Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Northwest Passage - Annotated


Early this spring I woke up with the chorus to Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage" rolling through my head. In that state of semi-consciousness I must have mumbled my way through it at least a half dozen times before I realized what was going on. When a song has weaseled its way that far into your psyche, an annotated edition is in order...



Chorus:
Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea;
Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

Westward from the Davis Strait 'tis there 'twas said to lie
The sea route to the Orient for which so many died;
Seeking gold and glory, leaving weathered, broken bones
And a long-forgotten lonely cairn of stones.

Chorus

Three centuries thereafter, I take passage overland
In the footsteps of brave Kelso, where his "sea of flowers" began
Watching cities rise before me, then behind me sink again
This tardiest explorer, driving hard across the plain.

Chorus

And through the night, behind the wheel, the mileage clicking west
I think upon Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest
Who cracked the mountain ramparts and did show a path for me
To race the roaring Fraser to the sea.

Chorus

How then am I so different from the first men through this way?
Like them, I left a settled life, I threw it all away.
To seek a Northwest Passage at the call of many men
To find there but the road back home again.

Chorus


Hat tip to Mike and his Sea of Flowers blog, which untangled the mystery of that phrase and its relation to "Brave Kelso." Alas, it would seem Kelsey never wrote the line "sea of flowers," instead describing the prairie as a bleak place. The kind of language Rogers employs is more reminicent of William Cullen Bryant, who in "The Prairie" described the plains "In airy undulations, far away, / As if the ocean, in his gentlest swell, / Stood still, with an his rounded billows fixed".
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