Verse > Anthologies > William Wilfred Campbell, ed. > The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse
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William Wilfred Campbell, comp.  The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse.  1913.
 
The Forsaken
By Duncan Campbell Scott (1862–1947)
 
I
        ONCE in the winter,
        Out on a lake
        In the heart of the north-land,
        Far from the fort
        And far from the hunters,        5
        A Chippewa woman
        With her sick baby,
        Crouched in the last hours
        Of a great storm.
        Frozen and hungry        10
        She fished through the ice
        With a line of the twisted
        Bark of the cedar,
        And a rabbit-bone hook
        Polished and barbed;        15
        Fished with the bare hook
        All through the wild day,
        Fished and caught nothing;
        While the young chieftain
        Tugged at her breasts,        20
        Or slept in the lacings
        Of the warm tickanegan.
        All the lake surface
        Streamed with the hissing
        Of millions of ice-flakes,        25
        Hurled by the wind;
        Behind her the round
        Of a lonely island
        Roared like a fire
        With the voice of the storm        30
        In the deeps of the cedars.
        Valiant, unshaken,
        She took of her own flesh,
        Baited the fish-hook,
        Drew in a grey-trout,        35
        Drew in his fellow,
        Heaped them beside her,
        Dead in the snow.
        Valiant, unshaken,
        She faced the long distance,        40
        Wolf-haunted and lonely,
        Sure of her goal
        And the life of her dear one;
        Tramped for two days,
        On the third morning,        45
        Saw the strong bulk
        Of the Fort by the river,
        Saw the wood-smoke
        Hang soft in the spruces,
        Heard the keen yelp        50
        Of the ravenous huskies
        Fighting for whitefish:
        Then she had rest.
 
II
Years and years after,
When she was old and withered,        55
When her son was an old man
And his children filled with vigour,
They came in their northern tour on the verge of winter,
To an island in a lonely lake.
There one night they camped, and on the morrow        60
Gathered their kettles and birch-bark
Their rabbit-skin robes and their mink-traps,
Launched their canoes and slunk away through the islands,
Left her alone for ever.
Without a word of farewell,        65
Because she was old and useless,
Like a paddle broken and warped,
Or a pole that was splintered.
Then, without a sigh,
Valiant, unshaken,        70
She smoothed her dark locks under her kerchief,
Composed her shawl in state,
Then folded her hands ridged with sinews and corded with veins,
Folded them across her breasts spent with the nourishing of children,
Gazed at the sky past the tops of the cedars,        75
Saw two spangled nights arise out of the twilight,
Saw two days go by filled with the tranquil sunshine,
Saw, without pain, or dread, or even a moment of longing:
Then on the third great night there came thronging and thronging
Millions of snowflakes out of a windless cloud;        80
They covered her close with a beautiful crystal shroud,
Covered her deep and silent.
But in the frost of the dawn,
Up from the life below,
Rose a column of breath        85
Through a tiny cleft in the snow,
Fragile, delicately drawn,
Wavering with its own weakness,
In the wilderness a sign of the spirit,
Persisting still in the sight of the sun        90
Till day was done.
Then all light was gathered up by the hand of God and
Hid in His breast,
Then there was born a silence deeper than silence,
Then she had rest.        95
 
 
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