Point Bank: Narrative in Michael Ondaatje's
the men with seven toes

by Sam Solecki

     In view of the acclaim and the attention received by Michael Onedaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970) and Coming Through Slaughter (1976) it is inevitable that his first book-length work, the man with seven toes (1969), is often overlooked in most discussions either of his work or of contemporary Canadian writing. This is unfortunate because this long sequence of poems is a complex work, interesting in its own right, and a pivotal book in Ondaatje's development. It is with the man with seven toes that we first see him moving toward the longer and more experimental form that will become characteristic in his two major works. And although the man with seven toes does not go as far as they do in the direction of a temporally discontinuous form, nevertheless, aspects of its style and structure clearly anticipate the later developments. The shift toward the longer forms that is first seen with the man with seven toes is of particular importance in Ondaatje's development as a writer because not only are his longer works more experimental than his lyrics but it is in them that we find a style and form fully expressive of his vision. This is not to denigrate his very fine lyrics but only to emphasize that he seems to need the longer form or structure in order to create a world embodying and expressing his vision.

     The final section in Ondaatje's first book, The Dainty Monsters (1967), showed him to be interested in writing a longer poem but neither of its two medium-length sequences, "Paris" and "Peter", captures, in form or content, what I take to be Ondaatje's unique way of looking at reality which is already there in some of the earlier lyrics in the collection — "Dragon," "The Republic," "Henri Rousseau and Friends," and "In Another Fashion." There is a sense in these early lyrics that material and psychological reality is fundamentally random or in a state of flux, and that poetry should communicate this particular quality of reality without, however, succum bing to either formalism or formlessness. These poems explore the border line between form and formlessness, civilization and nature, the human and the natural, and the conscious reasoning mind and the unconscious world of instinct. They compel the reader to enter into and experience the mode of being associated with the second of the paired terms. But they do so primarily on the level of content by means of contrasted actions, settings or images. In the man with seven toes, on the other hand, it is the form as well as the content that pushes the reader into the unfamiliar ground of the work to the point that his reading of the sections of the text becomes roughly analogous to what is happening in the story, the heroine's harrowing journey through a wilderness. Beginning with this book Ondaatje turns to a variant of what Barthes terms a "scriptible"1 (as opposed to a "lisible") text, one that demands the reader's active participation as an inter preter of a reality that is often not only ambiguous but even chaotic.

     To achieve this Ondaatje attempts to "make new" both the form and content of his work so that neither will predispose the reader towards a preconceived approach to the text. I mention both form and content be cause at the same time that Ondaatje is creating a new form that will eventually develop into the radically discontinuous forms of his two later works, his choice of subject in the man with seven toes foreshadows as well the kinds of characters and themes to be dealt with in his later work. Where the medium-length narrative poems in his first book, The Dainty Monsters, had dealt with figures drawn from classical mythology ("Paris") or who felt as if they belonged in classical myth ("Peter"), the man with seven toes is based on the experiences of a semi-legendary English-woman who, like Billy the Kid and Buddy golden, existed on the edge of history and about whose experiences there are contradictory accounts.2  The life story of each of these characters provides Onedaatje with a ready-made but incomplete and ambiguous narrative straddling the border between fact and fiction, history and legend or myth. The man with seven toes shows Onedaatje turning towards myths or mythic poems based on materials not usually associated with traditional myths but rather on what we normally refer to as legends. Ondaatje's definition of myth will seem idiosyncratic to anyone nurtured on Fables of Identity but there is a consistency in his various references to the subject in his poems, prose works, critical writings and films. For him, a myth is any powerful story with an archetypal or universal significance; but in order for the story to become truly mythic, to have what in the article on Tay John he calls "the raw power of myth," it must be represented in such a way that "the original myth [story] is given to us point blank."3   What he means is that the reader must be exposed to as direct and unmediated a representation or, better, re-enactment of the original event as art will allow; he must become or feel that he has become a participant in it, a figure in the ground of the story.

