Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Poem: "Queen River..."

Red River of the North by Apyh P
Red River of the North, by Apyh P

As often happens in my research, I stumble across something when looking for something totally different. The poem below was written about the Red River; I smiled when I first read it, because it's obviously so idealized (at least about the river itself). There are also elements of imperialism and prejudice regarding the aboriginal cultures. Yet, to be fair, there are at the same time paradoxical phrases (such as "priestcraft's snare") that could be taken as condemnations of the eventual results.

by J.C.H.

'Neath high arched skies of clearest sheen,
Sweeping thro' prairies' boundless green,
Where branching elms and poplars throw
Dark shadows of the flood below;
Thro' the great rival nation's land,
Uniting them with silver band,
We greet thee, as we greet a Queen,
Red River of the Northern Plain.

Thy crown is of the azure hue
Of sun-set sky and pearly dew;
Thy tresses of the ivy made,
Twined with the willows, lighter shade;
The Bois de Sioux, the small Marais,
Unite to make thy girdle gay;
The Assiniboine and wild Roseau
Thy fair feet have in Northern Plain.

A Naiad Queen - thy bounteous hand
Refreshes oft the parched land;
The cattle bellow forth thy praise,
The blackbirds land thee in their lays;
The plover, mallard, and wild goose
The slow-paced bear, the antlered moose,
Come, lave and drink, a thankful band,
Queen river of the Northern Plain.

Pray tell us of those ancient men,
The Sioux, the Blackfeet, the Cheyenne,
Whose forms majestic, by thy face
Reflected were - a stately race;
Their children on thy banks still stand,
Sad remnant of a noble band;
Their old renown, their fate, you ken,
Old rover of the Northern Plain.

Then tell us of the men who came
In humble guise and holy name,
Who bore the cross, and taught that loss
Was gain, and gain on earth was loss,
With Him before whose sacred throne
The red and white man count as one;
Good men, ye sought for heaven to tame
The wild men of the Northern Plain.

But ah, my Muse, in shame and tears,
With downcast eyes, of after years
She tells. By lust and lucre nurs'd,
Came wrongs and cruel deeds, that curs'd
The land, sod made the red man fall
And fade, who had been king of all
Canadians - shall the coming years
Redeem from stain our Northern Plain?

Astraean Muse, the tears conceal,
And of the coming years reveal;
"Fair Queen, thy virgin shores shall be
The home of Myriads blest and free;
From despot's rod, from priestcraft's snare
Thy waters pure their freight shall bear,
Thy praise they'll raise, thy glory feel,
Queen River of the Northern Plain."

NOTE: The Bois de Sioux, Marais, Roseau, and Assiniboine are four of the many rivers that drain the northern part of this immense prairie, and fall into the Red River of the North...

From: From Manitoba Free Press November 6, 1875