Helen MacDonald was a brilliant writer with a poetic soul
Ihave long been an admirer of the poetry of the late Helen Christine MacDonald of Catalone Gut. A retired teacher, she published privately three slim volumes of verse on Cape Breton landscape and culture — poetry “ felt in the blood and felt along the heart,” to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth.
I had the privilege of meeting her in the early 1990s when she was residing at the Victoria Haven Nursing Home in Glace Bay. I remember, in particular, her dignity. She passed away Oct. 17, 1994, at the age of 90 at the New Waterford Consolidated Hospital. In her obituary, there was mention of her teaching, but there was nothing about her poetic soul or her poetic legacy. Nor was there mention of the fact she was interested in local history, especially of the Mira area. She wrote more than one piece on the beautiful Mira River, concentrating primarily on the early French settlements and later the Scottish pioneers.
Her lyrical poem The Mira River, contains these opening lines: “Come sail up the path of the sunset, that glows from the west,/Up the tranquil ways of the fisher to some haven of rest.”
Helen C. MacDonald was one of a stable of writers who sustained the Cape Breton Mirror in its brief life as a magazine published to reflect the history and culture of Cape Breton. The brainchild of Norman Lipshutz, a Glace Bay businessman, the magazine lasted for over two years, from Dec. 1951, to Nov. 1953. It was endorsed by academics and no less a luminary than the novelist Hugh MacLennan, who was born in Glace Bay. Ahead of its time, the Mirror died in its infancy, done in by lack of advertising revenue and a limited readership.
Helen’s poetry appeared in the magazine from the second edition in Jan., 1952, to the end of 1953. She later collected all of her poems into the volumes, Cape Breton By The Sea (1976) and Songs of Old Cape Breton (undated). As well, she published Poems For Christmas, Easter and Every Day.
Nature and cultural identity, remembrance and belonging, dominate her poetry. She wrote much about the beauty of Cape Breton, her Scottish heritage as well as the nature of the French influence in Cape Breton. In fact, she displays a wonderful empathy with the former French culture.
Naturally, I am partial to any poem written about the beauty of Cape Breton. In MacDonald’s first volume Cape Breton By The Sea, for example, her title poem is a deeply-felt lyric singing the praises of our island. The poem has a very nice development. It begins with praise for the landscape and the people. Then it compares Cape Breton with other settings thus: “A little place but they who wander wide/Through other lands, and all their grandeur see/No fairer spot than this can ever find/Or nearer Nature’s heart can ever be.” Precisely the point that I’ve tried to make in recent columns.
She concludes her poem with these lines: “A little place, Cape Breton by the sea./A tiny speck upon the Earth’s great face,/But oh! The boundless wealth of loveliness/That God has crammed into this little place.”
In next week’s column, I shall demonstrate the extent and variety of Helen MacDonald’s exquisite lyrics. SYDNEY — Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who work at the Dominion Rink have signed a new five-year contract.
CUPE national representative John Evans said Local 850 has ratified a deal that runs from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2014.
He says employees will see an 11.5 per cent increase over the life of the agreement. They also received improvements to their layoff language.
The deal was reached with the assistance of a conciliation officer from the Department of Labour.