     In the man with seven toes, for example, the reader enters the nightmarelike world of an anomymous white woman who spends a period of time living with a group of primitives before being rescued by a white man and taken back to civilization. A brief note at the end of the book indicates that the source of Onedaatje's story lies in the experiences of a Mrs. Fraser who, in 1836, was shipwrecked off the Queensland coast of Australia, captured by aborigines, and finally rescued by a convict named Bracefell whom she betrayed once they reached civilization. Ondaatje told me that this version of the story as summarized by Colin MacInnes and painted by Sidney Nolan in his Mrs. Fraser series (1947-1957) is the only account with which he was familiar at the time of the writing of his poem.4  In his hands the story becomes a mythic exploration, in the form of related brief and often imagistic poems, of how an unnamed white woman perceives and experiences a primitive and anarchic world totally alien to her civilized as sumptions and mode of being. Like Margaret Atwood's Susanna Moodie she is compelled into a confrontation in which she must acknowledge violent and primitive aspects of life within and outside herself which she had previously either not known or ignored. This basic opposition between aspects of self, and self and land from which many of the poem's other antitheses develop is also central to Nolan's version. His first painting shows Mrs. Fraser naked and crawling on all fours with her white body placed against a setting of green jungle and blue sky; her face is covered by lank black hair, and her limbs are slightly distorted, indistinct, already on the point of becoming subtly dehumanized.5  Both the lack of clothing and the absence of identity remove her from civilization; the effect is rather like the first collage in Atwood's Journals where Susanna Moodie seems to be drifting down into the middle of the forest: the human being and the landscape are contiguous but there is no connection between theme.6

     Both Ondaatje and Nolan — and later Patrick White in A Fringe of Leaves — use Mrs. Fraser as the basis of a myth. In Nolan's series she becomes an Australian version of Susanna Moodie, gradually developing from a situation in which she is alienated from the land to the point where she is one with it, and can be represented as an aboriginal rock painting. In contrast to Nolan, Ondaatje universalizes the meaning of her experiences by creating her in the image of an anonymous white women. He further creates the potential for her development as an archetypal or mythic figure by moving the story from the Australian historical context in which he found it to an unspecified time and place. The overall effect of these changes is to focus attention on the story's essential content, the effect upon an individual of her confrontation with a totally alien landscape and mode of being.

     But this story with a potentially archetypal dimension cannot become mythic, in Ondaatje's sense of the word, unless expressed in a form and style that make the reading of the story as unmediated a confrontation with the events as is possible. To achieve this Ondaatje relies on a form made up of brief self-contained, often cinematic, lyrics each of which explodes upon the reader with a single startling revelation. To read from one to the next as the woman moves from experience to experience is to encounter a series of sensory and emotional shocks until, finally, like the character herself, the reader is numbed into accepting this surreal world as real.7   Ondaatje has described the book's form as similar to "a kind of necklace in which each bead-poem while being related to the others on the string, was, nevertheless, self-sufficient, independent."8  The continuity is implied rather than made explicit, and the terse almost imagistic poems are related by means of various kinds of montage (tonal, intellectual etc.) or juxtaposition as well as through the echoing of images from poem to poem. This kind of "bonding" (Hopkins' term) of essentially separate lyrics by means of recurring images is important to Ondaatje particularly as it relates to myth and mythic poems. He has written that "myth is . . . achieved by a very careful use of echoes — of phrases and images. There may be no logical connection when these are placed side by side but the variations are always there setting up parallels."9 In the man with seven toes, for example, the woman is raped both by the natives and by the convict (32); she is "tongued" by the natives (14), Potter's fingers are "chipped tongues" (21); and he bends his "tongue down her throat / drink her throat sweat, like coconut" (35); the natives tear a fox open with their hands (16), Potter "crept up and bit open / the hot vein of a sleeping wolf" (29); the natives have "maps on the soles of their feet" (13), and at the book's end the woman lies on a bed "sensing herself like a map" (41). Ondsatje does not amplify his point to indicate how such echoes and parallels achieve a sense of the mythic but one of their effects is to create a common ground or structure even the possibility of an unsuspected metaphysical order — underlying the separate lyrics. Contrasts and comparisons are established between individual characters, events and settings otherwise related only on the basis of a tenuous narrative line. But the structure re mains deliberately indefinite and avoids becoming a constricting grid, just as the repeated images themselves stop short of shifting into a symbolic mode of meaning. It is almost as if Onedaatje is playing with the reader, undercutting his conventional notions about structure and symbolism. Most readers, for example, assume that an image, repeated often enough in a variety of contexts, will, at some point, shift in function and meaning from being simply an image and assume the status of a symbol. This is precisely the kind of expectation Ondaatje creates only in order to deny. Disoriented, the reader is compelled to reexamine the nature of his relationship to the text and to move more tentatively through it. This is as true of the individual lyrics as it is of the work as a whole.

