Pere Lalemant


I lift the Lord on high,
Under the murmuring hemlock boughs, and see
The small birds of the forest lingering by
And making melody.
These are mine acolytes and these my choir,
And this mine altar in the cool green shade,
Where the wild soft-eyed does draw nigh
Wondering, as in the byre
Of Bethlehem the oxen heard Thy cry
And saw Thee, unafraid.

My boatmen sit apart,
Wolf-eyed, wolf-sinewed, stiller than the trees.
Help me, O Lord, for very slow of heart
And hard of faith are these.
Cruel are they, yet Thy children. Foul are they,
Yet wert Thou born to save them utterly.
Then make me as I pray
Just to their hates, kind to their sorrows, wise
After their speech, and strong before their free
Indomitable eyes.

Do the French lilies reign
Over Mont Royal and Stadacona still?
Up the St. Lawrence comes the spring again,
Crowning each southward hill
And blossoming pool with beauty, while I roam
Far from the perilous folds that are my home,
There where we built St. Ignace for our needs,
Shaped the rough roof tree, turned the first sweet sod,
St. Ignace and St. Louis, little beads
On the rosary of God.

Pines shall Thy pillars be,
Fairer than those Sidonian cedars brought
By Hiram out of Tyre, and each birch-tree
Shines like a holy thought.
But come no worshippers; shall I confess,
St. Francis-like, the birds of the wilderness?
O, with Thy love my lonely head uphold.
A wandering shepherd I, who hath no sheep;
A wandering soul, who hath no scrip, nor gold,
Nor anywhere to sleep.

My hour of rest is done;
On the smooth ripple lifts the long canoe;
The hemlocks murmur sadly as the sun
Slants his dim arrows through.
Whither I go I know not, nor the way,
Dark with strange passions, vexed with heathen charms,
Holding I know not what of life or death;
Only be Thou beside me day by day,
Thy rod my guide and comfort, underneath
Thy everlasting arms.

Marjorie Pickthall

In A World of Local Voices: Poetry in English Today, at page 34, the authors talk about this poem: “Pickthall’s speaker is the French Jesuit Father Lalemant, so an English-speaking female poet imagines a French male and puts in his thoughts words about Natives…. Pickthall and Lalemant might diverge on this equation of Natives with nature– they are like wolves and trees– or the attribution of cruelty to them.”

However, poets were doing this long before Ms. Pickthall could put pen to paper. In “Herve Riel”, Robert Browning recreates what he perceived as both a heroic and selfless act on the part of the Frenchman who is the subject of the poem. He arrived at that conclusion through an error in his own translation and later acknowledged the mistake. More famously, in My Last Duchess, Browning puts words in the mouth of the Italian Duke Alfonso D’Estes that imply the man murdered his last wife.

Marjorie Pickthall Contemporaries
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