Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A rugged Canadian poet

One of the first narrative poems I read was in high school, way back when. It was a well known Canadian poem, David, by Earle Birney, which I think most high school students have to read. It tells the story of two young men who go mountain climbing together and are struck by tragedy. There was some controversy over it, with people assuming it was autobiographical and Birney therefore pretty much a murderer. He of course insisted it was creative fiction.
It has stayed with me, and I will highlight a little of it here. It's very long, and I couldn't find a full version online, but if you want to read a slightly abridged version, you can find it in this Wellness Newsletter. Or, you can get it at your library, I hope anyhow.

A few favourite, melodious lines are:

...mountains for David were made to see over,
Stairs from the valleys and steps to the sun's retreats.

The ice in the morning thaw was a gurgling world of crystal and cold blue chasms,
And seracs that shone like frozen saltgreen waves.

And then tragedy:

I swayed and shouted.
David turned sharp and reached out his arm and steadied me,
Turning again with a grin and his lips ready
To jest. But the strain crumbled his foothold. Without

A gasp he was gone. I froze to the sound of grating
Edge-nails and fingers, the slither of stones, the lone
Second of silence, the nightmare thud. Then only
The wind and the muted beat of unknowing cascades.

It's a horrifying and haunting poem which you will not forget if you've read it. Although I usually find Earle Birney a bit much for my taste, this poem is truly notable.

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