     A closer reading through the text will illustrate more clearly some of the general points I have been making up to now. The book opens with the following lyric.

the train hummed like a low bird
over the rails, through desert and pale scrub,
air spun in the carriages.

She moved to the doorless steps where wind could beat her knees.
When they stopped for water she got off
sat by the rails on the wrist thick stones.

The train shuddered, then wheeled away from her.
She was too tired even to call.
Though, come back, she murmured to herself.   (9)

Ondaatje's words describing the structure of Leonard Cohen's "The Favourite Game also apply here: This is "a potent and enigmatic sketch rather than a full blown detailed narrative." The opening lyric has a haunting and disturbing quality because it is so brief, because so much is left unexplained. As in one of Alex Colville's enigmatic and dream-like love, paintings there is no explanation of why the train leaves the woman behind nor why she is too tired to call. The situation is disturbing precisely because it occurs without an overall explanatory context to give it some Or kind of causal perspective. The character and the scene are isolated in space — "desert and pale scrub" — and time. The reader knowing nothing about the scene's past can make no valid conjectures about the future. By itself, and then in relation to the next lyric, this poem establishes how Ondaatje wants the man with seven toes to be read.

     Each poem in the sequence presents a new scene or a new experience with the effect that the reader follows the woman's path, and often point of view, as she moves from one shocking and inevitably Refamiliarizing experience to another. The events of each new poem are literally unexpected because Ondaatje's structuring has increased the number of narrative possibilities that each lyric creates, to the point that the reader simply does not know what to expect from poem to poem. The very form of each lyric works deliberately against a predictable narrative continuity with the effect that each poem stands out separately as a complete scene. Ondaatje has written that myth is "brief, imagistic"11 and this certainly applies to his own poem. The revelations in the man with seven toes come in brief and enigmatic flashes which disappear and are then replaced by new ones; the effect is rather like that of a film in which the director cuts quickly and dynamically from scene to scene allowing the various kinds of montage to create the meaning. The second poem, for example, begins with a dog sitting beside her, the third with her entry into a native clearing. There is no temporal, spatial or syntactical continuity indicated between these opening lyrics.

entered the clearing and they turned
faces scarred with decoration
feathers, bones, paint from clay
pasted, skewered to their skin.
Fanatically thin,
black ropes of muscle. (11)

A sense of immediacy is created by the elliptical syntax of the opening line. Because the terse poem begins with the verb — "entered" — the reader's attention is focussed on the action itself. The ellipsis of the subject — either "I" or "she" — achieves an abruptness and shocking directness which would have otherwise been lacking. The effect is then reinforced by the brief catalogue of images, one piled upon the other, exotic to both character and reader. The cumulative effect of the rhetoric is to indicate the disorientation of the woman and to achieve that of the reader.

     The woman has entered a physical and psychological landscape or wilderness her reaction to which is caught in the violently beautiful imagery and dismembered rhythms of successive lyrics.

goats black goats, balls bushed in the centre
cocks rising like birds flying to you reeling on you
and smiles as they ruffle you open
spill you down, jump and spill over you
white leaping like fountains in your hair
your head and mouth till it dries
and tightens your face like a scar

Then up to cook a fox or whatever, or goats
goats eating goats heaving the bodies
open like purple cunts under ribs, then tear
like to you a knife down their pit, a hand in the warm
the hot the dark boiling belly and rip
open and blood spraying out like dynamite
caught in the children's mouths on the ground
laughing collecting it in their hands
or off to a pan, holding blood like gold
and the men rip flesh tearing, the muscles
nerves green and red still jumping
stringing them out, like you (16)

The syntax, imagery and rhythm — the entire whirling movement of the verse — re-enact her complex response to an experience which prior to leaving the train she could not have even imagined. Her confusion is registered in her simultaneously positive and negative responses to her rape. There is a moving lyricism in the natural vitality of the men's "cocks rising like birds flying to you" and in the description of their ejaculations as "white leaping like fountains in your hair." But the "fountains" suddenly dry or her "face like a scar" and the subsequent similes serve to reinforce the hinted at connection between her violation and the killing and ripping open of an animal. The cuts in the animal are "like purple cunts," the knife pushed into the animal is also the phallus forced into her, and the bleeding animal body is also hers — "like you." This kind of comparison allows her to dramatize her emotions by making them part of a response to an event out side herself — the killing of "a fox or whatever, or goats." It is almost as if she cannot articulate directly the personal violation that took place; only through her empathic response to the animal's suffering can she describe her own experience. And her recourse to similes, here and in other poems written from her point of view, is an indication of an analogous attempt to appropriate in slightly more familiar images a primal landscape and a set of experiences she finds almost indescribable. A later poem, for example, begins as follows:

evening. Sky was a wrecked black boot
a white world spilling through.
Noise like electricity in the leaves.   (32)

