Relationships

The following poem is from The Journals of Susanna Moodie, by Margaret Atwood.

How relevant is this poem to the way we understand relationships, to the way we imagine relationships to be?

Support your response with reference (comparison/contrast) to one or more poems you’ve studied and to your previous knowledge and/or experience.

Further Arrivals
After we had crossed the long illness
that was the ocean, we sailed up-river

On the first island
the immigrants threw off their clothes
and danced like sandflies

We left behind one by one
the cities rotting with cholera,
one by one our civilized
distinctions

and entered a large darkness.

It was our own
ignorance we entered.

I have not come out yet

My brain gropes nervous
tentacles in the night, sends out
fears hairy as bears,
demands lamps; or waiting

for my shadowy husband, hears
malice in the trees’ whispers.

I need wolf’s eyes to see
the truth.

I refuse to look in the mirror.

Whether the wilderness is
real or not
depends on who lives there.

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One thought on “Relationships

  1. Mr. D. Sader Post author

    Consider the forward to Roughing it In the Bush by Susanna Moodie, published in 1854: http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/4389/pg4389.txt

    In most instances, emigration is a matter of necessity, not of
    choice; and this is more especially true of the emigration of
    persons of respectable connections, or of any station or position
    in the world. Few educated persons, accustomed to the refinements
    and luxuries of European society, ever willingly relinquish those
    advantages, and place themselves beyond the protective influence of
    the wise and revered institutions of their native land, without the
    pressure of some urgent cause. Emigration may, indeed, generally be
    regarded as an act of severe duty, performed at the expense of
    personal enjoyment, and accompanied by the sacrifice of those local
    attachments which stamp the scenes amid which our childhood grew, in
    imperishable characters, upon the heart. Nor is it until adversity
    has pressed sorely upon the proud and wounded spirit of the
    well-educated sons and daughters of old but impoverished families,
    that they gird up the loins of the mind, and arm themselves with
    fortitude to meet and dare the heart-breaking conflict.

    The ordinary motives for the emigration of such persons may be
    summed up in a few brief words;–the emigrant’s hope of bettering
    his condition, and of escaping from the vulgar sarcasms too often
    hurled at the less-wealthy by the purse-proud, common-place people
    of the world. But there is a higher motive still, which has its
    origin in that love of independence which springs up spontaneously
    in the breasts of the high-souled children of a glorious land. They
    cannot labour in a menial capacity in the country where they were
    born and educated to command. They can trace no difference between
    themselves and the more fortunate individuals of a race whose blood
    warms their veins, and whose name they bear. The want of wealth
    alone places an impassable barrier between them and the more
    favoured offspring of the same parent stock; and they go forth to
    make for themselves a new name and to find another country, to
    forget the past and to live in the future, to exult in the prospect
    of their children being free and the land of their adoption great.

    The choice of the country to which they devote their talents and
    energies depends less upon their pecuniary means than upon the
    fancy of the emigrant or the popularity of a name. From the year
    1826 to 1829, Australia and the Swan River were all the rage. No
    other portions of the habitable globe were deemed worthy of notice.
    These were the El Dorados and lands of Goshen to which all
    respectable emigrants eagerly flocked. Disappointment, as a matter
    of course, followed their high-raised expectations. Many of the
    most sanguine of these adventurers returned to their native shores
    in a worse condition than when they left them. In 1830, the great
    tide of emigration flowed westward. Canada became the great
    land-mark for the rich in hope and poor in purse. Public newspapers
    and private letters teemed with the unheard-of advantages to be
    derived from a settlement in this highly-favoured region.

