In a February post on Drinking Food, Alexia Moyer opened with the observation that “Drink of all kinds populates Canadian Literature” and that writer Austin Clarke (via his mother) urges readers to line their stomachs with food before imbibing. Wise advice.
But there are other accompaniments to alcoholic beverages. How about words?
Let’s raise our glasses for a toast…
In The Rituals of Dinner, Margaret Visser notes that the act of toasting has an ancient past. Its meanings and rituals vary depending on the culture. Today, the true delights of toasting are mostly tied to the senses — taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound (257). Visser observes that when we mark an occasion with a toast, we bring people together:
“Clinking glasses—rapping them to call everyone present to attention, or tapping them together when toasting—has always given people pleasure. Clinking one glass against another is making contact, an action we perform precisely because we are not sharing one cup; in doing it we remind ourselves that the wine, now separated into glassfuls, is still one, and we reach out to each other even though we do not hand our glasses on” (258).
Clinking may delight the ears, but so do words, especially poetry.
Yesterday– April 6, 2016–was Vancouver’s 130th birthday. For the next 130 days, the City of Vancouver will be posting fun facts about the city. You can follow along on Twitter #Van130.
To mark this event, a poetic toast seemed in order by way of E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake), who wrote the poem “A Toast” in 1903, praising her adopted western city as the “Queen of the Coast.”
Born in 1861 on the Six Nations Reserve (in Ontario), Johnson spent the last years of her life residing in Vancouver. She is famous for the collection of stories Legends of Vancouver (1911) that were inspired by Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish Nation. When Johnson died in 1913, she was buried in Stanley Park not far from Siwash Rock.
The sing-song rhythm of Johnson’s “A Toast” expresses merriment and love for this coastal city. In Paddling Her Own Canoe, Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag comment that the poem’s joyfulness suggests that at the time, Johnson still had “hopes of a more inclusive nation” with respect to Canada’s treatment of the First Nations (215). “A Toast” blends the seemingly simple yet meaningful ritual of raising a glass with Johnson’s dreams for the future of Canadian society.
In the poem, Johnson selects a rare vintage wine, generously fills her cup “to the edge,” and toasts Vancouver’s health, youth, wealth, and future achievements.
So if you’re sipping a glass of wine this week, say a few words of poetry and toast Vancouver at 130.
Then here’s a Ho! Vancouver, in wine of the bonniest hue,
With a hand on my hip and the cup at my lip,
And a love in my life for you. (“A Toast”)
To read Johnson’s poem in its entirety, see Canadian Poetry.
Gerson, Carole, and Veronica Strong-Boag. Paddling Her Own Canoe: The Times and Texts of E. Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
Johnson, E. Pauline. “A Toast.” Canadian Born. 1903. Canadian Poetry.
Visser, Margaret. The Rituals of Dinner. Toronto: HarperPerennial, 1992.
Text and Photos by Shelley Boyd