The metaphor ("wrecked black boot") and simile ("like electricity") are imported from the world of civilization in order to render this wilderness slightly more comprehensible, to mediate between its natural language, so to speak, and the character's mode of comprehending and describing the world. But even as these more familiar images achieve the effect of mediating between the two worlds the sense of incongruity caused by their anomalous presence serves, paradoxically, to heighten our awareness of the distance between the two.

     The woman's return to the world in which these words are appropriate begins with her rescue by the convict Potter whose striped shirt, in Ondaatje as in Nolan (see the paintings "Escaped Convict," and "In the Cave"), indicates his connection, however tenuous, with civilization.12  He rescues her from the natives — never referred to as aborigines — but not from the violent existence she had led with them. All the expectations justifiably created by the rescue are immediately thwarted.

Stripe arm caught my dress
the shirt wheeling into me,
gouging me, ankles, manacles,
cock like an ostrich, mouth
a salamander thrashing in my throat.
Above us, birds peeing from the branches. (32)

Unexpectedly, for both reader and character, the rescue recapitulates the events of the period of capture. Her rape by the natives is a prelude to this one, and the imagery indicates that Ondaatje wants the two scenes compared: the natives had "cocks like birds," Potter's "cock [is] like an ostrich;" the natives had previously been compared to "sticklebacks" while Potter's mouth is "a salamander." Potter has replaced the natives as her keeper but the nightmare quality of her journey through a physical and psychological chaos has not changed. Her rape, for example, is simultaneously violent, terrifying and ridiculous. The "birds peeing from the branches" put it into a grotesque perspective. Our standard shocked response to the event is suddenly qualified by a new and unanticipated context created by the absurd last line. Yet in the man with seven toes as in so much of Ondaatje's poetry the unexpected, the absurd and the surreal gradually become the normal and the familiar: a dog runs away with a knife stuck in its head (27); birds drugged on cocaine stagger across the sand (28). As Potter says, "Sometimes I don't believe what's going on" (27). The woman's attitude to these kinds of experiences is finally one of numbed and passive acceptance of events which if they had occurred earlier would have both startled and horrified her.

So we came from there to there
the sun over our shoulders and no one watching
no witness to our pain our broken mouths and bodies.
Things came at us and hit us.
Things happened and went out like matches.    (39)

Because of the reference to "broken mouths" I assume that the speaker is the woman; it is her mouth that has been pried open by the natives (14) and by Potter (35). The poem's vagueness — "from there to there," "Things" — is an effective register of her unemotional attitude at this point. The rhythmic and tonal flatness of "Things came at us and hit us / Things happened" is a fine preparation for the poem's unexpected closing simile. In poetry as in architecture, less is often more and the final image — "matches" — is a stunning close to a poem which is almost devoid of colour and metaphor.13  The poem's texture creates a simultaneous awareness in the reader of both the essentially shocking nature of what is happening and the paradoxical fact that this no longer surprises the woman.

     After her return to civilization, this violently beautiful world seems to pursue her even into the safe Royal Hotel.

She slept in the heart of the Royal Hotel
Her burnt arms and thighs
soaking off the sheets.
She moved fingers onto the rough skin,
traced the obvious ribs, the running heart,
sensing herself like a map, then
lowering her hands into her body.

In the morning she found pieces of a bird
chopped and scattered by the fan
blood sprayed onto the mosquito net,
its body leaving paths on the walls
like red snails that drifted down in lumps.

She could imagine the feathers,
while she has slept
falling around her
like slow rain.  (41)

The narrative itself closes with this ambiguous and densely allusive poem whose almost every image echoes some image or situation occurring earlier. Given the poem's position in the body of the text it is inevitable that we look to it to provide some kind of summarizing judgment upon the story. It does so but only through an ambiguous image or metaphor. The key to interpretation seems to lie in the image of the dead bird and the woman's attitude to it in the final stanza. I assume there is an implicit analogy between the bird's violent death and the woman's horrific and brutal experiences in the wilderness. If this is so then her response to the presence of the slaughtered bird should provide an insight into her attitude to her earlier experiences. Her reaction is either sentimental and romantic or it indicates a full acceptance of the violent natural world into which she had been thrust. I tend towards the second reading because this lyric follows a poem in which the woman's attitude toward the convict, now a memory from her past, is completely positive; and secondly, because the opening stanza seems to point to a physical and psychological awareness and acceptance of the self she has become ("sensing herself like a map, then / lowering her hands into her body"). This new attitude corresponds roughly with Nolan's later paintings of Mrs. Fraser and the land as finally indistinguishable one from another.14  In Ondaatje, this merging of self and wilderness is reinterpreted as a rediscovery of the instinctual world within the self; the experience of the physical wilderness has led to a reperception, or even an initial awareness, of the natural world within. Here as in D. H. Lawrence's "The Woman Who Rode Away" the physical journey away from civilization is simultaneously a psychological one as well. In fact, it is safe to say that here and in his other work Ondaatje is primarily interested in landscape in so far as it can be used to reveal inner states of beings.15

     The original Mrs. Fraser returned to England, married her ship's master, a Captain Greene, and keeping her marriage a secret, "was able to exhibit herself at 6d a showing in Hyde Park." Ondaatje deals with this return to civilization in a ballad — perhaps sung by his central character — which functions as an epilogue offering another ambiguous summary. (It is worth noting that the man with seven toes, like Ondaatje's later book-length works, has more than one ending.)

When we came into Glasgow town
we were a lovely sight to see
My love was all in red velvet
and I myself in cramasie

Three dogs came out from still grey streets
they barked as loud as city noise,
their tails and ears were like torn flags
and after then came girls and boys

The people drank the silver wine
they ate the meals that came in pans
And after eating watched a lady
singing with her throat and hands
Green wild rivers in these people
running under ice that's calm,
God bring you all some tender stories
and keep you all from hurt and harm.     (42)

The original Scots' ballad "Wary, Waly" from which Ondaatje borrows his opening stanza is a song of regret and disillusion in which a woman laments having given herself to her lover:

"But had I wist before I kiss'd
That love had been see ill to win,
I'd lock my heart in a case of gowd
And pin'd it we' a siller pin." 16

In "Waly, Waly" the apparent is not the real: a tree seems "trusty" but breaks, a lover seems true but is not. A similar duality exists in Ondaatje's version: the ostensible order and stability of Glasgow town rest upon people in whom "Green wild rivers" run "under ice that's calm." The full force of the contrast between the two images can only be felt, however, if we place them in the context of the whole text; then the ice is seen as relating to consciousness, order, civilization — everything that was left behind when the woman stepped off the train — and the "rivers" represent everything that is unconscious, chaotic and natural — the world she stepped into. The ice does not crack in the ballad but the reader, keeping in mind the action of the book, realizes how tenuous civilization really is, how at any moment the ice could crack and melt letting through everything implied by the Green wild rivers." If the book has a theme, or what Ondaatje prefers to call a "moral", it is summarized metaphorically in the interplay of these two images.17

     But it is also important to note that although the ballad summarizes or comprehends the book's dualities and constitutive tensions it does not resolve them. This deliberate irresolution leaves the sequence with a sense of open-endedness re-inforcedby the grammar of the last sentence whose verb ("God keep you"), in the subjunctive mood, points to the future. Like the present tenses in the endings of The Collected Works of Billy the Kid ("I smell the smoke still in my shirt") and Coming Through Slaughter ("There are no prizes") this gives the book an ending without finality or resolution, an ending struggling against the closure inevitable in every work of art. The reader is left with a sense of the continuity of the story and its implications into present and future time. At the precise moment when the book is being finished and about to be put aside it forces itself into the reader's time. One aspect of the book's form — its various discontinuities — compelled the reader to enter the narrative as a figure in the story's ground, as a kind of character surrogate; another aspect, the lack of closure or resolution, reverses the spatial and temporal situation by having the book extend itself into the reader's world. A slight shift in the verb's mood or tense is the final aspect of a narrative form and a poetic rhetoric at tempting to achieve a "point blank" and, from Ondaatje's viewpoint, mythic presentation.

     Both The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter go further than the man with seven toes in bringing the reader into the text, in making his experience of its world as unmediated as possible. But the more ambitious and greater achievement of these later works should not prevent us from acknowledging this minor, though by no means negligible, poem which anticipates them in so many respects.


