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Week 5 Whylah Falls

October 7th, 2012 by Colin Martin

So what are your thoughts about Clarke’s “verse novel”, as we take a deeper look at the idea of the Africadian and a culture that has formed right in Canada but, in some ways, quite separate from it?

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  • The thing about Whylah Falls that sticks out the most to me is the novel’s ability to pull ideas from each of its characters to bring such a wide perspective. Thinking back, I almost forget that there is a plot, with the climax being the moment that Othello is Killed. The poem “Death Song” spoke to me the most. The poem is short, and the majority of it leads up to the moment that Othello accepts that he is dead.
    I went over the poem a few times to understand what Othello means by “We are but dust,” and then it hit me, King Solomon used the same tone of voice in Ecclesiastes. King Solomon uses the phrase “like chasing after the wind,” continuously express his pessimistic thought throughout his book. Othello uses “We are but dust” to imply how fragile and delicate life really is.
    Life in Acadia people, portrayed in this book, screams like a soap opera. It was really hard for me to identify with the characters because it was not the typical Canadian setting. However, the picture was defined. In a community of black Africadians, the white man was the outsider. Tensions arose, a man makes a mistake. A tragedy occurred in Whylah Falls, and life has to move on.

  • Oct.13, 2012

    I’ll be honest, when I first glanced through “Whyllah Falls” I was less than excited. It looked like a random collection of poems about love, lust and loss written by people I know nothing about in place I’ve never been from an era I have no interest in. But, it didn’t take long before it started to spark my interest. The differences between the characters and myself didn’t seem as big after reading about X’s love and rejection, the abuse of Cora, Saul’s struggles, the injustice of Othello’s death, Pablo’s passion for life, Rev. Langford’s doubts and ambitions, and Seville’s cruelty. At their core, these are all Canadian experiences. If you haven’t dealt with situations like this personally, you most likely know someone who has.
    I enjoy the way he speaks metaphorically about just about everything. It gives the book a unique personality and an element of mystery. It promotes the countless connections between man, nature, industry, race, culture, history, gender, etc. By using this method he invites the reader to feel at home in familiarity of the metaphorical comparisons and experience the joy, pain and beauty.
    Even though it was pretty confusing at times, I really enjoyed the novel. It brought me back to a few memories and made me ask some questions I hadn’t thought of before.

    Justin Neufeld

  • Whylah Falls, as we have talked about in class, is like a quilt; it’s what is called pastiche. I felt that there were so many things going on in the novel yet at the same time, they all kind of tied together. In the introduction of the novel, Clarke talks about how Whylah Falls was born and how he “discovered my oral heritage.”

    Clarke, in the introduction subtitled ‘The Intentional Fallacy,’ talks about his aim to portray this novel as a song in which every poem serves as a different instrument, a different sound, which if put all together will or will not harmonize. I think in that sense as well, Africadians in this novel are influenced by Canadian and non-Canadian music (hence Whylah Falls being born in the blues) and literature.

    This novel is centred on an Africadian community in Jarvis County, Nova Scotia. Throughout the book we are introduced to several pairs of lovers, various characters filled with wisdom and a society that is, to an extent, racist. We see all these things from X’s love for Shelley and Pablo and Amarantha’s passions to “a government that don’t know how to weep” in “The Ballad of Othello Clemence.” It was hard for me to connect with the characters per say but I enjoyed reading the novel because the issues presented by Clarke (such as love, murder, abuse, etc.) were relatable in a sense that they can happen to anyone. Thus, this makes members of this Africadian community similar to Canadians yet distinct because, for one, they have formed an “Africadian vernacular” within the boundaries of what would otherwise be just English and/or French.

