E Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake): Collected Poems and Selected Prose


343 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8497-4
DDC C811'.54




Edited by Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag
Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Pauline Johnson was the daughter of a Mohawk father and an English
mother. In the 1890s she began performing her poems in public, and
achieved considerable popularity. After her death in 1913, her verse,
like that of Robert Service, remained popular but fell into obscurity in
literary circles. The editors of this anthology are trying to reverse
this tendency. Her work, they claim, has been “unjustly neglected”
and their book “offers readers the opportunity to reconsider one of
Canada’s most significant writers.”

It is impossible to take this claim seriously. Johnson’s
semi-dramatic performances may have been compelling, but her verse,
stripped of theatrical trappings, reveals itself as conventional in
diction, uninteresting and often sing-song in rhythm, full of expected
rhymes, and spiced with generous dollops of the patriotic and the
sentimental. In prose, a few of her nonfiction articles possess some
historical value (her argument that Native peoples are regarded as
simply “Indian,” rather than diverse in character like the white
nations, desperately needed—perhaps still needs—to be stressed). Her
short stories, on the other hand, existing for their conspicuous morals,
show her as possessing no talent for fiction.

I cannot see how the cause of either Native peoples or Canadian
literature is served by trying to exhume poems beginning “Oh! Dainty
little cousin May, / I hear your girlish laughter gay” or “Love, was
it yesternoon, or years agone, / You took in yours my hand” from
well-deserved oblivion. There is something terribly wrong in the
discipline of Canadian literature when such indifferent writing can
receive state-of-the-art scholarly editing and achieve publication from
a respectable university press while volumes by some of our most
distinguished poets remain out of print and virtually forgotten.


Johnson, E. Pauline., “E Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake): Collected Poems and Selected Prose,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30292.