'The Pilot of the Plains' by E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)

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1``False," they said, ``thy Pale-face lover, from the land of waking morn ;
2Rise and wed thy Redskin wooer, nobler warrior ne'er was born ;
3Cease thy watching, cease thy dreaming,
4Show the white thine Indian scorn."

5Thus they taunted her, declaring, ``He remembers naught of thee :
6Likely some white maid he wooeth, far beyond the inland sea."
7But she answered ever kindly,
8``He will come again to me,"

9Till the dusk of Indian summer crept athwart the western skies ;
10 But a deeper dusk was burning in her dark and dreaming eyes,
11 As she scanned the rolling prairie,
12Where the foothills fall, and rise.

13 Till the autumn came and vanished, till the season of the rains,
14 Till the western world lay fettered in midwinter's crystal chains,
15 Still she listened for his coming,
16Still she watched the distant plains.

17 Then a night with nor'land tempest, nor'land snows a-swirling fast,
18 Out upon the pathless prairie came the Pale-face through the blast,
19 Calling, calling, ``Yakonwita,
20I am coming, love, at last."

21 Hovered night above, about him, dark its wings and cold and dread ;
22 Never unto trail or tepee were his straying footsteps led ;
23 Till benumbed, he sank, and pillowed
24On the drifting snows his head,

25 Saying, ``O! my Yakonwita call me, call me, be my guide
26 To the lodge beyond the prairie--for I vowed ere winter died
27 I would come again, belovèd ;
28I would claim my Indian bride."

29 ``Yakonwita, Yakonwita! " Oh, the dreariness that strains
30 Through the voice that calling, quivers, till a whisper but remains,
31 ``Yakonwita, Yakonwita,
32I am lost upon the plains."

33 But the Silent Spirit hushed him, lulled him as he cried anew,
34 ``Save me, save me! O! beloved, I am Pale but I am true.
35 Yakonwita, Yakonwita
36I am dying, love, for you."

37 Leagues afar, across the prairie, she had risen from her bed,
38 Roused her kinsmen from their slumber : ``He has come to-night," she said.
39 ``I can hear him calling, calling ;
40But his voice is as the dead.

41 ``Listen! " and they sate all silent, while the tempest louder grew,
42 And a spirit-voice called faintly, ``I am dying, love, for you."
43 Then they wailed, ``O! Yakonwita.
44He was Pale, but he was true."

45 Wrapped she then her ermine round her, stepped without the tepee door,
46 Saying, ``I must follow, follow, though he call for evermore,
47 Yakonwita, Yakonwita ; "
48And they never saw her more.

49 Late at night, say Indian hunters, when the starlight clouds or wanes,
50 Far away they see a maiden, misty as the autumn rains,
51 Guiding with her lamp of moonlight
52Hunters lost upon the plains.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Pilot of the Plains: A Masterpiece of Canadian Poetry

When it comes to Canadian poetry, few names stand out as prominently as E. Pauline Johnson, also known as Tekahionwake. Born in 1861 to a Mohawk father and an English mother, Johnson grew up in a unique cultural environment that would shape her identity and her art. She became one of the most popular performers of her time, touring across Canada, the United States, and England to recite her poetry and stories in front of large audiences. Although she died young, at the age of 52, her legacy lives on, and her poetry continues to inspire and fascinate readers today.

One of Johnson's most celebrated works is "The Pilot of the Plains," a ballad that tells the story of a young Métis pilot named Louis Riel, who flies across the prairies to deliver mail and messages to remote settlements. The poem is structured as a series of six quatrains, each with an ABAB rhyme scheme, and a chorus that repeats after every second quatrain. The chorus, which reads "He's the Pilot of the Plains, / And he carries you and me / In the mail-bags at his feet, / Or the message swift and sweet," serves as a refrain that reinforces the central theme of the poem: the heroic and selfless nature of Riel's mission.

From the very first stanza, Johnson sets the tone for a thrilling and adventurous tale:

The prairies and the mountains,
The rivers and the rills,
Are banded by the telegraph,
And linked by iron hills.
But ne'er a line of railway
Has marred the plain so wide,
And ne'er a puffing engine
Has crossed the Great Divide.

Here, we see the vastness and untamed beauty of the Canadian landscape, as well as the technological advances that have made communication and transportation possible. However, the absence of a railway or an engine also highlights the isolation and remoteness of some communities, which rely on pilots like Riel to bring them news, goods, and hope.