  • Clarke sets his novel during the Depression and, even if the community he depicts is struggling with poverty, racism and violence, it is a vital community in many aspects of life: great ingredients the author put in this novel range over from love and romantic stories to the blues and the literature. Whylah Falls is a veritable anthology of styles, and that is why is so attractive and innovative in some sense.
    Rooted in pleasure and pain, nature and body, Clarke’s language is always enthusiastic. It is often colloquial in expression but lofty in sentiment. It pulsates, it ripples and undulates. It takes many poetic forms, from prose poetry, to sonnets, to songs, to free verse. As much as it draws poetry out of the everyday, it also makes the everyday poetic.

  • If there is any character that I could identify with in Whylah Falls, it is the love sick and sometimes opportunist X. This is a man who lives as I have often lived (in my youth), through his heart, and some lower regions of his body. X is a man who is in love with love, or at least the idea of love. X chases any, or all, who seem to tickle his fancy at the particular moment. He may not be aware of the implications of his lack of any kind of fidelity, in fact he may not be totally aware that others could have feelings that are contrary to his own. This said he is not a malicious man, he is so wrapped up in his own love, or lust as needs be, to see that his actions might hurt others. In the story his actions do not come back to haunt him, he is very lucky as his “first” love, even though slow to kindle, would completely shut the door on him if she found out about Selah. The purely sexual nature of his relationship with Selah fulfills his primal needs but ultimately will leave him feeling empty, as she fills no other need than sexual. Shelley is portrayed to be the true love for X, and at the end of the story we are left to speculate about whether or not X returns to Whylah Falls, and to his love Shelly. Kinda sad really, I do like a love story where the lovers to get together at the end.

  • October 15, 2012

    I absolutely loved George Elliot Clarke’s “verse novel” Whylah Falls. It is a beautiful piece of writing and while I was reading it I felt so many different emotions.

    Even though the storyline was rough and not soft in the slightest way, the novel was still beautiful. It captured romance, death, and many hardships. The story took on many poetic forms. The descriptions in the poetry seem so real that you are able to imagine the details of what is going on. My favorite part of reading Whylah Falls is that it reminded me of the Broadway show “Porgy and Bess”. “Porgy and Bess” is an opera-style musical and it takes place in Charleston, South Carolina.

    It reminded me a lot of Whylah Falls because Whylah Falls uses poetry to help create the story and “Porgy and Bess” uses opera. While Whylah Falls is looking at Africadian culture, “Porgy and Bess” is looking at African-American culture. Both stories involve drugs, romance, sex and death. The poetry in Whylah Falls make it so beautiful to read and the opera in “Porgy and Bess” make it so beautiful to watch and listen to. Both pieces are controversial and I think that people will have love-hate feelings towards both.

    At first, I felt the story of Whylah Falls didn’t seem to relate to Canadian culture. When reading the novel, I found it difficult to picture it taking place in Canada. But when looking at the themes and the big picture it is relevant to Canadian culture because all of the things have taken place in Canada. This includes things like racism, struggle for power, poverty, violence, and self-destruction. It is history that cannot be forgotten and Whylah Falls shows this history through many narratives.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • Some of George Elliott Clarke’s poems didn’t make much sense to me or impact me as much as others did. So I was wondering: is it always possible to infer a deeper meaning from poems, or are some merely literal? Take for example his ‘To Selah’ and ‘The Confession of Saul.’ Are there any underlying meanings in them that relate to his message of the Blackadians and their identity, or are they merely poems built to contribute only to the diegesis of the poem?

    Some of his work, however, stood out and were interesting. ‘The Argument’ of ‘The Adoration of Shelley’ begins with “Outside, Whylah shimmers” and although this may simply be Clarke giving a sense of setting, the word “outside” creates a feeling of detachment and it seems like the people are locked away and prevented from properly belonging to the place they call their home. This idea of a people being ‘exiled,’ not necessarily physically but in terms of their identity is a recurring theme prominent in the first section of the book.

    At some points in the book, the characters are unbothered by other people’s views and live freely, but in ‘Look Homeward Exile,’ the pain of the erasure of his identity is evident. He describes how “nothing warms [his] wintry exile” not even as he “[sleeps] beneath a patchwork quilt of rum” and we see the need to feel validated rise above the need to stand out as a Blackadian.

