Monday, March 03, 2008


Several years ago when we were visiting our son in Alaska, we spent a couple of days in Seward. We walked down a couple of side streets, and found a coffee shop occupying a church building, obviously no longer serving as such. We bought a good cup of coffee and just sat and absorbed some of the interesting Alaskan culture. As we left the front door, I noticed a yard sale set up in the neighboring lot, so I walked through and just happened to check a stack of old books. There was a small faded red book, about 5X7 size, containing less than 150 pages that caught my eye. The title was Minnesota Skyline , copyright 1944, an anthology of poems about Minnesota, published by The League of Minnesota Poets. I picked it up for a few cents, 25 if I remember correctly, and looked through it, carted it back to Minnesota with me, and filed in on my book shelf with hundreds of other books. This morning I was sorting through some books and putting them on shelves here in our new place, and I came across this little gem. I have been lost in Minnesota poetry ever since, and I just thought I'd share a couple of the poems.

I would imagine most of you are familiar with Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha and the instantly recognized meter that scholars say he borrowed from an earlier Finnish epic poem. (My kids used to groan every summer we vacationed on Minnesota's North Shore and I would begin reciting portions of the poem that I memorized when I was in grade school):

By the shores of Gitche-Gumme
By the shining Big-Sea-Waters,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest
Rose the black etc.........(from part III, Hiawatha's Childhood)

Well, there are two poems in this book written in that same meter, and I just found them interesting, and would like to share them with you.

The first is titled Longfellow's Minnesota, and was written by a Gertrude Olson of Winthrop.

Northward rise the endless forests,
Mighty pines with aspen fringes;
Run the swirling streams and freshets,
Sparkling brooks where trout are leaping,
Limpid pools and falling water.
From Itasca, east, the river.....
Fountain of the Mississippi;
Westward stretch the sky-rimmed prairies,
Home of partridge, quail, and pheasant.
To the southward are lush meadows,
Cattle grazing in the sunshine,
Golden wheat and tasseled cornfields....
Minnesota, where the heart is
Deeply rooted in the northland,
May the red clay of your pipestone
Fashion peace pipes for the nations.

The second poem is called All Hail, Pioneers! and was written by John Morgan Thew of Minneapolis.

From the low but urgant thunder
Of a stream of wagons wheeling
Like sedate but restless trampings
Of the tireless boots of fate
Came the trader, came the settler
To the virgin woods and prairies
Where the wolf packs and the redskins
Howled their blood lust to the stars....

Came the gambler, came the preacher,
Land shark, merchant, saint, and sinner-
Struggling, crowding, trickling, pouring-
Till the hamlets grew to cities
Vast in wealth and vaster dreaming.

Rouse you, sons of Minnesota,
Carry on the brave traditions!
Keep your heritage unsullied
While the grand old-timers sleep,
While they slumber to the crooning
In the restful sweet disturbance
Of old cottonwoods that whisper
Through the rose-drenched summer nights.

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