MN Poetry: Song-poem of the Ojibwe “In Her Canoe”

FrancesDensmoreMountainChie.jpg

Part of a series of pictures depicting Frances Densmore at the Smithsonian Institution in 1916 during a recording session with Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief for the Bureau of American Ethnology.

For the past ten months I’ve been featuring a poem a week by a Minnesota poet. I realized recently that I was drawing exclusively from modern poetry, without looking back on our rich literary history.

To fix that, I picked up my copy of “Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry,” published by MHS Press. As it turns out, this region’s poetry goes back much further than 150 years; Frances Densmore, with assistance from Robert Higheagle, translated song-poems of the Sioux and Chippewa.

Here’s a particularly sweet love poem:

In Her Canoe

In her canoe I see her,

Maiden of my delighted eyes.

I see in the rippling of the water

The trailing light slipped from her paddle blade.

A signal sent to me.

Ah, maiden of my desire,

Give me a place in thy canoe;

Give me the paddle blade,

And you shall steer us away

Wherever you would go!

– “In Her Canoe,” a Chippewa song-poem translated by Frances Densmore, with assistance from Robert Higheagle, as it appears in “Where One Voice Ends Another Begins: 150 Years of Minnesota Poetry,” published by MHS Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.