The Dire Wolf references


Wallace Stevens' "Sea Surface Full of Clouds" was the inspiration for "The Dire Wolf." The poem is described in a now defunct literary web review as "a highpoint in Harmonium, one of Stevens' most persuasive statements of the imagination’s powers." The entire song is reminiscent in words and structure to the original:

In that November off Tehuantepec,

The slopping of the sea grew still one night

And in the morning summer hued the deck

And made one think of rosy chocolate
And gilt umbrellas. Paradisal green
Gave suavity to the perplexed machine

Of ocean, which like limpid water lay.
Who, then, in that ambrosial latitude
Out of the light evolved the morning blooms,

Who, then, evolved the sea-blooms from the clouds
Diffusing balm in that Pacific calm?
C'était mon enfant, mon bijou, mon âme.

The sea-clouds whitened far below the calm
And moved, as blooms move, in the swimming green
And in its watery radiance, while the hue

Of heaven in an antique reflection rolled
Round those flotillas. And sometimes the sea
Poured brilliant iris on the glistening blue.


In that November off Tehuantepec
The slopping of the sea grew still one night.
At breakfast jelly yellow streaked the deck

And made one think of chop-house chocolate
And sham umbrellas. And a sham-like green
Capped summer-seeming on the tense machine

Of ocean, which in sinister flatness lay.
Who, then, beheld the rising of the clouds
That strode submerged in that malevolent sheen,

Who saw the mortal massives of the blooms
Of water moving on the water-floor?
C'était mon frère du ciel, ma vie, mon or.

The gongs rang loudly as the windy booms
Hoo-hooed it in the darkened ocean-blooms.
The gongs grew still. And then blue heaven spread

Its crystalline pendentives on the sea
And the macabre of the water-glooms
In an enormous undulation fled.


In that November off Tehuantepec,
The slopping of the sea grew still one night
And a pale silver patterned on the deck

And made one think of porcelain chocolate
And pied umbrellas. An uncertain green,
Piano-polished, held the tranced machine

Of ocean, as a prelude holds and holds,
Who, seeing silver petals of white blooms
Unfolding in the water, feeling sure

Of the milk within the saltiest spurge, heard, then,
The sea unfolding in the sunken clouds?
Oh! C'était mon extase et mon amour.

So deeply sunken were they that the shrouds,
The shrouding shadows, made the petals black
Until the rolling heaven made them blue,

A blue beyond the rainy hyacinth,
And smiting the crevasses of the leaves
Deluged the ocean with a sapphire blue.


In that November off Tehuantepec
The night-long slopping of the sea grew still.
A mallow morning dozed upon the deck

And made one think of musky chocolate
And frail umbrellas. A too-fluent green
Suggested malice in the dry machine

Of ocean, pondering dank stratagem.
Who then beheld the figures of the clouds
Like blooms secluded in the thick marine?

Like blooms? Like damasks that were shaken off
From the loosed girdles in the spangling must.
C'était ma foi, la nonchalance divine.

The nakedness would rise and suddenly turn
Salt masks of beard and mouths of bellowing,
Would--But more suddenly the heaven rolled

Its bluest sea-clouds in the thinking green,
And the nakedness became the broadest blooms,
Mile-mallows that a mallow sun cajoled.


In that November off Tehuantepec
Night stilled the slopping of the sea.
The day came, bowing and voluble, upon the deck,

Good clown...One thought of Chinese chocolate
And large umbrellas. And a motley green
Followed the drift of the obese machine

Of ocean, perfected in indolence.
What pistache one, ingenious and droll,
Beheld the sovereign clouds as jugglery

And the sea as turquoise-turbaned Sambo, neat
At tossing saucers--cloudy-conjuring sea?
C'était mon esprit bâtard, l'ignominie.

The sovereign clouds came clustering. The conch
Of loyal conjuration trumped. The wind
Of green blooms turning crisped the motley hue

To clearing opalescence. Then the sea
And heaven rolled as one and from the two
Came fresh transfigurings of freshest blue.

-Wallace Stevens

"...In that September Off, Isle Aux Morts"

Near the Atlantic gateway to Newfoundland rests the fishing village known as Isle Aux Morts. The town has "a rich maritime heritage of fishing and sailing with many tales of shipwrecks and lost lives in the treacherous waters offshore. For this reason the French named it "Deadman's Island," or as it is known locally "Island of the Dead"."

