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Duncan Campbell Scott (1862-1947)

The Forsaken


I
              1Once in the winter
              2Out on a lake
              3In the heart of the north-land,
              4Far from the Fort
              5And far from the hunters,
              6A Chippewa woman
              7With her sick baby,
              8Crouched in the last hours
              9Of a great storm.
            10Frozen and hungry,
            11She fished through the ice
            12With a line of the twisted
            13Bark of the cedar,
            14And a rabbit-bone hook
            15Polished and barbed;
            16Fished with the bare hook
            17All through the wild day,
            18Fished and caught nothing;
            19While the young chieftain
            20Tugged at her breasts,
            21Or slept in the lacings
            22Of the warm tikanagan.
            23All the lake-surface
            24Streamed with the hissing
            25Of millions of iceflakes
            26Hurled by the wind;
            27Behind her the round
            28Of a lonely island
            29Roared like a fire
            30With the voice of the storm
            31In the deeps of the cedars.
            32Valiant, unshaken,
            33She took of her own flesh,
            34Baited the fish-hook,
            35Drew in a gray-trout,
            36Drew in his fellows,
            37Heaped them beside her,
            38Dead in the snow.
            39Valiant, unshaken,
            40She faced the long distance,
            41Wolf-haunted and lonely,
            42Sure of her goal
            43And the life of her dear one:
            44Tramped for two days,
            45On the third in the morning,
            46Saw the strong bulk
            47Of the Fort by the river,
            48Saw the wood-smoke
            49Hand soft in the spruces,
            50Heard the keen yelp
            51Of the ravenous huskies
            52Fighting for whitefish:
            53Then she had rest.

II
            54Years and years after,
            55When she was old and withered,
            56When her son was an old man
            57And his children filled with vigour,
            58They came in their northern tour on the verge of winter,
            59To an island in a lonely lake.
            60There one night they camped, and on the morrow
            61Gathered their kettles and birch-bark
            62Their rabbit-skin robes and their mink-traps,
            63Launched their canoes and slunk away through the islands,
            64Left her alone forever,
            65Without a word of farewell,
            66Because she was old and useless,
            67Like a paddle broken and warped,
            68Or a pole that was splintered.
            69Then, without a sigh,
            70Valiant, unshaken,
            71She smoothed her dark locks under her kerchief,
            72Composed her shawl in state,
            73Then folded her hands ridged with sinews and corded with veins,
            74Folded them across her breasts spent with the nourishment of children,
            75Gazed at the sky past the tops of the cedars,
            76Saw two spangled nights arise out of the twilight,
            77Saw two days go by filled with the tranquil sunshine,
            78Saw, without pain, or dread, or even a moment of longing:
            79Then on the third great night there came thronging and thronging
            80Millions of snowflakes out of a windless cloud;
            81They covered her close with a beautiful crystal shroud,
            82Covered her deep and silent.
            83But in the frost of the dawn,
            84Up from the life below,
            85Rose a column of breath
            86Through a tiny cleft in the snow,
            87Fragile, delicately drawn,
            88Wavering with its own weakness,
            89In the wilderness a sign of the spirit,
            90Persisting still in the sight of the sun
            91Till day was done.
            92Then all light was gathered up by the hand of God and hid in His breast,
            93Then there was born a silence deeper than silence,
            94Then she had rest.

Notes

1] See Lee B. Meckler's "Rabbit-skin Robes and Mink-traps: Indian and European in `The Forsaken,'" Canadian Poetry 1 (1977), for an appreciation of this poem.

6] Chippewa: another name for the Ojibwa, a native people living north of Sault St. Marie between eastern Lake Superior and northeastern Georgian Bay.

22] tikanagan: native word for `shawl.'

51] huskies: dogs.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1926): 28-31. PS 8487 C6 A17 1926 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1905
Publication date note: New World Lyrics and Ballads (1905).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: unrhyming


Other poems by Duncan Campbell Scott