    Its salubrious climate, its fertile soil, commercial advantages,
    great water privileges, its proximity to the mother country, and
    last, not least, its almost total exemption from taxation–that
    bugbear which keeps honest John Bull in a state of constant
    ferment–were the theme of every tongue, and lauded beyond all
    praise. The general interest, once excited, was industriously
    kept alive by pamphlets, published by interested parties, which
    prominently set forth all the good to be derived from a settlement
    in the Backwoods of Canada; while they carefully concealed the toil
    and hardship to be endured in order to secure these advantages.
    They told of lands yielding forty bushels to the acre, but they
    said nothing of the years when these lands, with the most careful
    cultivation, would barely return fifteen; when rust and smut,
    engendered by the vicinity of damp over-hanging woods, would blast
    the fruits of the poor emigrant’s labour, and almost deprive him
    of bread. They talked of log houses to be raised in a single day,
    by the generous exertions of friends and neighbours, but they never
    ventured upon a picture of the disgusting scenes of riot and low
    debauchery exhibited during the raising, or upon a description of
    the dwellings when raised–dens of dirt and misery, which would, in
    many instances, be shamed by an English pig-sty. The necessaries of
    life were described as inestimably cheap; but they forgot to add
    that in remote bush settlements, often twenty miles from a market
    town, and some of them even that distance from the nearest
    dwelling, the necessaries of life which would be deemed
    indispensable to the European, could not be procured at all, or,
    if obtained, could only be so by sending a man and team through
    a blazed forest road,–a process far too expensive for frequent
    repetition.

    Oh, ye dealers in wild lands–ye speculators in the folly and
    credulity of your fellow men–what a mass of misery, and of
    misrepresentation productive of that misery, have ye not to answer
    for! You had your acres to sell, and what to you were the worn-down
    frames and broken hearts of the infatuated purchasers? The public
    believed the plausible statements you made with such earnestness,
    and men of all grades rushed to hear your hired orators declaim
    upon the blessings to be obtained by the clearers of the
    wilderness.

    Men who had been hopeless of supporting their families in comfort
    and independence at home, thought that they had only to come out
    to Canada to make their fortunes; almost even to realise the story
    told in the nursery, of the sheep and oxen that ran about the
    streets, ready roasted, and with knives and forks upon their backs.
    They were made to believe that if it did not actually rain gold,
    that precious metal could be obtained, as is now stated of
    California and Australia, by stooping to pick it up.

    The infection became general. A Canada mania pervaded the middle
    ranks of British society; thousands and tens of thousands for the
    space of three or four years landed upon these shores. A large
    majority of the higher class were officers of the army and navy,
    with their families–a class perfectly unfitted by their previous
    habits and education for contending with the stern realities of
    emigrant life. The hand that has long held the sword, and been
    accustomed to receive implicit obedience from those under its
    control, is seldom adapted to wield the spade and guide the plough,
    or try its strength against the stubborn trees of the forest. Nor
    will such persons submit cheerfully to the saucy familiarity of
    servants, who, republicans in spirit, think themselves as good as
    their employers. Too many of these brave and honourable men were
    easy dupes to the designing land-speculators. Not having counted
    the cost, but only looked upon the bright side of the picture held
    up to their admiring gaze, they fell easily into the snares of
    their artful seducers.

    To prove their zeal as colonists, they were induced to purchase
    large tracts of wild land in remote and unfavourable situations.
    This, while it impoverished and often proved the ruin of the
    unfortunate immigrant, possessed a double advantage to the seller.
    He obtained an exorbitant price for the land which he actually
    sold, while the residence of a respectable settler upon the spot
    greatly enhanced the value and price of all other lands in the
    neighbourhood.

    It is not by such instruments as those I have just mentioned, that
    Providence works when it would reclaim the waste places of the
    earth, and make them subservient to the wants and happiness of its
    creatures. The Great Father of the souls and bodies of men knows
    the arm which wholesome labour from infancy has made strong, the
    nerves which have become iron by patient endurance, by exposure
    to weather, coarse fare, and rude shelter; and He chooses such,
    to send forth into the forest to hew out the rough paths for the
    advance of civilization. These men become wealthy and prosperous,
    and form the bones and sinews of a great and rising country. Their
    labour is wealth, not exhaustion; its produce independence and
    content, not home-sickness and despair. What the Backwoods of
    Canada are to the industrious and ever-to-be-honoured sons of
    honest poverty, and what they are to the refined and accomplished
    gentleman, these simple sketches will endeavour to portray. They
    are drawn principally from my own experience, during a sojourn of
    nineteen years in the colony.

    In order to diversify my subject, and make it as amusing as
    possible, I have between the sketches introduced a few small poems,
    all written during my residence in Canada, and descriptive of the
    country.

    In this pleasing task, I have been assisted by my husband, J. W.
    Dunbar Moodie, author of “Ten Years in South Africa.”

    BELLEVILLE, UPPER CANADA

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