Be strong O paddle! Be brave canoe! The reckless waves you must plunge into!
That’s a line from poem by Emily Pauline Johnson called The Song my Paddle Sings. At their most recent concert featuring Canadian composers the Winnipeg Singers performed a musical version of the poem. Listening to them brought back lots of memories for me.
My grade four teacher Miss Toews made me memorize the poem My Song My Paddle Sings and I recited it during a parents day performance. I still remember every line of the poem that tells the story of a sailor going from calm waters to churning rapids and back again.
Emily Pauline Johnson was a Mohawk poet who became famous as a touring artist. She went across North America reciting her poetry. Her father was a First Nations chief and her mother an Englishwoman so Emily grew up influenced by two different cultures. Her aboriginal name was Tekahionwake.
I used to do a unit of Emily Pauline Johnson poems with my grade eleven English classes. Although The Song My Paddle Sings is about a nature experience Emily did not shy away from writing about controversial issues as she did in her poem A Cry From An Indian Wife where she looks at who really owns Canadian land.
Emily was featured on a Canadian stamp in 1961 and was one of the Canadians under consideration for the first woman to be featured on a bank-note in 2018. She wasn’t chosen but her poetry lives on in people’s minds and hearts and also in music like the beautiful piece I heard at the Winnipeg Singers concert.