her hands. [Page 229]

 

Canadian Born 1903

 

Low Tide at St. Andrews
(New Brunswick)

 

The long red flats stretch open to the sky,
Breathing their moisture on the August air.
The seaweeds cling with flesh-like fingers where
The rocks give shelter that the sands deny;
And wrapped in all her summer harmonies
5
St. Andrews sleeps beside her sleeping seas.

The far-off shores swim blue and indistinct,
Like half-lost memories of some old dream.
The listless waves that catch each sunny gleam
Are idling up the waterways land-linked,

10
And, yellowing along the harbour’s breast,
The light is leaping shoreward from the west.

And naked-footed children, tripping down,
Light with young laughter, daily come at eve
To gather dulse and sea clams and then heave

15
Their loads, returning laden to the town,
Leaving a strange grey silence when they go,—
The silence of the sands when tides are low.

 

Canadian Born 1903

 

Autumn’s Orchestra
(Inscribed to One beyond the Seas)

 

Know by the thread of music woven through
This fragile web of cadences I spin,
That I have only caught these songs since you
Voiced them upon your haunting violin.

The Overture

October’s orchestra plays softly on
5
The northern forest with its thousand strings, [Page 230]
And Autumn, the conductor wields anon
The Golden-rod—The baton that he swings.


The Firs

There is a lonely minor chord that sings
Faintly and far along the forest ways,
10
When the firs finger faintly on the strings
Of that rare violin the night wind plays,
Just as it whispered once to you and me
Beneath the English pines beyond the sea.

Mosses

The lost wind wandering, forever grieves
15
    Low overhead,
Above grey mosses whispering of leaves
    Fallen and dead.

And through the lonely night sweeps their refrain
Like Chopin’s prelude, sobbing ’neath the rain.
20

The Vine

The wild grape mantling the trail and tree,
Festoons in graceful veils its drapery,
Its tendrils cling, as clings the memory stirred
By some evasive haunting tune, twice heard.

The Maple

I

It is the blood-hued maple straight and strong,
25
Voicing abroad its patriotic song. [Page 231]

II

Its daring colours bravely flinging forth
The ensign of the Nation of the North.

Hare-Bell

                    Elfin bell in azure dress,
                    Chiming all day long,
30
                    Ringing through the wilderness
                    Dulcet notes of song.
                    Daintiest of forest flowers
                    Weaving like a spell—
                    Music through the Autumn hours,
35
                    Little Elfin bell.

The Giant Oak

And then the sound of marching armies ’woke
Amid the branches of the soldier oak,
And tempests ceased their warring cry, and dumb
The lashing storms that muttered, overcome,
40
Choked by the heralding of battle smoke,
When these gnarled branches beat their martial drum.

Aspens

        A sweet high treble threads its silvery song,
        Voice of the restless aspen, fine and thin
        It trills its pure soprano, light and long—
45
        Like the vibretto of a mandolin.

Finale

The cedar trees have sung their vesper hymn,
And now the music sleeps—
Its benediction falling where the dim
Dusk of the forest creeps. [Page 232]
50
Mute grows the great concerto—and the light
Of day is darkening, Good-night, Good-night.
But through the night time I shall hear within
The murmur of these trees,
The calling of your distant violin
55
Sobbing across the seas,
And waking wind, and star-reflected light
Shall voice my answering. Good-night, Good-night.

 

Flint and Feather 1912

 

The Ballad of Yaada
(A Legend of the Pacific Coast)

 

There are fires on Lulu Island, and the sky is opalescent
With the pearl and purple tinting from the smouldering of peat.
And the Dream Hills lift their summits in a sweeping, hazy             crescent,
With the Capilano cañon at their feet.

There are fires on Lulu Island, and the smoke, uplifting, lingers

5
In a faded scarf of fragrance as it creeps across the day,
And the Inlet and the Narrows blur beneath its silent fingers,
And the cañon is enfolded in its grey.

But the sun its face is veiling like a cloistered nun at vespers;
As towards the altar candles of the night a censer swings,

10
And the echo of tradition wakes from slumbering and whispers,
Where the Capilano river sobs and sings.

It was Yaada, lovely Yaada, who first taught the stream its sighing,
For ’twas silent till her coming, and ’twas voiceless as the shore;
But throughout the great forever it will sing the song undying

15
That the lips of lovers sing for evermore.

He was chief of all the Squamish, and he ruled the coastal             waters—
And he warred upon her people in the distant Charlotte Isles;
She, a winsome basket weaver, daintiest of Haida daughters,
Made him captive to her singing and her smiles. [Page 233]
20

Till his hands forgot to havoc and his weapons lost their lusting,
Till his stormy eyes allured her from the land of Totem Poles,
Till she followed where he called her, followed with a woman’s             trusting,
To the cañon where the Capilano rolls.

And the women of the Haidas plied in vain their magic power,

25
Wailed for many moons her absence, wailed for many moons their             prayer,
“Bring her back, O Squamish foeman, bring to us our Yaada             flower!”
But the silence only answered their despair.

But the men were swift to battle, swift to cross the coastal water,
Swift to war and swift of weapon, swift to paddle trackless miles,

30
Crept with stealth along the cañon, stole her from her love and             brought her
Once again unto the distant Charlotte Isles.

But she faded, ever faded, and her eyes were ever turning
Southward toward the Capilano, while her voice had hushed its             song,
And her riven heart repeated words that on her lips were burning:
35
“Not to friend—but unto foeman I belong.

“Give me back my Squamish lover—though you hate, I still must             love him.
“Give me back the rugged canon where my heart must ever be—
Where his lodge awaits my coming, and the Dream Hills lift above             him,
And the Capilano learned its song from me.”
40

But through long-forgotten seasons, moons too many to be             numbered,
He yet waited by the cañon—she called across the years,
And the soul within the river, though centuries had slumbered,
Woke to sob a song of womanly tears.

For her little, lonely spirit sought the Capilano cañon,

45
When she died among the Haidas in the land of Totem Poles,
And you yet may hear her singing to her lover-like companion,
If you listen to the river as it rolls. [Page 234]

But ’tis only when the pearl and purple smoke is idly swinging
From the fires on Lulu Island to the hazy mountain crest,
50
That the undertone of sobbing echoes thorugh the river’s singing,
In the Capilano cañon of the West. [Page 235]
 

 

Saturday Night                                                         Flint and Feather
23 August 1913 (26:29)                               (enlarged edition) 1913