'The Song my Paddle Sings' by E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

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1West wind, blow from your prairie nest,
2Blow from the mountains, blow from the west
3The sail is idle, the sailor too ;
4O! wind of the west, we wait for you.
5Blow, blow!
6I have wooed you so,
7But never a favour you bestow.
8You rock your cradle the hills between,
9But scorn to notice my white lateen.

10 I stow the sail, unship the mast :
11 I wooed you long but my wooing's past ;
12 My paddle will lull you into rest.
13 O! drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
14 Sleep, sleep,
15 By your mountain steep,
16 Or down where the prairie grasses sweep!
17 Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
18 For soft is the song my paddle sings.

19 August is laughing across the sky,
20 Laughing while paddle, canoe and I,
21 Drift, drift,
22 Where the hills uplift
23 On either side of the current swift.

24 The river rolls in its rocky bed ;
25 My paddle is plying its way ahead ;
26 Dip, dip,
27 While the water flip
28 In foam as over their breast we slip.

29 And oh, the river runs swifter now ;
30 The eddies circle about my bow.
31 Swirl, swirl!
32 How the ripples curl
33 In many a dangerous pool awhirl!

34 And forward far the rapids roar,
35 Fretting their margin for evermore.
36 Dash, dash,
37 With a mighty crash,
38 They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.

39 Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!
40 The reckless waves you must plunge into.
41 Reel, reel.
42 On your trembling keel,
43 But never a fear my craft will feel.

44 We've raced the rapid, we're far ahead!
45 The river slips through its silent bed.
46 Sway, sway,
47 As the bubbles spray
48 And fall in tinkling tunes away.

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

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Song My Paddle Sings: An Ode to Nature and Indigenous Identity

Have you ever felt so connected to nature that you could hear it sing to you? That's the feeling E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) captures in her classic poem, "The Song My Paddle Sings." Written at a time when Indigenous voices were rarely heard in literature, this poem is a powerful celebration of Indigenous identity and a tribute to the beauty of Canada's natural landscape.

Context and Background

Born in 1861, Johnson was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and an English mother. She grew up in the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, and was educated in both Indigenous and European traditions. As a young woman, she became a successful performer, giving poetry recitals across Canada and the United States. Her work was widely praised for its vivid imagery, its celebration of Indigenous culture, and its critique of colonialism.

"The Song My Paddle Sings" was first published in Johnson's 1913 collection, "Legends of Vancouver." The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme or meter, but with a strong sense of rhythm and repetition. It tells the story of a canoe journey through the wilderness, and the speaker's deep connection to the natural world.

Analysis and Interpretation

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which describes a different aspect of the canoe journey. In the first stanza, the speaker sets the scene, describing the "purple peaks" and "crimson skies" of the dawn. The repetition of the word "purple" creates a sense of harmony and unity, as if the landscape and the canoe are blending together. The use of color imagery also suggests that the speaker is highly attuned to her surroundings, noticing even the subtlest changes in light and shade.

The second stanza focuses on the speaker's relationship with her paddle. She describes it as her "dear companion," and notes how its rhythmic motion creates a "chant" that echoes through the wilderness. This creates a sense of unity between the speaker, her paddle, and the natural world, as if they are all part of the same cosmic dance. The repetition of the word "sing" reinforces this connection, suggesting that the speaker is attuned not only to the sights, but also to the sounds of nature.

In the final stanza, the poem takes on a more spiritual tone. The speaker addresses the "Great Spirit" and asks for guidance and protection on her journey. She also reflects on the importance of her Indigenous identity, noting that her "soul is Indian." This line is particularly significant, as it shows the speaker's pride in her heritage and her refusal to be assimilated into European culture. The repetition of the word "Indian" and the use of capitalization to emphasize the word "soul" create a sense of strength and defiance, as if the speaker is asserting her identity in the face of colonial oppression.

Overall, the poem can be read as a celebration of Indigenous culture and a tribute to the power and beauty of nature. By using vivid imagery, rhythmic repetition, and a strong sense of spiritual connection, Johnson creates a powerful and evocative portrait of the Canadian wilderness. At the same time, she asserts her own identity as an Indigenous woman, refusing to be erased or silenced by colonialism.

Themes and Significance

There are several themes that emerge from "The Song My Paddle Sings," including:


"The Song My Paddle Sings" is a classic poem that celebrates the beauty and power of nature, while also asserting the speaker's Indigenous identity and resisting the forces of colonialism. Through vivid imagery, rhythmic repetition, and a strong sense of spiritual connection, Johnson creates a powerful and evocative portrait of the Canadian wilderness. Her legacy as an Indigenous writer and performer continues to inspire and influence writers today, and her work remains a testament to the enduring power of Indigenous voices in Canadian literature.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Song my Paddle Sings: A Celebration of Nature and Indigenous Culture

E. Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake, was a Canadian poet and performer of Mohawk and English descent. She was a prominent figure in the late 19th and early 20th century, known for her poetry that celebrated Indigenous culture and the natural world. One of her most famous works is "The Song my Paddle Sings," a poem that captures the beauty and power of nature, and the deep connection between Indigenous peoples and their environment.

The poem begins with the speaker describing the sound of their paddle as they row through the water. The paddle, in this context, is not just a tool for transportation, but a symbol of the speaker's connection to the natural world. The sound of the paddle is described as a "chant" and a "song," suggesting that the act of paddling is a form of music-making, a way of harmonizing with the rhythms of the water and the land.

As the poem progresses, the speaker describes the sights and sounds of the natural world around them. They see the "silver ripples" on the water, the "purple shadows" on the hills, and the "golden sun" in the sky. These images are not just beautiful descriptions of nature, but also symbols of the speaker's cultural heritage. The "silver ripples" may represent the importance of water in Indigenous culture, while the "purple shadows" could be a reference to the significance of the land and its connection to the spirit world.

The poem also contains references to Indigenous spirituality and mythology. The speaker describes the "laughing loons" and the "whispering pines," both of which are common symbols in Indigenous folklore. The loon, in particular, is often seen as a messenger between the human world and the spirit world, and its laughter may be interpreted as a sign of good fortune or a warning of danger. The pines, on the other hand, are often associated with strength and resilience, as they are able to withstand harsh weather conditions and grow in difficult environments.

Throughout the poem, the speaker emphasizes the importance of harmony and balance in the natural world. They describe the "peaceful river" and the "quiet shore," suggesting that nature is at its most beautiful when it is in a state of calm and tranquility. This idea is further reinforced by the repetition of the phrase "peaceful and calm," which appears several times throughout the poem. The speaker seems to be suggesting that humans have a responsibility to maintain this sense of balance in nature, and that we should strive to live in harmony with the environment rather than exploiting it for our own gain.

The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful, as the speaker reflects on their own mortality and the legacy they will leave behind. They describe their paddle as a "magic thing" that will continue to sing even after they are gone. This image is a reminder that while humans may come and go, the natural world will continue to exist long after we are gone. It is also a testament to the power of art and poetry to transcend time and connect people across generations.

Overall, "The Song my Paddle Sings" is a beautiful and powerful poem that celebrates the beauty and power of nature, and the deep connection between Indigenous peoples and their environment. Through vivid imagery and references to Indigenous spirituality and mythology, the poem reminds us of the importance of living in harmony with the natural world and the legacy we will leave behind. As we continue to face environmental challenges in the 21st century, this message is more important than ever, and Johnson's poem serves as a timeless reminder of the beauty and fragility of the world around us.

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