Archive Item of the Week, October 14th 2010

Collection of Poems by Mrs William Patterson of Kirkwall, Ontario


Collection of Poems, Mrs William Patterson

This weeks Archive item of the week, are a collection of poems put together after the death of their author, Mrs William Patterson. They date from sometime before 1901, and were written in Ontario, Canada, where Mrs Patterson lived with her husband. She had moved with her husband from Fifeshire in 1846, and she began writing these poems at the age of 60, after some years living in Canada.

The poems are revealing of Mrs Patterson’s piety and Christianity. In To the Infidel, Mrs Patterson writes imploringly to atheists that they will not shake her belief in God;

Say not there is no God,
I listen not to thee,
Even in this sinful heart of mine
Should whisper so to me.
I know there is a God
That hears and answers prayer,
Who bids us seek His loving face
And cast on Him our care

These are the words of a defiant Christian, and her assurance of her own faith appears again and again throughout this small collection. She refers to Scotland in many of her poems as a land where God is eternally present. In Lines Written on a Challenge Debate, she writes:

I’ve wandered round St Andrew’s scores,
When summer days were sheen,
Stood where the martyrs’ ashes rest
Beneath the sod so green
Ah, many a brave true Scottish heart
Lies underneath the sod,
Who only fought for liberty
And peace to worship God

Her poems are remarkably lyrical and expressive, and there is a clarity to her language which can be very beautiful. Her clear love and affection for her homeland never wanes throughout the collection, and she recalls her memories of Scotland with the same love and respect with which she speaks of her religion.

It is however in her more personal poems about her relationship with Scotland, that we see her true sense of loss at having left her home. In reading these particular poems, you get a sense of the otherness and isolation which she feels living in a foreign land. It is in these poems, rather than her religious offerings, that the true scale of her ability comes out. Her poems are certainly of their time, and reflect an understanding of the romantic tradition which they undoubtedly owe a lot to. This post will end with a poem by Mrs Patterson, in the collection, called Flowers From Home, which certainly reflects her romanticised view of Scotland and her profound sense of alienation in Canada.

Flowers from Home

They are only some little flowers,
Brought here by a stranger’s hand,
From the far off garden bowers
Of my dear old father-land;
Only some little flowers,
But what a delight to me,
For they bring to mind our Eastern clime
And our home by the sunny sea

Only some little flowers,
But the tears will fill my eyes
As I look on the blossoms I used to love,
With a great and glad surprise
Ah! Darling little flowers,
You are aliens here like me, 
But you will not pine for our Eastern clime
Nor our home by the sunny sea. 

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