Song Lyrics

Fallen totem pole at the site of the abandoned Haida Gwaii village of Skedans 1986

Along with poems I have also written many songs. The lyrics of some of these, I feel, stand alone as poems. Here’s a sampling

  • A Song for Skedans was inspired by a visit to the abandoned Haida village of Skedans on Haida Gwaii. Skedans was depopulated and abandoned in 1862 by the outbreak of a smallpox epidemic among the susceptible First Nations people. I knew about the epidemic through the story of Metlakatla written by Howard White in Raincoast Chronicles, First Five, Collectors Edition (Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park BC, 1976) and it is a dark story conferring shame on the settler society of that time. Reflecting on the visit and the story, and alert to its power, expected to write something dark as well. Instead, these words came to me seemingly unbidden. I wrote them down and never changed a word. I first performed this song at my father’s memorial service.
  • Who Has Seen he Fitful Wind combines allusions to the four elements and the five senses into a hymn for the inter-relatedness of all life.
  • Bright With Use celebrates the life of a friend who was a committed environmental activist.

A Song For Skedans

The waves go rolling to the shore,
Each one growing, shouting, dying,
And the sea pulls back once more,
Tumult fades to gentle sighing.

The silent forest is not still;
Great trees loom awhile, then fall.
Young trees thrust from fallen forebears;
From branch to branch, the ravens call.

And so with men, whole villages and towns
Proudly rise, make signs, and fade.
Canoes, long beached, forget the sea,
And houses melt to forest glade.

From somewhere near a new wave swells,
And we are wafted in its flow,
To dash in angry breakers on the beach,
Or like the kelp, wash to and fro.

Out of chaos, silence builds.
Out of silence, singing flows.

(June 1986)


Who Has Seen the Fitful Wind?

Oh, who can see the fitful wind?
“It’s ev’ry morning,” said the hawk,
“I see him in the ripples on the lake,
I see the grasses waving on the plain,
The sailing clouds upon the valley rim.”
And me, I was not looking there
But now I see wind everywhere.

And who can smell the gurgling water?
“In all my living,” said the fish,
“I smell the land washed off the hills by rain,
I smell the ocean when the tides are full,
I smell the life when sun and wind combine.”
I lacked the knowledge to compare;
Now I smell water everywhere.

Now who can tell the taste of earth?
“I’ve always tasted,” said the worm.
“I taste the death of leaves the wind brings low,
I taste the grains of sand from snowbound peaks,
I taste the wind in the breath of living trees.”
And all this time I did not dare
But now I taste earth everywhere.

And who among us touches fire?
Says the hummingbird, “Once I did.”
“I bear its embers on my breast
And in my quest for warmth I cannot rest.
I suck the blossoms that burn red like me.”
Once fearful of the scorching flare,
I learned I’m burning everywhere.

And who can hear the beating of my heart?
Does it beat all alone, just for my ears?
This longing that I feel sets me apart.
“But we have hearts!” I heard the creatures say,
“As they beat for us, so they beat for you.
Your senses freed, you need no longer drift;
Your heart will beat for us both night and day,
And this longing, once a curse, can be our gift,
For where it pulls you, surely we come too.”

( March 2007)


Bright With Use

This old spade – hickory handled,
Oiled and smoothed with heat of many hands,
Plough-steel blade – worn smooth by garden scouring,
The gravel’s rasp and polish of soft sand.
Familiar in my hands, your heft is pleasure,
The lift and swing so easy in my arms.
Your strength of wood and steel is where my trust is,
The bold and cutting cleanliness of justice.

And my good axe – so surely hafted,
Well-balanced with no shocks for aging wrists.
Honed true – with each sharp blow I twist it;
The flying chips are bigger than my fist!
With you alone I’d fell the tallest timber,
And I admit that I’m the weaker one.
With gentle taps we cleave the bolts so pretty,
The even splits, a song for equity.

And my friend, although the time has claimed you,
God made you for hard work in a hard land,
And lifting you, he must have known the pleasure
Of tempered steel in an exacting hand.
You were not laid aside for want of keenness,
Worn down, but with no trace of rust.
And I’m praying when time turns my spirit loose,
Like you, dear friend, I’ll still be bright with use!

(September 2004)


Windy Bay, Haida Gwaii


3 thoughts on “Song Lyrics

  1. Thanks Farrell, I figure you must have excellent discipline to keep producing such lovely material and adding your sketches gives them all a richness, they’re fun to read and enjoy, Pauline



  2. LOVE THESE WATERCOLOURS! Now, I’m going to read & enjoy your poems,

    Perhaps these are your best. I am serious when I suggest you cobble together your poems. You are a fine poet. >


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