To-night the west o’er-brims with warmest dyes;
Its chalice overflows
With pools of purple colouring the skies,
Aflood with gold and rose;
And some hot soul seems throbbing close to mine,
As sinks the sun within that world of wine.
I seem to hear a bar of music float
And swoon into the west;
My ear can scarcely catch the whispered note,
But something in my breast
Blends with that strain, till both accord in one,
As cloud and colour blend at set of sun.
And twilight comes with grey and restful eyes,
As ashes follow flame.
But O! I heard a voice from those rich skies
Call tenderly my name;
It was as if some priestly fingers stole
In benedictions o’er my lonely soul.
I know not why, but all my being longed
And leapt at that sweet call;
My heart outreached its arms, all passion thronged
And beat against Fate’s wall,
Crying in utter homesickness to be
Near to a heart that loves and leans to me.
At Sunset written by Emily Pauline Johnson.
The members of the audience would chat eagerly amongst themselves in anticipation of the performance they were about to watch. The scuttlebutt at the posh cocktail parties and high teas had been all about this rather curious woman who would appear dressed in Indian garb and who would rattle on poetically about that freezing, primitive colony across the Atlantic known as Canada.
The curtains are pulled back and there standing at centre stage is a figure resplendent in genuine native attire. She is dressed in deer hide from head to toe adorned with porcupine quills and beading that can only be created at the hands of experienced native artists.
No parlour room gossip or lobby chatter could possibly have prepared the audience whether it was a large theater or a small intimate gathering for this elegant, dynamic woman that stood before them. Emily Pauline Johnson owned the stage. She would begin the performance dressed in native garb, that of the Mohawk. She would then recite her brilliant writings, “Canada, Canada Born, Calgary of the Plains, Brandon” and other of her native writings. Through these wonderful poems she exposed the world to this rough, rugged, often cruel but always beautiful country. She was praised as being an “authentic” Native voice who spoke out against the bigotry and the devastation being wreaked upon the native people by the “European” through disease and slaughter. Her message was delivered through her poetry in a clear, rich voice, sadly a voice whose message for the most part was, and continues to this day to be overlooked, ignored and on occasion even laughed upon.
“The poise and grace of this beautiful young woman standing before them captivated the audience even before she began to recite — not read, as the others had done” — her “Cry from an Indian Wife.” She was the only author to be called back for an encore. “She had scored a personal triumph and saved the evening from turning into a disaster.” John Coldwell Adams, “Pauline Johnson”
Pauline Johnson’s stage career lasted over fifteen years. Upon her retirement from the stage she took up residence in British Columbia where she became entrenched in her native roots celebrating her heritage and culture. It was during this period her writing was based on the stories related to her by her friend Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish people of North Vancouver.
Emily Pauline Johnson died March 7th, 1913 at the age of 52 after a lengthy and painful battle with breast cancer. It was through the love and respect of her friends that her passing was recognized in a celebratory funeral, the largest until then in the history of Vancouver. Her ashes were spread at Squamish Rock, Stanley Park and in 1922 a cairn was erected in her memory.
Sadly, she and her literary reputation declined after her death however in recent years there has been a reawakening and interest in the incredible life and works of Emily Pauline Johnson including the publication of her complete works in 2002.
Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake was truly one of the most talented, clever, beautiful women in the history of our Country. During her life she was an ambassador for Canada and a light that shone upon our country and its native people.
Complicated, intriguing, beautiful, talented, enchanting, E. Pauline Johnson
Lady Lorgnette, of the lifted lash,
The curling lip and the dainty nose,
The shell-like ear where the jewels flash,
The arching brow and the languid pose,
The rare old lace and the subtle scents,
The slender foot and the fingers frail,–
I may act till the world grows wild and tense,
But never a flush on your features pale.
The footlights glimmer between us two,–
You in the box and I on the boards,–
I am only an actor, Madame, to you,
A mimic king ‘mid his mimic lords,
For you are the belle of the smartest set,
Little Babette, with your eyes of jet,
Your midnight hair and your piquant chin,
Your lips whose odours of violet
Drive men to madness and saints to sin,–
I see you over the footlights’ glare
Down in the pit ‘mid the common mob,–
Your throat is burning, and brown, and bare,
You lean, and listen, and pulse, and throb;
The viols are dreaming between us two,
And my gilded crown is no make-believe,
I am more than an actor, dear, to you,
For you called me your king but yester eve,
And your heart is my golden coronet,
Lady Lorgnette, by Emily Pauline Johnson
Article written by Julia McLaren, The Lord Durham Report editor
© text Lord Durham Rare Books, all rights reserved.