Guest poem sent in by Divya Sampath So you're running a Canadian Theme? May I suggest Stan Rogers? His music was beautifully representative of Canadian folk traditions, and his original compositions always sounded like authentic, old songs. [I agree with Divya - I have only heard a few of Rogers' songs, but this was the aspect that most struck me. His songs do indeed sound traditional; a hard trick to pull off, but Rogers does it beautifully. - m.] Two of my favourites are "Northwest Passage" and "Barrett's Privateers". I first heard the former on the last episode of the TV series 'Due South'; it was an incredible a capella version that has to be heard to be truly appreciated.
(Poem #783) Northwest Passage
Chorus: Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea; Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage And make a Northwest Passage to the sea. Westward from the Davis Strait 'tis there 'twas said to lie The sea route to the Orient for which so many died; Seeking gold and glory, leaving weathered, broken bones And a long-forgotten lonely cairn of stones. Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland In the footsteps of brave Kelso, where his "sea of flowers" began Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again This tardiest explorer, driving hard across the plain. And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west I think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me To race the roaring Fraser to the sea. How then am I so different from the first men through this way? Like them, I left a settled life, I threw it all away. To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men To find there but the road back home again. Unpublished additional verse: And if should be I come again to loved ones left at home, Put the journals on the mantle, shake the frost out of my bones, Making memories of the passage, only memories after all, And hardships there the hardest to recall.
** Notes: I first heard this song on the last episode of 'Due South', which also mentioned Sir John Franklin and his ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. It made me curious enough to look up the history behind it. For an excellent online resource, check out: http://www.franklintrail.com/index.htm Notice how, after the fashion of most legends, Franklin appears to be alive in this song: his hand is still 'reaching for the Beaufort Sea'. The song evokes the compelling drive to seek that 'one warm line', i.e., the Northwest Passage, through the miles of Arctic waste separating North America from the Asian land mass. One memorable evening, I listened to this song in a car driving through a lonely highway in the Pacific Northwest between Portland and Seattle; it called up irresistible mental images of following the trail of the early pioneers, who sought 'gold and 'glory', but left behind only 'weathered, broken bones.' The rhythms and vocabulary are remarkably informed by Stan Rogers extensive knowledge of traditonal sea shanties and folk songs. The result is a sort of "faux authenticity" that has many listeners confusing this with a genuinely antique trad number. ** History (condensed from various sources, including www.franklintrail.com): The list of legendary ocean routes includes the so-called "Northwest Passage", linking the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Arctic Ocean in northern Canada. One of the most famous men to try, and the subject of legends and folklore, was Sir John Franklin, a British rear admiral. There is no evidence that he himself completed the Passage -- a letter left by his crew stated that he had died 70 miles from the end; nonetheless, he is still cited as the first man to cross the Northwest Passage. The trip had cost him his crew, his ships, and his life. His adventure was to complete the work of earlier failed explorers. Two sailing ships, the Erebus and the Terror, left England on May 19, 1845 with the dangerous goal to finish the voyage across the Northwest Passage that had yet to be completely traversed by explorers. The supply ship Baretto Junior accompanied them across the Atlantic. With 128 men and two ships, Franklin entered the icy Davis Strait in July 1845. He and his men were last seen by whalers on July 28 entering Lancaster Sound, between Devon Island and Baffin Island. Baffin Island is a large land mass bordering Hudson Bay to the north. This route would take them above the Arctic Circle, where for much of the year the waters were covered with ice. The were attempting to sail between the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian Archipelago, across 300 miles of uncharted seas. The trip all together from England to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska and out to Asia was expected to last only three years. To that date, the expedition was the best provisioned to attempt the journey. Franklin died on June 11, 1847, and was buried on King William Island. No one is sure why he died, but nine officers and fifteen crewmen joined him on that final journey. England had no idea what was going on in the three years that they waited for Franklin's return. In 1848, three years after the Erebus and the Terror were last spotted in Lancaster Sound, search parties were organized to find the missing sailors. Over forty rescue missions were planned and executed in 6 years. Much of the previously undiscovered land was charted during the rescue missions, but few leads were found. The final rescue party was lead by Franklin's wife, Lady Jane, and Captain Leopold McLintock in 1857. Search parties uncovered the remains of a few crewmen and a boat. Their bodies lay on the last stretch of the uncharted lands; their final journey completed the map of the Great North. They had made the Northwest Passage! Sir John Franklin's remains were never found, and he slipped into legend... ** Stan Rogers Bio (from sonicnet.com): b. 1949, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, d. 2 June 1983. Singer-songwriter Rogers began as a bass player in a rock band before becoming a well-respected artist within the folk arena. In 1969, he turned professional and, the following year, released two singles for RCA Records. There followed a period of playing the coffee house circuit, with Nigel Russell (guitar), until Stan's brother, Garnet Rogers (violin/flute/vocals/ guitar), joined them. Garnet worked with Stan for nearly 10 years. Stan Rogers' low-register voice exuded a warm sensitive sound, the perfect complement to his sensitive lyrics. Remembered for songs such as "Northwest Passage" and "The Lock-keeper", he is probably best known for "The Mary Ellen Carter". Writing for films and television, and having toured a number of countries, Rogers was poised for international success but was killed in an aeroplane fire in 1983. There's a great site dedicated to Stan Rogers at [broken link] http://stevebriggs.superb.net/stanrogers/main.html For background on how Stan Rogers came to write this song, see: [broken link] http://stevebriggs.superb.net/stanrogers/songs/nwp-sng.html Cheers, Divya