Sunday, May 01, 2011

Louis Riel Poem

Photo of Riel (1878)

It was from the border town of St. Vincent, Minnesota, that on December 26, 1878, Riel gazed longingly at his Manitoba homeland and composed the following lines.  Since he was still purging the five-year exile imposed on him in Ottawa in 1875, he could not enter Canada.  Filled with anger by the thought that a recent influx of English-speaking Protestant settlers was now controlling his province, he contemplates mounting an armed invasion of Canada which, with providential support, would liberate his people.  Riel condemns the actions of Lisgar and Dufferin, governors general, whose terms overlapped that of Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald.

Minnesota, Which I Now Entered (1878)
Minnesota, which I now entered,
Filled my heart with longing
For my home strung along its border.
I fell, sighting two cities, a bliss,
St. Paul and Minneapolis,
For eight or nine parents settled there.
I am moved almost to tears
As the train slowly draws near.
But the train moves on and the engine
Takes me to Breckenridge, to Crookston;
Then to St. Vincent from where, happy,
I contemplate my beloved country,
My sweet.
Manitoba,
Enticing as a loved one's charms,
Now held in the Orangemen's strong arms:
Manitoba,
For whom I have toiled unceasingly,
Your countenance inebriates me.
As if subdued by sweet catawba,
I reel.  Like Solomon to Sheeba
I am beckoned irresistibly.
For your glory my love must avail
And, God willing, my efforts prevail.

I have just returned from the Northeast.
While I waited, punished in exile,
Through the machinations of a Beast
Your innocent hearts have been reviled.
I, God willing, with renewed vigor
Will find ways to crush this enemy.
Friends on the banks of the Missouri
Will, with conviction as their armor,
Fight the native people's righteous fight
And, with me, armed by justice's might,
Fly swiftly on a northerly breeze
To help our Metis brothers resist.
Passions and fierceness I will enlist
And to great injustice match great fury.
They will attack Portage la Prairie
And destroy that wicked place entirely.
The river Boyne will be a bloodbath,
Red Assiniboine its aftermath.
Lisgar and Dufferin have bequeathed
Ignominy. Their men's legacy
Is betrayal. With revenge unsheathed
The Blackfoot will make Winnipeg pay.
Do not falter, worthy countrymen.
Oppose the English.  Respect your name.
John A., no better than a madman,
Ottawa will lose at its own game.
Spirit, be guided by Providence.
Do not too hastily take offence.
God moves his finger in mysterious ways.
By prudence, not by passion, be swayed.
All intentions are as scattered dust
When they contradict the divine plan.
If God tells me:  "Till the land," I must.
Or: "Make yourself stronger," this I can.
Or: "You must die," His will must be done.
Thus perhaps I am not intended
To help my people gain their freedom.
Let not my people be held ransom.
Let them thrive, let them be defended.

From:  Selected Poetry of Louis Riel