The Forsaken

Original Text: 
The Poems of Duncan Campbell Scott (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1926): 28-31. PS 8487 C6 A17 1926 Robarts Library.
2Out on a lake
3In the heart of the north-land,
4Far from the Fort
5And far from the hunters,
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
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
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. Back to Line
6] Chippewa: another name for the Ojibwa, a native people living north of Sault St. Marie between eastern Lake Superior and northeastern Georgian Bay. Back to Line
22] tikanagan: Cree word for a baby-carrier or cradleboard (courtesy of François Lachance). Back to Line
51] huskies: dogs. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1905
Publication Notes: 
New World Lyrics and Ballads (1905).
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: