A Celebration of Women Writers

"E. Pauline Johnson" [Emily Pauline Johnson, aka Tekahionwake] (March 10, 1861-March 7, 1913) by John Garvin, (1859-1935)
Garvin, John William, ed. Canadian Poets. Toronto, Canada: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, Publishers, 1916. pp. 145-156.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

[Page 145]

E. Pauline Johnson
(Tekahionwake)

Since 1889, I have been following her career with a glow of admiration and sympathy. I have been delighted to find that this success of hers had no damaging effect upon the grand simplicity of her nature. Up to the day of her death her passionate sympathy with the aborigines of Canada never flagged. . . . . Her death is not only a great loss to those who knew and loved her: it is a great loss to Canadian literature and to the Canadian nation. I must think that she will hold a memorable place among poets in virtue of her descent and also in virtue of the work she has left behind, small as the quantity of that work is. 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. –THEODORE WATTS-DUNTON.

[Page 146]

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.

[Page 147]

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.

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.

[Page 148]

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.

[Page 149]

As Red Men Die

CAPTIVE! Is there a hell to him like this?
A taunt more galling than the Huron's hiss?
He–proud and scornful, he–who laughed at law,
He–scion of the deadly Iroquois,
He–the bloodthirsty, he–the Mohawk chief,
He–who despises pain and sneers at grief,
Here in the hated Huron's vicious clutch,
That even captive he disdains to touch!

Captive! But never conquered; Mohawk brave
Stoops not to be to any man a slave;
Least, to the puny tribe his soul abhors,
The tribe whose wigwams sprinkle Simcoe's shores.
With scowling brow he stands and courage high,
Watching with haughty and defiant eye
His captors, as they counsel o'er his fate, 0
Or strive his boldness to intimidate.
Then flung they unto him the choice:

             'Wilt thou
Walk o'er the bed of fire that waits thee now–
Walk with uncovered feet upon the coals,
Until thou reach the ghostly Land of Souls,
And, with thy Mohawk death-song please our ear?
Or wilt thou with the women rest thee here?'
His eyes flash like an eagle's, and his hands
Clench at the insult. Like a god he stands.
'Prepare the fire!' he scornfully demands.

He knoweth not that this same jeering band
Will bite the dust–will lick the Mohawk's hand;
Will kneel and cower at the Mohawk's feet;
Will shrink when Mohawk war drums wildly beat.
His death will be avenged with hideous hate
By Iroquois, swift to annihilate
His vile detested captors, that now flaunt
Their war clubs in his face with sneer and taunt,
Not thinking, soon that reeking, red and raw,
Their scalps will deck the belts of Iroquois.

[Page 150]

The path of coals outstretches, white with heat,
A forest fir's length–ready for his feet.
Unflinching as a rock he steps along
The burning mass, and sings his wild war song;
Sings, as he sang when once he used to roam
Throughout the forests of his southern home,
Where, down the Genesee, the water roars,
Where gentle Mohawk purls between its shores,
Songs, that of exploit and of prowess tell;
Songs of the Iroquois invincible.

Up the long trail of fire he boasting goes,
Dancing a war dance to defy his foes.
His flesh is scorched, his muscles burn and shrink,
But still he dances to death's awful brink.
The eagle plume that crests his haughty head
Will never droop until his heart be dead.
Slower and slower yet his footstep swings,
Wilder and wilder still his death-song rings,
Fiercer and fiercer through the forest bounds
His voice that leaps to Happier Hunting Grounds.
One savage yell–

              Then loyal to his race,
He bends to death–but never to disgrace.

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.

[Page 151]

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.

[Page 152]

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.

The Pilot of the Plains

'FALSE,' they said, 'thy Pale-face lover, from the land of waking morn;
Rise and wed thy Redskin wooer, nobler warrior ne'er was born;
Cease thy watching, cease thy dreaming,
    Show the white thine Indian scorn.'

Thus they taunted her, declaring, 'He remembers naught of thee:
Likely some white maid he wooeth, far beyond the inland sea.'
But she answered ever kindly,
    'He will come again to me,'

Till the dusk of Indian summer crept athwart the western skies;
But a deeper dusk was burning in her dark and dreaming eyes,

[Page 153]

As she scanned the rolling prairie,
    Where the foothills fall and rise.

Till the autumn came and vanished, till the season of the rains,
Till the western world lay fettered in midwinter's crystal chains,
Still she listened for his coming,
    Still she watched the distant plains.

Then a night with nor'land tempest, nor'land snows a-swirling fast,
Out upon the pathless prairie came the Pale-face through the blast,
Calling, calling, 'Yakonwita,
    I am coming, love, at last.'

