Marshlands

E. Pauline Johnson

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A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,

And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.

The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,

Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold.

Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,

In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.

The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,

Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.

Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,

Sail up the silence with the nearing night.

And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,

Steals twilight and its shadows o’er the swale.

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,

Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.

Dive in: 
  1. What time of day is it in this poem? Does the poem show you this, or tell you, or both?
  2. The poem doesn’t tell us exactly where this marsh is located; however, it does offer some strong clues. Which clues can you find? Do they suggest a particular area for this marsh?
  3. Johnson uses lots of L and M sounds here, especially in the first few lines. What kind of feeling do these sounds create? Do they make you want to read the poem slowly or quickly?
  4. There’s no explicit “I” or “You” in this poem; the speaker describes a scene but doesn’t appear in it. How does this affect the way you see the marshland: Do you feel like you’re close to it? Does it feel far away?
  5. “Marshlands” is written in rhyming couplets. If you were to recite this poem, how would you convey the difference between the first line of each couplet, which ends in a comma, and the second, which ends with a period?
  6. Write a poem about a place you know, using details of plant or animal life, and features of landscape, sky, and weather. As an homage to “Marshlands,” choose words with sounds that create the right mood for the place you’ve chosen.

Useful Links

Many of Pauline Johnson’s best-known poems speak from an Indigenous perspective. Her father was a Mohawk chief; she was born on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. You can visit her birthplace, Chiefswood, which is now an historic site.

Marshes—a type of wetland—are found in all regions of Canada. Check out Canadian Wildlife Federation or Hinterland Who’s Who to read more about what wetlands are and why they’re so important.

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