  1. Roland Barthes, S/Z, trans. Richard Miller (Hill and Wang, 1975), pp. 5-6.[back]

  2. For other accounts of the story see Bill Beatty, Tales of Old Australia (Sydney: Ure Smith, 1966); Bill Wannan, Legendary Australians (Adelaide: Rigby, 1974); Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves (New York: Viking, 1977).[back]

  3. "O'Hagan's Rough-Edged Chronicle," Canadian Literature, 61 (Summer, 1974), 24.[back]

  4. Ondaatje quotes from MacInnes in a note at the end of the book. See the man with seven toes (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1969), p. 45. All future references will be to this edition and will be cited in the body of the essay.[back]

  5. Bryan Robertson has described this painting as follows: "This animal-like figure conveys something of the shock and horror of a white, northern European body flung down in the wild bush of a Pacific island, and forced to fend for itself a body that has not been exposed to the ravages of strong sun before, straddles horrifically across the land, isolated and lost. Her face is hidden by her hair and this device for anonymity is also employed in all the later paintings of Mrs. Fraser." Kenneth Clark, Colin MacInnes and Bryan Robertson, Sidney Nolan (London: Thames and Hudson, 1961), p.74.[back]

  6. Margaret Atwood, The Journals of Susanna Moodie (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970), p.8.[back]

  7. Francis Bacon's comment about his paintings is relevant here: "we all need to be aware of the potential disaster which stalks us at every moment of the day." John Russell, Francis Bacon (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), p. 31. Other points of comparison that could be drawn between Ondaatje and Bacon relate to their interest in the beauty of violence, in their mutual attempts to describe motion, and the sense or colour of menace that pervades their work.[back]

  8. "Interview with Michael Ondaatje," Rune, 2 (Spring 1975), 51.[back]

  9. Canadian Literature, op. cit., 25-6.[back]

  10. Michael Ondastje, Leonard Cohen (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970) p. 23.[back]

  11. Canadian Literature, op. cit., 25.[back]

  12. In White's A Fringe of Leaves the convict's name is Jack Chance and his status as a man existing between civilization and wilderness is evident from the fact that he has almost completely forgotten the English language. White replaces the striped shirt with scars, an image that Ondaatje would probably respond to since his own work — "A Time Around Scars," Coming Through Slaughter — reveals a fascination with emotional and physical scars. "[She] realized that she was touching the scars she had first noticed on his first appearing at the black's camp, when their apparently motive-less welter distinguished them from the formal incisions in native backs," (p. 290).[back]

  13. Ondaatje quotes.the following sentence from Tay John in his article: "indeed, to tell a story is to leave most of it untold," p. 30.[back]

  14. "Woman and Billabong," "Woman in Swamp," "Woman in Mangroves."[back]

  15. In A Fringe of Leaves, the encounter with the wilderness is simultaneously an encounter with "secret depths with which even she, perhaps, is unacquainted, and which sooner or later must be troubled" (p. 20).[back]

  16. See Willa Muir, Living With Ballads (London: Hogarth Press, 1965) pp. 224-225. For the earliest treatment of Mrs. Fraser's experiences see the ballad "Wreck of the 'Stirling Castle,"' reprinted in Bill Wannan's Legendary Australians, pp. 47-49. As Wannan points out, "This 'Copy of Mournful Verses' was originally published in broadsheet form in 1837, by the printer of broadsides J. Catnach, of Seven Dials, London." The last two stanzas should give sufficient indication of its quality:

    The chief mate too they did despatch,
    By cutting off his head,
    And plac'd on one of their canoes
    All for a figure head.
    Also, a fine young man they bound,
    And burnt without a dread,
    With a slow fire at his feet at first
    So up unto his head.

    When you read the tortures I went thro'
    'Twill grieve your heart full sore,
    But now thank HEAVEN, I am returned
    Unto my native shore.
    I always shall remember,
    And my prayers will ever be
    For the safety of both age and sex
    Who sail on the raging sea. [back]

  17. In Leonard Cohen Ondaatje writes that the world of Let Us Compare Mythologies is one "where the morals are imagistic, as they always are in the context of dreams," p. 14. There are two other particularly important differences between the man with seven toes and its more famous successors: the later works are more autobiographical, if obliquely so, and self-reflexive.[back]