Three Poems by E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

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,
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;
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,
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,
Drift, drift,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.

The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;
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!
Swirl, swirl!
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!

And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore.
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.
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.
Sway, sway,
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.

The Lost Lagoon

It is dusk on the Lost Lagoon,
And we two dreaming the dusk away,
Beneath the drift of a twilight grey,
Beneath the drowse of an ending day,
And the curve of a golden moon.
It is dark in the Lost Lagoon,
And gone are the depths of haunting blue,
The grouping gulls, and the old canoe,
The singing firs, and the dusk and–you,
And gone is the golden moon.

O lure of the Lost Lagoon!–
I dream to-night that my paddle blurs
The purple shade where the seaweed stirs,
I hear the call of the singing firs
In the hush of the golden moon.

In the Shadows

I am sailing to the leeward,
Where the current runs to seaward
Soft and slow,
Where the sleeping river grasses
Brush my paddle as it passes
To and fro.
On the shore the heat is shaking
All the golden sands awaking
In the cove;
And the quaint sandpiper, winging
O’er the shallows, ceases singing
When I move.

On the water’s idle pillow
Sleeps the overhanging willow,
Green and cool;
Where the rushes lift their burnished
Oval heads from out the tarnished
Emerald pool.

Where the very silence slumbers,
Water lilies grow in numbers,
Pure and pale;
All the morning they have rested,
Amber crowned, and pearly crested,
Fair and frail.

Here, impossible romances,
Indefinable sweet fancies,
Cluster round;
But they do not mar the sweetness
Of this still September fleetness
With a sound.

I can scarce discern the meeting
Of the shore and stream retreating,
So remote;
For the laggard river, dozing,
Only wakes from its reposing
Where I float.

Where the river mists are rising,
All the foliage baptizing
With their spray;
There the sun gleams far and faintly,
With a shadow soft and saintly,
In its ray.

And the perfume of some burning
Far-off brushwood, ever turning
To exhale
All its smoky fragrance dying,
In the arms of evening lying,
Where I sail.

My canoe is growing lazy,
In the atmosphere so hazy,
While I dream;
Half in slumber I am guiding,
Eastward indistinctly gliding
Down the stream.



Johnson Collection

EMILY PAULINE JOHNSON (Tekahionwake) was born at ‘Chiefswood’ on her father’s estate, in the Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, in 1862. She was the youngest of four children, and early showed a marked tendency towards the reading and the writing of rhymes.

Her father was the late G. H. M. Johnson (Onwanonsyshon), Head Chief of the Six Nations Indians, and a descendant of one of the fifty noble families of Hiawatha’s Confederation, founded four centuries ago. Her mother was Emily S. Howells, of Bristol, England.

Pauline’s education in school lore was meagre,–a nursery governess for two years, attendance at an Indian day school, near her home, for three years, and two finishing years at the Brantford Central School–but her education in the School of Nature was extensive, and that with her voracious reading–of poetry particularly–and retentive memory, richly stored her naturally keen mind.

As a poet and recitalist, Miss Johnson won her first distinction of note in 1892, when she took part, in Toronto, in an unique entertainment of Canadian literature, read or recited by the authors themselves. Miss Johnson’s contribution was ‘A Cry From an Indian Wife,’ which presented the Redman’s view of the North-West Rebellion, and won for the author the only encore of the evening. The next day the Toronto press so eulogized her performance and spread her fame, that another entertainment was quickly arranged for, to be given, two weeks later, entirely by herself. Her best known poem ‘The Song My Paddle Sings’, was written for this occasion. There followed a series of recitals throughout Canada, in the hope that their financial success would be such as to enable the poet to go to England and submit her poems to a London publisher. In two years this object was attained, and The White Wampum appeared. It was received with enthusiasm by the critics and the public generally. Pauline Johnson had ‘arrived,’ and as a poet and entertainer she was henceforth in demand in the British Isles, as well as in Canada and the United States.

In 1903, her second book of verse, Canadian Born, was published and the entire edition was sold out within a year.

Miss Johnson continued her recitals for sixteen years, when failing health compelled her to retire. She located in Vancouver, B.C., where she lived until her death in 1913.

An edition of collected verse, entitled Flint and Feather, with an introduction by the English critic, the late Theodore Watts-Dunton, was published in 1912. Besides this notable volume which has run into several editions, she has left behind Legends of Vancouver, issued in 1911, and a series of entertaining tales for boys.

Canadians have long been proud of Pauline Johnson, and as the years pass, their love of her and their pride in her achievement will continue to increase. The editor of this volume met her on the train while she was en route for England in 1906; and her beauty and charm of person, her delightful conversation, her warmth of heart and sympathetic interest in others, have persisted in his memory with a steadfast radiance.

(Bio from John William Garvin’s edited volume, Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 145-156)