  • As I was reading Whylah Falls by George Elliot Clarke I was confused through most of it. I found myself having to refer back to things, having to really study pieces in order to see who’s perspective it was from, and most of all I had to really think about some of the poetry in order to find the connection to the Africadian culture. As I started thinking about these struggles that I had while reading the book, I got the idea that maybe the book itself represented the Africadian culture just as much as the poetry itself does. The poetry itself is unique and unlike any other, yet they still fall into the category of poetry. All these characters have different backgrounds and are all unique in their own ways yet they are all Canadians. The book pieces together all these characters’ different perspectives and stories in order to create one confusing, yet beautiful novel, much like Canada pieces together people from all over to create a unique nation that unifies even when there are so many different backgrounds. I don’t believe that I am quite at the point where I can say that the entire novel makes sense to me, but what I love about reading Whylah Falls is that every time i read over a piece I seem to think of the book in new ways and I start to think of the Africadian culture in new ways. I started to see the struggles that these men and women dealt with and then realized that they are struggles that not only the Africadian people dealt with but they are struggles that people everywhere have faced in their lives. Issues of alcoholism, abuse, discrimination, love, and rejection. These are not issues that just one race deals with and that is something that i feel the book used, at least from my perspective, to unify the lives of people not only from this Africadian culture but from cultures all over the world. All in all I am really enjoying George Elliott Clarke’s verse novel ‘Whylah Falls’.

  • Oct .21, 2012

    I find it hard not to reflects on “Whylah Falls” due to Africadian influence that he had. The epigraph to George Elliott Clarke’s poetry narrative Whylah Falls reads: “I know that this traitor language can turn /One truth into another or even /Against itself. Yet, it is all we have.” Reading Elliot’s book for the first time, I was confused about who is talking in the poem, what is the narrator talking about until I dig deeper into each character. There is one character that seems to catch my attention, Cora’s Character. Cora was desperate to escape the imprisonment of his Uncle who always sniffing her around, so she fell in love with cheap Saul. She had a baby out of wedlock so that she will not be abuse by her uncle, but in doing so she found herself in an abusive relationship. Cora was being treated like an object in Saul’s house. The only sonnet that describes Cora’s Pain was in Page 55 which says “why he always beat me? / I was too jolly scared to run around./ I was true to him like stars in the sky”. These lines speak of the pain of love because Cora couldn’t take it anymore.

    Josiah

  • This week I will be discussing The Argument from section 5, The Martyrdom of Othello Clemence From George Elliot Clark’s Whylah Falls.

    The way Clark is describing the event of the shooting really captures my attention because he is speaking in such a way that a movie could be made out of it. He is describing what camera angles would be necessary, lighting, etc. I am drawn to this page because of the imagery Clark has used. I can understand things far better when I am easily able to conjure a picture in my mind. Saying the martyrdom is a “cold realism”, Clark then proceeds to describe every camera angle and lighting effect necessary to truly make it feel like it has actually been done. Because of the injustice of Othello’s death, these descriptions are necessary to make the scene seem real even though we don’t want it to be real. The antagonist, S. Scratch Seville reminds me of Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, due to the fact that all I can picture is S. S. S. being a snakelike figure. Being dressed wholly in white, having rotten teeth, and a beard stuck like mold to his face, one can only assume that he’s no good.

    This sort of imagery really captures my attention and gains my interest as I can thoroughly understand exactly what the author is trying to say.