Hovered night above, about him, dark its wings and cold and dread;
Never unto trail or tepee were his straying footsteps led;
Till benumbed, he sank, and pillowed
    On the drifting snows his head,

Saying, 'O my Yakonwita, call me, call me, be my guide
To the lodge beyond the prairie–for I vowed ere winter died
I would come again, belovèd;
    I would claim my Indian bride!'

'Yakonwita, Yakonwita,' O the dreariness that strains
Through the voice that calling, quivers, till a whisper but remains!
'Yakonwita, Yakonwita,
    I am lost upon the plains!'

But the Silent Spirit hushed him, lulled him as he cried anew,
'Save me, save me, O belovèd, I am Pale, but I am true!
Yakonwita, Yakonwita,
    –I am dying, love, for you!'

Leagues afar, across the prairie, she had risen from her bed,
Roused her kinsmen from their slumber: 'He has come tonight,' she said.
'I can hear him calling, calling,
    But his voice is as the dead.

[Page 154]

Listen!' and they sate all silent; while the tempest louder grew,
And a spirit-voice called faintly, 'I am dying, love, for you.'
Then they wailed, 'O Yakonwita,
    He was Pale, but he was true!'

Wrapped she then her ermine round her, stepped without the tepee door,
Saying, 'I must follow, follow, though he call for evermore,
Yakonwita, Yakonwita,'
    And they never saw her more.

Late at night, say Indian hunters, when the starlight clouds or wanes,
Far away they see a maiden, misty as the autumn rains,
Guiding with her lamp of moonlight
    Hunters lost upon the plains.

The Songster

MUSIC, music with throb and swing,
  Of a plaintive note, and long;
'Tis a note no human throat could sing,
No harp with its dulcet golden string,–
Nor lute, nor lyre with liquid ring,
  Is sweet as the robin's song.

He sings for love of the season
  When the days grow warm and long,
For the beautiful God-sent reason
  That his breast was born for song.

Calling, calling so fresh and clear,
  Through the song-sweet days of May;
Warbling there, and whistling here,
He swells his voice on the drinking ear,
On the great, wide, pulsing atmosphere
  Till his music drowns the day.

He sings for love of the season
  When the days grow warm and long,
For the beautiful God-sent reason
  That his breast was born for song.

[Page 155]

The Riders of the Plains

(The Royal North-West Mounted Police)

WHO is it lacks the knowledge? Who are the curs that dare
To whine and sneer that they do not fear the whelps in the Lion's lair?
But we of the North will answer, while life in the North remains,
Let the curs beware lest the whelps they dare are the Riders of the Plains;
For these are the kind whose muscle makes the power of the Lion's jaw,
And they keep the peace of our people and the honour of British law.

A women has painted a picture,–'tis a neat little bit of art
The critics aver, and it roused up for her the love of the big British heart.
'Tis a sketch of an English bulldog that tigers would scarce attack;
And round and about and beneath him is painted the Union Jack,
With its blaze of colour, and courage, its daring in every fold,
And underneath is the title, 'What we have we'll hold.'
'Tis a picture plain as a mirror, but the reflex it contains
Is the counterpart of the life and heart of the Riders of the Plains;
For like to that flag and that motto, and the power of that bulldog's jaw,
They keep the peace of our people and the honour of British law.

These are the fearless fighters, whose life in the open lies,
Who never fail on the prairie trail 'neath the Territorial skies,
Who have laughed in the face of the bullets and the edge of the rebels' steel,
Who have set their ban on the lawless man with his crime beneath their heel;
These are the men who battle the blizzards, the suns, the rains,

[Page 156]

These are the famed that the North has named, 'The Riders of the Plains,'
And theirs is the might and the meaning and the strength of the bulldog's jaw,
While they keep the peace of the people and the honour of British law.

These are the men of action, who need not the world's renown,
For their valour is known to England's throne as a gem in the British crown;
These are the men who face the front, with courage the world may scan,
The men who are feared by the felon, but are loved by the honest man;
These are the marrow, the pith, the cream, the best that the blood contains,
Who have cast their days in the valiant ways of the Riders of the Plains;
And theirs is the kind whose muscle makes the power of old England's jaw,
And they keep the peace of her people and the honour of British law.

Then down with the cur that questions,–let him slink to his craven den,
For he daren't deny our hot reply as to 'who are our mounted men.'
He shall honour them east and westward, he shall honour them south and north,
He shall bare his head to that coat of red wherever that red rides forth.
'Tis well that he knows the fibre that the great North-West contains,
The North-West pride in her men that ride on the Territorial plains,–
For such as these are the muscles and the teeth in the Lion's Jaw,
And they keep the peace of our people and the honour of British law.

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom