And Still He Sings – A Celebration of Patrick Lane and his New Novel, Deep River Night, Released Today

Canadian Author Patrick Lane (1939 – )

The Beauty

This too, the beauty
of the antelope in snow.
Is it enough to say we will
imagine this and nothing more?

Who understands that, failing,
falters at the song.
But still we sing.
That is beauty.

But it is not an answer
any more than the antelope
most slender of beasts
most beautiful

will tell us why they go
going nowhere
and going there
perfectly in the snow.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems
of Patrick Lane
, Harbour Publishing, 2011

Today, a chill day, here. Here in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island where chill isn’t bone crushing or breath-taking. But here, where, if the forecast is true, it will snow in the next few days and the snow will fill open flowers of snow drop and crocus. That sort of chill. Flowers made more beautiful by the cold. The cold made more terrible by the flowers.

I am thinking of cold and flowers and Patrick Lane’s new book, Deep River Night. It was released today. His second novel. Cold and beauty. The opposites Lane knows well and even though I am now only part way into his new book I know those tensions will play out perfectly. Beauty and whatever its opposite is will play out and I will have to face both beauty and its shadow by the time I finish the book.

Patrick Lane’s Latest Novel, Released February 13th, 2018

Canadian author of twenty five books of poetry, his novels and a memoir, Lane’s writing career now spans almost sixty years. And he is no stranger to these blog pages. I have featured him many times here.

I chose his poem The Beauty to introduce this blog post. With a focus on these lines: But still we sing./ That is beauty. It sums up so much of Lane’s life. The singing of our stories, a beauty in and of itself even when the stories contain so much grief and sorrow. The paradox that propels Lane on, book after book.

This, no book review. This, more a tribute to a fine writer and more, a fine man. A good man. Fine and good do not mean they are without their opposites or their shadows. Now in his 18th year of recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol, Lane has been no stranger to dark and shadow but he has faced them in his writing and in his life.

This transmutation. This alchemy. When a man or woman go down into the darkness and come back out alive, and I don’t been just physically, they bring a dark gold back out with them. And that gold holds a blessing for anyone near enough to touch it. To hear it. Here, in the words Lane sings. Like these words at the end of an essay  he wrote for The Globe and Mail in 2000 a few weeks out of a treatment center:

It’s Christmas. There’s a tree and many lights and people singing. Some of us will make it, some of us won’t, but we sing our hearts out anyway. We sing as hard as we can.

If Lane has a signature image I think it is this one: no matter who we are, what we have been, we must sing out our life. For Lane, I think, singing, especially, the metaphor, is his code word for staying alive. And for him his singing has been his writing and no matter how tough his poems, his stories, his writing has been his way to stay sane and whole in spite of his brokenness.

Lane shared words from his Globe article at a university convocation ceremony three years ago. And he used the image of singing again as he ended his frank address:

Today you receive your degrees. It is a moment of immense change for each of you, a moment to be proud of, for your families to be proud of. But today is merely an hour. I ask that you never be afraid for a time may come when you will have to sing your hearts out, and when that happens I want you to sing as hard as you can.

Through his writing, Lane keeps his song alive and the songs of others. In his poem The Beauty, Lane says: And still we sing; in his poem Small Elegy for New York he says: The silence of the dead is what we own. It’s why we sing. And later in the poem he adds: The dead sing too in the wreckage and the fires. We must listen to their song./ The burden is our lives. And in his poem The Sooke Potholes he says: Sometimes a song is all we have. That’s why he keeps singing it.

Now, his novel, more of that song. His song of living up on the North Thompson where his latest novel takes place over a harrowing two days. And more of the songs of others: the dead, the oppressed, the oppressors, the survivors, the addicted. The harsh beauty in this. So he won’t forget. So we won’t forget.

This poem below has long been a favorite of mine. And it too holds at its heart the image of singing. And more, an image of light. The two images so impactful.

God Walks Burning Through Me

When I sleep the birds come to the garden
With their gifts of seeds. Out of ice
last year’s leaves of grass lift into night.
All my songs have been one song.
The palm of my hand and the sole of my foot
remember everything I have forgotten.
The old lantern by the pond has always been there.
Now is the time to light it.

Patrick Lane from The Collected Poems of Patrick Lane, Harbour Publishing, 2011

In the poem Lane says: All my songs have been one song. Yes, songs of saying I am here. I have been here. And he also says: The old lantern by the pond has always been there./ Now is the time to light it. What I hear in these images is, it’s never too late. Keep singing, your joys, your misfortunes. And the lantern that has waited for years is there, is yours, to light. Don’t go quiet, don’t go dark.

Now back to the novel. I am a quarter of the way through!


  1. Rosemary
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this beautiful posting, Richard. It is late here, and I am listening to the chinook winds eat the snow that fell over the weekend. I just started reading Patrick’s book this evening. A gift I am savouring page by page.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much. I am heading downstairs now to keep reading. Ah and the blessing of Chinook winds. Yes!

  3. Donna Friesen
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this beautiful tribute to an extraordinary man. “Dark gold” indeed and such a blessing to those of us who have spent time with him and his words. I look forward to reading the book.

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted February 14, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for being part of this conversation. Being the poet you are. Being the artist you are. Finding the tribe that nourishes you!

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