    Graeme Howard

  • Clarke’s “Whylah Falls”

    It took me sometime to respond to this Clarke’s novel “Whylah Falls.” I feel like I did not get the book completely. Probably it is hard for me to picture this situation that I am not aware of happening. However, I salute Clarke’s braveness to put up this kind of novel. Finally, someone at his time stood up for the “Africadian” culture. I admire him as a person because he uses his talent to bring up to the world that “Africadian” exists, he brought up to the topic through his works and show that these “Africadians” are part of Canada and should not be ignored. I maybe ignorant about the “Africadian” but I am completely aware of racial discrimination and seclusion of the “black skinned” people from the society ever since and up to the present time. And I think that the purpose of this book is to become an eye opener for everyone about the “Africadians” and also to be inspiration to the Africadians, this will give them hope that at least someone believes and willing to stand up and promote their culture.

  • My first impression on “Whylah Falls” by George Elliot Clarke was that the book was going to be boring, but as you start reading it the book was not as bad as I expected. Though the language in the book was difficult to understand, I learnt best through the use of imagery by picturing scenes like the killing of Othello. This particular scene caught my eye since the mental image of this scene especially the length of it and how it goes into details to describes the killing was gruesome yet George Elliot Clarke did a wonderful job painting a mental image of the scene and the impact it has.

    Daniel Feng

  • The rearing head of war is difficult to escape, with all of it’s tragedies and horror stories constantly being advertised on the media. George Elliott Clarke touches briefly on this topic in his poem “Quilt”. The unidentified speaker of the poem is bombarded with the terrors of war from the newspaper and radio and in an attempt to keep the fear from infiltrating her, she quilts. Though this contrast of terrible war and beautiful creation is not limited to a quilt and the news.


    The dueling aspects of peace and war play out through the speakers interactions with the news, a quilt and, perhaps most interestingly, the skeletal remains of a horse she finds near the railroad. The horse is used in literature as a symbol of a many ideals: freedom, independence, spirit… or the atrocities of war. In this instant, it’s almost omen-like how Clarke depicts the situation. The “horse’s / bleached bones” were located “beside railroad tracks”, which seems to suggest that as man rolls towards war, death will naturally be left in it’s wake. Within the skeleton, the dueling aspects are magnified by: “Roses garlanded the ribs”. The roses are new life, as well as a symbol of love, enveloping the cold, dead husk of war. As a final element of the omen, “a garter snake rippled greenly / through the skull.” A garter snake is considered to be harmless. I believe Clarke is suggesting the garter snake as a seemingly dangerous creature (as most snakes are) but in reality is peaceful and incapable of doing harm. If we extrapolate to man, one could say we are dangerous, volatile beings, but we must not be type-cast but rather look to a peaceful existence.


    The speaker, in a way, is purveying her peaceful defiance of the terrors of war through her quilt. She “[quilts], planting sunflower patches in a pleasance of thick / cotton.” and by doing so, she is metaphorically abetting the continuance of life and creation. She does this in order “to spite this world’s freezing cruelty.”, the cruelty that many perpetuate blindly.

  • Whylah Falls brings together stories written in poem form about multiple African Canadian couples living in Nova Scotia in the early 19th century. The poems speak about their love for one another, struggles, acceptance and pains living in a community which they had to establish their own identities into. Although the people being spoken about in the poems weren’t related to each other in any way, their experiences become a string tying them all together. The way that Clarke expresses the characters emotions and situations allowed for the connectivity between all of the poems and allowed a more visual and personal view about the African Canadian community.

    Aingela Carlos

  • When I first skimmed through George Elliott Clarke’s “Whylah Falls” my first impression was that it was very Americanized. Even while I read the novel, I kept picturing the characters as being in the south like Georgia and North and Southern Carolina. I kept thinking about how it was for African Americans during the depression and how there was still discrimination against those of coloured skin. I had to continue to remind myself that this was based in the maritimes of Canada, not the United States. What I did like about his verse novel was how we got to see the different characters from their perspective. Although I loved how we got an insight into how others felt about their situations, it would get a little confusing as to who was talking and to whom they were talking to. When he had a play style of writing, like “Seville” on pages 114 and 115. He also incorporated newspaper articles and pictures, which I thought were great ways to make the story come alive. It made the characters come alive and relatable.