The Old Woman and the Hen by P. K. Page
The Old Woman and the Hen is a charming folktale written by one of Canada’s best known poets. Written simply, but infused with the rhythm and wordcraft that only a poet of P. K. Page’s talent can deliver, the text is accompanied by six original wood engravings created for the book by Jim Westergard.
A bedraggled hen is rescued from certain starvation by an old woman. The old woman leads a meagre existence, but willing and generously shares food and water with the hen. The hen, it turns out, is capable of laying crystal eggs which reveal within their shells visions of future disasters. The woman attempts to warn her neighbours of an impending flood, but is ridiculed and mocked by the whole village. The woman faces further threats from a young hoodlum who imagines that the hen might provide him with riches garnered by selling its crystal eggs.
Unwilling to lose the hen -- her only friend -- but also rather unwilling to give up the egg, the old woman again sees another vision in the egg which helps her determine that the best course is to give up the egg.
In spite of her now homeless state, the old woman never loses faith. She believes firmly in the ability of the hen to bring her luck. And indeed the folktale ends with the fulfilment of the old woman’s dreams.
Page’s tale conveys respect for attitudes and traits of character like friendliness, compassion, clear thinking, openness, and generosity. While not denying the very real dangers that exist in the world, the author lets readers know that help can often come from unexpected sources, and that there is wisdom in being attentive to one’s intuition. She also gracefully reveals how the power of a shared dream can sometimes shape the future in wondrous ways.
—Kristine Morris, ForeWord Magazine
Previous review quote
‘The adults who make children’s ... books have a variety of roles. There’s the merry uncle who sings and dances and picks you up and whirls you around. There’s the wise teacher. There’s the responsible parent.... P. K. Page presents another voice, that of the dignified, contained, slightly mysterious grandparent.... She’s slightly stern. She expects good behaviour. But ... you know she will take your observations and comments seriously. She won’t think you’re cute. You will have her full attention.’
—Quill and Quire
Excerpt from book
‘Once upon a time there was a poor woman who lived alone and performed small chores for her neighbours in return for food. One day, as she was going home, she heard a strange voice speaking from the roadside. ‘‘Luck,’’ the voice said. ‘‘Good luck. Quick, pick me up. Up.’’ The old woman searched among the roadside grasses and found a hen. Such a bedraggled creature she had never seen before. Its feathers were all awry and its beautiful red comb drooped to one side. ‘‘Poor thing,’’ said the woman and she picked it up and smoothed its feathers and put it in her basket and took it home.’
P. K. Page wrote some of the best poems published in Canada over the last seven decades. In addition to winning the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1957, she was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1999. She was the author of more than two dozen books, including ten volumes of poetry, a novel, short stories, eight books for children, and two memoirs based on her extended stays in Brazil and Mexico with her husband Arthur Irwin, who served in those countries as the Canadian Ambassador. In addition to writing, Page painted, under the name P. K. Irwin. She mounted one-woman shows in Mexico and Canada. Her work was also exhibited in various group shows, and is represented in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Victoria Art Gallery, among others.
A two-volume edition of Page’s collected poems, The Hidden Room (Porcupine’s Quill), was published in 1997, and the full range of her richly varied work is being made available in a digital resource, The Digital Page, supplemented by a series of texts in print and e-book format published by The Porcupine’s Quill.
P. K. Page was born in England and brought up on the Canadian prairies. She died on the 14th of January, 2010.