"...And of Tallulah Bankhead, and Canada Lee"

A pair of uniquely, and geographically, named actors, both of whom starred in 1944's "Lifeboat."

"Canada Lee used his fame to oppose lynching and poll taxes, and to draw public notice to the irony of sending a U.S. army segregated by race to fight Nazi racism. After filming Zoltan Korda's Cry, the Beloved Country in South Africa, he lobbied the United States government to oppose the Cape Town regime, raising awareness of South African apartheid among his own countrymen. But, as the Cold War progressed, Lee's liberal pronouncements raised the ire of rabid anti-Communists. In the tumult of the Red Scare, he found himself maligned by right-wing journalists, shadowed by the FBI, and passed over for work in mainstream American movies and on television. When he died of heart failure in 1952, those around him speculated that his medical condition had been exacerbated, if not precipitated, by the stress of the blacklist."

"Tallulah Bankhead possessed of a tremendous energy level, very few people could keep up with her. She smoked over one hundred cigarettes per day, drank gin and bourbon like they were water, and carried a suitcase-full of drugs to help her sleep, stay awake and just function in general. She reportedly engaged in hundreds of affairs with both men and women. Her biting wit, salty language and outlandish behavior – like the propensity for taking off her clothes at the drop of a hat – shocked and outraged everyone." She was linked, platonically in one biography by Alan Levine, but less so in seedy Ottawa rumour, to Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

"...On a Newfoundland's paws/ ...A Newfoundland paused"

Canada's 10th province, Newfoundland became part of Canadian Confederation in 1949 thanks to the persuasion and politics of charismatic Premier Joey Smallwood. Previously, while under British rule, the tiny colony became the first nation in modern times to declare bankruptcy. It's people are renowned for their toughness, sense of humour and tolerance of bad weather, hard labour and stiff drinks.

A breed of dog was also named after the place where Europeans first "discovered" North America in 1001 A.D. The Newfoundland is a large working dog, with a thick and heavy coat of hair, as well as a reputation as a docile and loving animal.   

"...Gambier bleached in tomorrow's thorough light"

The Gambier Islands are a chain of Isles in the Pacific Ocean that were once brutally colonized by the French and turned into one of the cradles of Catholicism in the Southern Hemisphere. Today the Tuamotu Archipelago, of which they are a part, is considered the territory of French Polynesia. The main industry remains pearl harvesting, as Pearl Oysters are available in abundance off the coast of the Gambier's.

Dire Wolves themselves were a prehistoric forerunner to the wolves we know today. Shannon discovered this one in Alberta:

Hip Head Terry notes that The Grateful Dead have a song by the exact same name. Gord is thought to have been paying tribute to Jerry Garcia and company with the nod.

Hip Head Josh Grimes has this to add about Ann Harvey:

I was browsing around Wikipedia and came across the story of Ann Harvey. It seems to me the song The Dire Wolf is heavily based on her story with the Dire Wolf being the ocean as Gord mentions in a couple live performances.

From wiki: Ann Harvey (1811–1860) was a fisher and rescuer born near the small fishing community of Isle aux Morts, Newfoundland, Canada. Harvey, called "Grace Darling of Newfoundland", is known for her bravery at the young age of seventeen for rescuing, along with her father, younger brother and a dog, 163 shipwrecked souls from the brig Despatch between July 12-15, 1828. Despatch had departed from Derry in late May, carrying nearly 200 Irish immigrants (and 11 crew-members) bound for Quebec City, but on July 10, a fierce storm wrecked the brig on the rocks near Isle aux Morts

They fetched twelve-year-old Tom, George's oldest son, and their Newfoundland dog, Hairy Man, and launched their punt. On a beach nearby they found six men who had survived the wreck and set out to find more survivors. They found a large group on a tiny island that would be thereafter known as Wreck Rock. This rock, three miles from shore, was barely large enough to hold the remaining survivors of the thirty or more who had died from exhaustion or washed away and drowned. They had gotten to this small rock by means of a mast they had cut away from the sinking vessel. George could get no closer than 100 feet of them due to the heavy seas. He threw a billet of wood to which the survivors attached a rope and George got his dog to swim for it. Each person was taken off the rock in this fashion.

Five more people died on the rock and ten more expired on land after their dramatic rescue. The waves remained merciless the entire time; two babies were swept from their mothers' arms. But from Sunday morning to Tuesday morning, more than 180 people were saved.

Video evidence here