Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

She was a private poet who never self-published. In fact, she is the first authored Native American poet, male or female. She hailed from Northern Michigan and had firm roots in the Ojibwe tribe. Jane was highly deferential to her husband the famous Henry Schoolcraft. Henry Schoolcraft seemingly took advantage of her work, neglecting to attribute her due credit on many occasions. He also took the opportunity to inject her work with white anglo-Saxon self-serving biases. Here are a few of my favorites:

“To the Pine Tree”

The Pine! the pine! I eager cried,

The pine, my father! see it stand,

As first that cherished tree I spied,

Returning to my native land.

The pine! the pine! oh lovely scene!

The pine, that is forever green.

Ah beauteous tree! ah happy sight!

That greets me on my native strand

And hails me, with a friend’s delight,

To my own dear bright mother land

Oh ’tis to me a heart-sweet scene,

The pine — the pine! that’s ever green.

Not all the trees of England bright,

Not Erin’s lawns of green and light

Are half so sweet to memory’s eye,

As this dear type of northern sky

Oh ’tis to me a heart-sweet scene,

The pine — the pine! that ever green

This poem was originally written in Ojibwe and translated by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft herself. She wrote this poem at the beckoning of her husband. He asked her to recall the moments when she arrived home from a trip to Europe (Parker 90). Many of us have similarly felt that “pining” need to be home. We never really appreciate our home’s attributes until we’ve gone to another place. Every word of this poem pays homage to earthly beauties of home.

This next poem titled “Lines written at Castle Island, Lake Superior” is a poem which captures the beauty that can be cultivated in nature and its isolation. It is unknown whether this poem was translated by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft or her husband (92).

          Lines written at Castle Island, Lake Superior

Here in my native inland sea

From pain and sickness would I flee

And from its shores and island bright

Gather a store of sweet delight.

Lone island of the saltless sea!

How wide, how sweet, how fresh and free

How all transporting — is the view

Of rocks and skies and waters blue

Uniting, as a song’s sweet strains

To tell, here nature only reigns.

Ah, nature! here forever sway

Far from the haunts of men away

For here, there are no sordid fears,

No crimes, no misery, no tears

No pride of wealth; the heart to fill,

No laws to try my people ill.

Schoolcraft expresses a deep sense of mending that occurs when visiting the solitary beauty of the island. Her worries melt away as nature offers its tender embrace. Furthermore, it carries a strong resentment toward colonialism and the trials of her people. For, on this island, the ills of modernity do not exist. Lake Superior and its surrounding pleasures simulate a tranquil therapy. This is one of my absolute favorites!

Source: The Sound the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky 

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Jane Johnston Schoolcraft

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