Meditation on Tom Thomson


After running in frozen lands of Winnipeg in winter, I spent my first Canadian summer in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park. It’s an immensely special place, and so was the three-month-long journey. While I’ll share the journey in series of posts in coming weeks, visualize through the words of Robert Kroetsch (1975) as he describes a beautiful painting of Algonquin Park by Tom Thomson, who was drowned in Lake Canoe meeting a mysterious death. 


Tom Thomson I love you             therefore I apologize
for what I must say             but I must say
damn your jack pines             they are beautiful

I love your bent trees             and I love your ice
in spring             candled into its green rot
and I love the way you drowned             all alone

with your canoe             and our not even knowing
the time of day             and the grave mystery
of your genius             interrupted             is our story

and art, man, art             is the essential
luxury             the imperative QUESTION(?)
the re-sounding say             of the night’s loon

and holy shit mother             the muskeg snatch
of the old north             the bait that caught
the fishing father             into his own feast

the swimming art-man             who did not drown
in the lake             in his pictures
who drowned             for murder or grief or

the weave of the water             would not hold
the shoulders of the sky             were deep
the maelstrom would not spin             to spit him

free, daddy, FREE FREE FREE             (but I must say
DAMN your jack pines)             for the whorl
of the whirlpool breaks us             one by one

we stretch and tear             the joints
opening like curtains             on a cool
Algonquin morning             onto a red sun

or down onto the black bottom             or far
(the grammar of our days             is ill defined)
or rapt in the root and fire             of that wind

bent forest             (about your pine trees
this evening             one of them moved
across my wall)             daring the light

daring the bright and lover’s leap             across
the impassible gap             the uncertain
principle of time and space             straight down

he dove             and he would seize unearthly
shades             and he would seize the drowned land
the pictures from the pool             the pool’s picture

and the gods cried             Tom, Tom, you asshole
let go             and you had found their secret
and would not ever             let go             they cry



Meditation of Tom Thomson, by Robert Kroetsch presents an image of the painter Tom Thomson being taken by the deep water. Although most of you might have seen the picture consistent with the one Robert sees, no two images can be identical.

Feature Image: Mike Last

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