March 11, 2010

The Song My Paddle Sings

I have this funny little habit of going to NNDB and seeing who was born on a given day, and I'm particularly delighted when I see the names of philosophers or poets I've studied.

I've countless times come across the names of philosophers and poets who I've never heard of much less studied (e.g. Torquato Tasso, who was born this day in 1544, is a poet who I'm unfamiliar with).

It was precisely this that happened yesterday when I came across the name Pauline Johnson, a Native American poet born in Canada. Until then I hadn't heard of her, and when I looked her up and read some of her works I was thoroughly delighted- a truly gifted poet I'd say.

Four poems moved me immediately ...

Dawendine: a poem about a Native American girl averting the destruction of her kin
And He Said Fight On: written in the midst of the poet's fight against breast cancer
A Cry from an Indian Wife: a poem about a Native American mother's reluctance to send her son to war

The forth poem, the poem this post pertains to, is said to be the poet's most popular work: The Song My Paddle Sings. I read through it this morning and was utterly impressed with everything about it (it's popular for a reason) ... its meter, stanza selection, and rhyme scheme fit together so perfectly that the poem flows like a perfect story. It is a perfect story (albeit cryptic and exceedingly mystical in nature).

It is a must read- in fact, I can't wait to read it to my daughter tonight!


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;
0! 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.
0! drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
Sleep, sleep,
by your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep I
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 everimore.
Dash, dash,
With a mighty crash,
They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.

Be strong, 0 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.



Side Note: Wikisource lists all of the poems Pauline Johnson published under Flint and Feather, I highly recommend checking some of them out.

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