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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lullaby of the Iroquois

(Hoopa Indian Mother and Baby by Edward
Curtis, 1868-1952, American photographer)

Pauline Johnson (1861-1914) was a popular Canadian poet, writer, and entertainer. Her father was Mohawk-Canadian and her mother English. Pauline took on her great-grandfather’s name Tekahionwake, or “double life,” as she toured the country to perform her works on stage, wearing traditional Mohawk dress. She is best-known now for one of her poems, “The Song My Paddle Sings,” and a collection of short stories based on west-coast Squamish legends.


Little brown baby-bird, lapped in your nest,
Wrapped in your nest,
Strapped in your nest,
Your straight little cradle-board rocks you to rest;
Its hands are your nest;
Its bands are your nest;
It swings from the down-bending branch of the oak;
You watch the camp flame, and the curling gray smoke;
But, oh, for your pretty black eyes sleep is best, —
Little brown baby of mine, go to rest.

Little brown baby-bird swinging to sleep,
Winging to sleep,
Singing to sleep,
Your wonder-black eyes that so wide open keep,
Shielding their sleep,
Unyielding to sleep,
The heron is homing, the plover is still,
The night-owl calls from his haunt on the hill,
Afar the fox barks, afar the stars peep, —
Little brown baby of mine, go to sleep.

~ Pauline Johnson

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