-- Gavin's Woodpile --
17 November 1975. Burritt's Rapids.

Found on:

In The Falling Dark (1976) & (2002)

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 2 (2014) [compilation album]

Working out on Gavin's woodpile
Safe within the harmony of kin
Visions begin to crowd my eyes
Like a meteor shower in the autumn skies
And the soil beneath me seems to moan
With a sound like the wind through a hollow bone
And my mind fills with figures like Lappish runes of power1...
And log slams on rough-hewn log
And a voice from somewhere scolds a barking dog.

I remember a bleak-eyed prisoner
In the Stoney Mountain life-suspension home
You drink and fight and damage someone
And they throw you away for some years of boredom
One year done and five more to go --
No job waiting so no parole
And over and over they tell you that you're nothing...
and I toss another log on Gavin's woodpile
and wonder at the lamp-warm window's welcome smile.

I remember crackling embers
Coloured windows shining through the rain
Like the coloured slicks on The English River2
Death in the marrow and death in the liver
And some government gambler with his mouth full of steak
Saying, "If you can't eat the fish, fish in some other lake.
To watch a people die -- it is no new thing."
And the stack of wood grows higher and higher
And a helpless rage seems to set my brain on fire.

And everywhere the free space fills
Like a punctured diving suit and i'm
Paralyzed in the face of it all
Cursed with the curse of these modern times

Distant mountains, blue and liquid,
Luminous like a thickening of sky
Flash in my mind like a stairway to life --
A train whistle cuts through the scene like a knife
Three hawks wheel in a dazzling sky --
A slow motion jet makes them look like a lie
And I'm left to conclude there's no human answer near...
But there's a narrow path to a life to come
That explodes into sight with the power of the sun

A mist rises as the sun goes down
And the light that's left forms a kind of crown
The earth is bread, the sun is wine
It's a sign of a hope that's ours for all time.

Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • Album Notes: 1 "Lappish runes" - Lapp Shamans covered their drums with striking magical symbols which were used to divine, contact spirits, etc. 2 "English River" - River system in north-western Ontario, polluted Reid paper company. Nobody's doing much about the fact that the native people who live along its course have lost both food and livelihood, as well as being poisoned because of the contaminated fish.

  • 1986: "Somebody once commented to me that they found this song 'politically offensive', whatever that means." - from "All The Diamonds" songbook, edited by Arthur McGregor, OFC Publications 1986. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.

  • July-November 1995 - "Gavin used to be my father-in-law. He and his wife (who used to be my mother-in-law) lived in a 2 storey log house which he had built himself near Ottawa. That house, and my parents', were the main bases from which we travelled during the 1st half of the '70's. The song was a gathering of images and emotions focussed around what might be called "transcendental wood chopping". The themes are common ones in my stuff, because they are the dominant ones in what I see around me - the failure of human responsibility, our destruction of our natural habitat, a sort of claustrophobia resulting from expanding population, encroachment on the natural world, ever more regulation of one's personal space - the hope offered by faith." - from answers by Bruce Cockburn to questions asked by the Humans discussion list. July-November 1995. Submitted by Bruce Edwards.

  • Help out! To add material to this section, see this page first.

    Song Index | Alphabetical Song Index | Chronological Song Index

    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.