This final poem is one I’ve been working on over the last year – the first thing I started thinking about when I joined this project was the (inescapable) connection between colonialism and Romanticist relationships with “the land.” There is a long tradition in Canadian poetry (and American, to an extent) of writing about the settler/pioneer’s emotional connection to the land, one which seems to involve a battle between being controlled by the land (and ultimately driven insane) and being the one in control.
Of course, what is not so much lost as outright ignored in this kind of writing is the existence of other peoples and cultures with their own relationships with the natural world, most obviously in this context the aboriginal peoples of Canada. “The Canadian poets” (by no means an indictment of all Canadian poetry! rather, the name is meant to underscore how unaware the speakers are of other kinds of Canadian poetry) literally gloss over other voices speaking their own relationship between themselves and the landscape around them.
Some of the poems I had in mind in particular, drawn from different time periods and genres, are Earle Birney’s “Bushed,” Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Dark Pines Under Water,” and Margaret Atwood’s “Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer,” all of which are beautiful poems and well worth reading.
When we came to this country we found it wild,
The Canadian poets say;
It threw itself at us.
With time we let it
Grow on us:
We stood beside pine trees,
We sank into the stones at lake’s edge.
Sometimes we wrote about the animals,
The way they slipped into water
Sometimes we wrote about our own buildings:
Church spires in the prairie;
But always we found the country was ripe for depiction.
Perhaps there were things we overlooked
Some other language or languages
In the air around us,
But nothing was written on the land
That we could discover.
We realized after writing for many years
And through many places
That together we were a song,
This country a body
We breathed our voice into –
Inspired; inscripted; invented.