Well, I’m not sure what happened to July but it just flew by! So here it is, a few days late, the July post for my year long project looking at some of the interesting historical figures who were around at the time of Confederation in 1867 here in Canada.
This month, I have decided to talk about Emily Pauline Johnson (also known as Pauline Johnson or E. Pauline Johnson), a writer and performer who was popular in North America in the late 1800s. She wrote this lovely poem describing Canada, which I think fits in nicely with my theme for this year’s set of historical posts about Canada:
Crown of her, young Vancouver; crest of her, old Quebec;
Atlantic and far Pacific sweeping her, keel to deck.
North of her, ice and arctics; southward a rival’s stealth;
Aloft, her Empire’s pennant; below, her nation’s wealth.
Daughter of men and markets, bearing within her hold,
Appraised at highest value, cargoes of grain and gold.
(Canada, by Pauline Johnson)
Pauline was the youngest of four daughters of a Mowhawk hereditary clan chief, George Henry Martin Johnson and Emily Susanna Howells Johnson, an English immigrant. She was born in 1861 at the Six Nations of Grand River, just six years before Confederation. Her Mohawk name was Tekahionwake, which translates to double wampum or double life. She lived a life that was strongly influenced by both her English and her Mowhawk heritage.
Source: Collections Canada
Pauline began to write poetry in her teens and continued through her life. She wrote to support herself financially and toured Canada and the United States for seventeen years, reciting her poetry. She was reported to be very beautiful and had great stage presence, which made her a popular performer. She was best known later for how she portrayed indigenous culture and I believe she has a unique approach to using the English style of poetry to portray aboriginal beliefs and legends.
And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.
(Excerpt from The Song My Paddle Sings by Pauline Johnson)
Pauline Johnson died from breast cancer in 1913. She wrote the following poem after being told that her disease was terminal:
Time and its ally, Dark Disarmament,
Have compassed me about;
Have massed their armies, and on battle bent
My forces put to rout
But though I fight alone, and fall, and die,
Talk terms of Peace? Not I.
(Biographical Sketch, page xxx, Flint and Feather, by Pauline Johnson)
If Pauline’s writing speaks to you, take a look at her book Flint and Feather, which is available on the Internet Archive.
- Library and Archives Canada – Emily Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake)
- Poetry Foundation – Emily Pauline Johnson