E. Pauline Johnson, also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake –pronounced: dageh-eeon-wageh, literally: ‘double-life’. An Internationally known Canadian Poet and Performer of the 19th century.


Emily Pauline Johnson 1861-1913

In 1895 Canadian Magazine declared, “Pauline is the most popular figure in Canadian Literature.”

Johnson was notable for her poems and performances that celebrated her First Nations heritage; her father was a Mohawk chief of mixed ancestry, and her mother an English immigrant. One such poem is the frequently anthologized “The Song My Paddle Sings”.

During the 1880s, Pauline Johnson wrote and performed in amateur theatre productions. She enjoyed the Canadian outdoors, where she traveled by canoe. In 1883 she published her first full-length poem, “My Little Jean,” in the New York Gems of Poetry. She began to increase the pace of her writing and publishing afterward. 

Johnson built her reputation as a Canadian writer, regularly publishing in periodicals such as Globe, The Week, and Saturday Night. In the late 1880s and early 1890s, she published nearly every month, mostly in Saturday Night.Johnson was one of a group of Canadian authors contributing to a distinct national literature. The inclusion of two of her poems in W.D. Lighthall’s anthology, Songs of the Great Dominion (1889), signaled her recognition and Theodore Watts-Dunton noted her for praise in his review of the book; he quoted her entire poem “In the Shadows” and called her “the most interesting poetess now living.” In her early works, Johnson wrote mostly about Canadian life, landscapes, and love in a post-Romantic mode, reflective of literary interests shared with her mother rather than her Mohawk heritage. 

She was educated mainly at home, studying both English literature and Mohawk oral history and legend.

After her father’s death in 1884, Johnson began writing to help support her family. She published several poems in journals, which she signed as both “E. Pauline Johnson” and her adopted name, “Tekahionwake.”

In 1892 she was invited to give a poetry reading for the Young Men’s Liberal Club of Toronto. Based on the success of that reading, she began a series of performances across Canada. Johnson developed a dual persona for her performances, wearing the costume of a Native princess for the first half and an English drawing-room gown for the second. She toured widely for 17 years, gaining international recognition with primarily non-Native audiences.

Johnson’s poetry often uses the tone and structure of English poetry to convey Native legends and beliefs, with a dramatic intensity well-matched to the stage. Her first collection of poetry, The White Wampum (1895), includes both poems and tales. Two more collections of poetry followed, as well as three fiction collections.

Poor health caused Johnson to retire from touring, and she settled in Vancouver in 1909. She died of breast cancer in 1913, and her ashes were buried in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

On 11 March 2008, City Opera Vancouver announced its commission of Pauline, a chamber opera to star the dramatic mezzo Judith Forst. The composer is Christos Hatzis, with libretto by Margaret Atwood. The work was planned for premiere in early 2011. The first opera to be written about Pauline Johnson, it is set in Vancouver in March 1913, in the last week of her life.



In 1895 Canadian Magazine declared, “Pauline is the most popular figure in Canadian Literature.”




A thin wet sky, that yellows at the rim,

And meets with sun-lost lip the marsh’s brim.

The pools low lying, dank with moss and mould,

Glint through their mildews like large cups of gold.

Among the wild rice in the still lagoon,

In monotone the lizard shrills his tune.

The wild goose, homing, seeks a sheltering,

Where rushes grow, and oozing lichens cling.

Late cranes with heavy wing, and lazy flight,

Sail up the silence with the nearing night.

And like a spirit, swathed in some soft veil,

Steals twilight and its shadows o’er the swale.

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,

Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.

 E.Pauline Johnson

An Etching

A meadow brown; across the yonder edge 

A zigzag fence is ambling; here a wedge 

Of underbush has cleft its course in twain, 

Till where beyond it staggers up again; 

The long, grey rails stretch in a broken line 

Their ragged length of rough, split forest pine, 

And in their zigzag tottering have reeled 

In drunken efforts to enclose the field, 

Which carries on its breast, September born, 

A patch of rustling, yellow, Indian corn. 

Beyond its shrivelled tassels, perched upon 

The topmost rail, sits Joe, the settler’s son, 

A little semi-savage boy of nine. 

Now dozing in the warmth of Nature’s wine, 

His face the sun has tampered with, and wrought, 

By heated kisses, mischief, and has brought 

Some vagrant freckles, while from here and there 

A few wild locks of vagabond brown hair 

Escape the old straw hat the sun looks through, 

And blinks to meet his Irish eyes of blue. 

Barefooted, innocent of coat or vest, 

His grey checked shirt unbuttoned at his chest, 

Both hardy hands within their usual nest—   

His breeches pockets — so, he waits to rest 

His little fingers, somewhat tired and worn, 

That all day long were husking Indian corn. 

His drowsy lids snap at some trivial sound, 

With lazy yawns he slips towards the ground, 

Then with an idle whistle lifts his load 

And shambles home along the country road 

That stretches on fringed out with stumps and weeds, 

And finally unto the backwoods leads, 

Where forests wait with giant trunk and bough 

The axe of pioneer, the settler’s plough. 

E.Pauline Johnson – “Tekahionwake.”

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Published by

Jen Goldie

"Life is made up of small comings and goings and for everything we take with us, we leave a part of ourselves behind" - Summer of 42

19 thoughts on “E. Pauline Johnson, also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake –pronounced: dageh-eeon-wageh, literally: ‘double-life’. An Internationally known Canadian Poet and Performer of the 19th century.”

  1. ‘And He Said Fight On’ is her best poem, in my opinion. It initially reads like a war poem. But when you find out she wrote it after being given a diagnosis of terminal cancer it becomes even more powerful. It’s a war poem of the most personal kind. Thanks for writing about her Jen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome Larry. I think maybe I should compose some more bio pages. I haven’t done any in a few months. I’ve been concentrating on Short Fiction. Thanks. Glad you enjoyed.


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