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Poetry Canadian


by (author) David Arnason

Turnstone Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2023
Canadian, Folklore & Mythology
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2023
    List Price

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Reissued in a magnificent new edition, Marshburning is David Aranson's masterful long poem binding his Icelandic roots to the shore of Lake Winnipeg. First published in 1980, this classic is the latest edition in the Turnstone Selects series, highlighting important works that hold both mass and academic interest.

About the author

David Arnason
David Arnason was born in Gimli, Manitoba, in 1940. His works include two collections of poetry, Marsh Burning and Skrag, and four collections of short stories: Fifty Stories and a Piece of Advice, The Circus Performer’s Bar, The Happiest Man in the World and The Pagan Wall.

David Arnason's profile page

Excerpt: Marshburning (by (author) David Arnason)


I was born under Gemini
and I should have been twins
my twinned soul wars in my single body
Frey and Freya have been here
Baldur is dead

they say
newly slain
always he is newly slain
his death a catastrophe so near
that every second he is newly slain
the grief so fresh
that even knowing he will rise again
cannot soften the suffering
Baldur is dead

they tell me
bursting with the news

they cannot help me
having no future
and no past


I must make plans
and the intense moments they inhabit
have no room for plans
always they burst in to being
born and dying
all events are one to them
except that Baldur's death
is under everything


christmas is coming and I must get mistletoe



snow has fallen
and the crows have gathered in the spruces
for their winter dance
I have seen no dwarves
but the clock in my kitchen
is reflected in the mirror in the hall
so that time is backward
and I must look into my eye
to see the reflection
reflected true



Heimaey has cracked in two
and Vestmanaeyjar buried under ash


it has begun
the rainbows of the summer
were no lie


I thought it would be faster
the boiling of the sea
the sun and moon swallowed at the start

it is not so




W'hen I was twelve
I fetched the cattle every morning
walking out to the north pasture
to bring them in for milking.
We had cut the hay early that year
but every day in June
rain slanted from the east
and so we gave up on the hay
turning the cattle loose.
All those still mornings
I walked through Paul's bush to the pasture
in an ecstasy of fear.



I was there when they found the body.
For three days the skiffs had circled the dock
trailing their hooks fishermen
hoping for no catch.
I was on my way to a movie.
I stopped at the dock only to watch them drag.
When Red Walker pulled Rollie from the water
and threw him on the dock
bloated and stiff I couldn't run
but had to stay and memorize
the curve of his back
the angle of his arms and legs.



When I got beyond Paul's bush
the smell of rotting hay
meant the safety of the cattle
and I drove them home.






At the end of April
when the ice breaks from the lake
my grandfather burns the marshes.
with a can of gasoline and his torch
he walks the edge of the lagoon
touching the dried reeds and rushes into life.
He starts late in the afternoon
so that when he is done
the horizon is a line of fire
against the darkness of the night.
Each year
the fires dwindle
and go out before it's dawn.
One year the fire did not stop
but circled our house
so we had to go out with wet sacks
beating at the flames.
We saved the house
then looked to Old Arni's shack
a half a mile away
where flames still leaped and danced.
We tried to help him
the old man blind and crying
but it was much too late.



It is the hold the mind takes on things
green of July yellow of August ochre of September
not rain but the slope of rain
not snow but the curve of drifted fields
whiteness of December
the unexpected sharpness of mint
childhood and a fire
when it's much too late.


this has happened before
it will happen again
smallpox death by drowning
death by fire
all the crackling static
of x-rays and electric
impulse the shaggy
magnetic coating
of planets and stars
it has happened before
the courtly minuet of molecular motion
ecstatic electrons
bowing and swaying
their brownian ballet
turning and turning
and always returning to this
it will happen again
smallpox love death and decay

Editorial Reviews

[T]ightly wrought, sensuously woven verse, David Arnason's Marshburning is a veritable feast.

-Glenn Deer, Books in Canada

Other titles by David Arnason