The Buckley School's founder believed all public speakers should hone their presentation skills by reading poetry out loud. We keep that worthwhile practice alive by including a poem in our magazine each month for you to read aloud. Above, a photograph of Emily Pauline Johnson dressed for one of her performances.
The daughter of a Mohawk chief and an English immigrant, Emily Pauline Johnson was a popular poet and theatrical performer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She's appreciated now as a writer who helped to define Canadian literature even as her portrayal of Native culture is sometimes controversial.
Born in 1861, Johnson began writing and performing to support her family after her father’s death and developed a huge following, with audiences enthralled by her delivery and the indigenous stories that inspired her work.
"Why did I overlook Pauline Johnson? Perhaps because, being half-white, she somehow didn't rate as the real thing, even among Natives; although she is undergoing reclamation today."– Author Margaret Atwood, on Johnson's long-neglected role in Canadian literature
When Johnson died of breast cancer just shy of her 52nd birthday, her memorial service was the largest in Vancouver's history at that time.
Learn more about the poet here. And below, find lines to read aloud.
By EMILY PAULINE JOHNSON
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.
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,
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,
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;
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.
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!
And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore.
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.
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.
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.
And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.
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