Saturday, March 21 is World Poetry Day. E. Pauline Johnson, stage name Tekahionwake, was a Canadian poet, performer, and “New Woman.” I remember studying her “The Song My Paddle Sings” at some point in my grade school education. Developing a childhood fascination for birch bark – imaging Pauline’s canoe slipping silver.
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 water 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.
Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Tekahionwake, “double wampum”) poet, writer, artist and performer (born 10 March 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve, Canada West; died 7 March 1913 in Vancouver, BC) was one of North America’s most notable entertainers of the late 19th century. A gifted writer and poised speaker, she toured extensively throughout Canada and the United States, captivating audiences with her flare for the dramatic arts. The Canadians/Faces of the Nation, Historica Canada