E. Pauline Johnson was a very prolific poet (for a comprehensive view, see Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag’s collection of her poems and prose). That being said, Norman Shrive, in his article What Happened to Pauline notes that

Pauline Johnson herself, determined as she was to write, realized that she could earn no more than a few cents when she was fortunate enough to have work published; she therefore embarked upon a career that essentially catered to [popular] taste. (30)

Victorian British poetry in particular informed her poetic tastes, with its romantic, natural imagery and its smooth, lyrical rhythm and rhyme. As Shrive and Gerson both discuss, Johnson’s popular approach led to her dismissal by the later Modernist poets, as well as many literary critics and anthologists of the first half of the 1900s.

However, catering to popular tastes also increased the accessibility of her poetry, allowing for the presentation of subtler, counter-cultural messages. Thinking about Johnson’s work in this way raises an important alternative understanding: her poetry and fiction can also be considered a form of cultural ambassadorship, carving out a space for Indigenous self-expression within the popular discourse.

The following poems in this chapter exemplify this link between accessibly written, popular lyric poetry and political advocacy. These poems offer specific Indigenous content and ways of being that contrast with or illustrate the impact of colonial practices and history.

For help with critical reading, see Close Reading Poetry.

Works Cited

  • Gerson, Carole. The Most Canadian of all Canadian Poets: Pauline Johnson and the Construction of a National Literature. Canadian Literature 158 (1998): 90–107. Print. (PDF)
  • Shrive, Norman. What Happened to Pauline? Canadian Literature 13 (1962): 25–38. Print. (PDF)
  • Johnson, E. Pauline [Tekahionwake]. E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose. Ed. Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2002. Print.