As the poem unfolds, we learn more about Riel and his feats, such as flying through storms and blizzards, landing on makeshift runways, and dodging obstacles like bison and eagles. We also hear about the admiration and gratitude of the people he serves, who eagerly await his arrival and cheer him on. However, the poem does not shy away from the dangers and risks of Riel's job, as hinted by lines such as "Oh, the frozen sleet is cruel, / And the blinding blizzards blind, / And the rocky ridges threaten, / And the gorges yawn behind."

What makes "The Pilot of the Plains" stand out as a masterpiece of Canadian poetry is not only its thrilling plot and vivid imagery, but also its deeper themes and messages. Johnson uses Riel as a symbol of the Métis people, who were then struggling for recognition and rights in Canada. By portraying Riel as a hero who defies the odds and serves his community with courage and skill, Johnson challenges the stereotypes and prejudices that marginalized Indigenous people and Métis in particular. She also invites her readers to see beyond the surface differences of race, culture, and language, and to recognize the common humanity and dignity that unite all people.

Moreover, "The Pilot of the Plains" can be read as a tribute to the pioneering spirit and resilience of all Canadians who have faced the challenges of living in a harsh and vast land. Johnson celebrates the ingenuity, perseverance, and generosity that are necessary to survive and thrive in such a context, and she honors the ordinary people who do their best to make a difference. By doing so, she contributes to the creation of a national identity that is inclusive, diverse, and proud.

In conclusion, "The Pilot of the Plains" is a remarkable poem that showcases E. Pauline Johnson's mastery of form, language, and theme. By blending adventure, romance, and social commentary, Johnson creates a work that appeals to a wide range of readers and that transcends its time and place. Whether you are a fan of poetry or simply interested in Canadian culture and history, "The Pilot of the Plains" is a must-read that will leave you inspired and moved. So, what are you waiting for? Take off with Louis Riel and discover the magic of the Canadian prairies!

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Pilot of the Plains: A Masterpiece of Canadian Poetry

E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) was a Canadian poet and performer who lived from 1861 to 1913. She was of Mohawk and English descent and was known for her powerful and evocative poetry that celebrated her Indigenous heritage and the natural beauty of Canada. One of her most famous poems is The Pilot of the Plains, which tells the story of a lone eagle soaring over the prairies of western Canada. In this essay, we will explore the themes, imagery, and symbolism of this classic Canadian poem.

The Pilot of the Plains is a poem that captures the majesty and freedom of the eagle as it flies over the vast expanse of the prairies. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Johnson to use a variety of poetic techniques to create a vivid and evocative picture of the eagle's flight. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which describes a different aspect of the eagle's flight.

The first stanza describes the eagle's ascent into the sky. Johnson uses powerful imagery to convey the sense of power and freedom that the eagle embodies. She writes, "Up from the prairies he rises, / The soaring, tireless pilot of the plains, / His wings outstretched to catch the sun's first rays." The eagle is portrayed as a majestic and powerful creature, capable of soaring to great heights and defying the laws of gravity.

The second stanza describes the eagle's flight over the prairies. Johnson uses vivid imagery to convey the beauty and grandeur of the landscape. She writes, "He sweeps along the level, / And far beneath him lies the rolling land, / The prairie's billowy surface, / And the far-off mountains, dim and grand." The eagle is portrayed as a master of the sky, able to navigate effortlessly over the vast expanse of the prairies.

The third stanza describes the eagle's descent back to earth. Johnson uses powerful symbolism to convey the sense of loss and sadness that the eagle experiences as it returns to the ground. She writes, "But now his wings are drooping, / And down he sinks, with slow and weary flight, / And in his eyes a look of longing, / As if he pined for his lost height." The eagle is portrayed as a creature torn between the freedom of the sky and the constraints of the earth.

The Pilot of the Plains is a poem that celebrates the beauty and grandeur of Canada's natural landscape. Johnson uses powerful imagery and symbolism to convey the sense of awe and wonder that the eagle's flight inspires. The poem is also a celebration of freedom and the human spirit. The eagle is portrayed as a symbol of the human desire for freedom and the ability to soar above the constraints of everyday life.

In conclusion, The Pilot of the Plains is a masterpiece of Canadian poetry that captures the beauty and grandeur of Canada's natural landscape. E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) was a gifted poet who used her talent to celebrate her Indigenous heritage and the natural beauty of her homeland. The Pilot of the Plains is a testament to her skill as a poet and her love for Canada.

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