Originally composed as the libretto for a new opera by D.D. Jackson, in Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path, author George Elliott Clarke crafts a fanciful yet provoking portrait of the life of Canadian political hero Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

The poem, which clocks in at 124 pages, opens in revolutionary China. Readers are first introduced to Trudeau as a young backpacker dancing and philosophizing with Communist Leader Mao Zedong during the Chinese Civil War. We follow his formative years as he talks politics with John F. Kennedy, smokes cigars with Fidel Castro, seduces his future wife and deftly ascends to the Canadian Prime Ministership.

Set in four different continents and spanning five decades, Trudeau carries the reader through some of history’s most notable events, from the democratization of South Africa to the Cuban Revolution. The poem portrays these events from a uniquely Canadian, albeit Trudeau-esque perspective, while also examining how these events molded the beliefs of the former Prime Minister.

Ebbing throughout the narrative is Trudeau’s ever-changing attitude regarding the relationship between political power and violence. Present at both the Chinese Civil War and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, he repeatedly questions the reason behind armed conflict, “How can men fire guns at others / In such fog aren’t all men brothers?” Yet, during the October Crisis of 1970, flanked by an enormous Canadian flag he hoists a machine gun and boldly declares “Political power flows and runs / Out of the barrels of my guns.”

The poem also contrasts Trudeau’s political successes to an increasingly strained relationship with his wife Margaret. Their passionate first meeting in Tahiti rapidly disintegrates as Trudeau’s political escapades leave her in the dark. As the politician energetically bounds from scene to scene, an isolated Margaret describes him bitterly; “At work a volcano/At home a glacier.”

Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path accomplishes a unique feat for a dramatic work about Trudeau. George Elliott Clarke lays aside the politics and myths surrounding Canada’s most controversial public figure and instead portrays him from a human perspective.

In his introduction, Clarke states that his depiction of Trudeau is not “the now deceased immortal,” but rather, an “insubordinate reality… not surreal, but sidereal.” Readers are brought into intimate contact with a Trudeau whose motivations are revealed, whose insecurities are exposed and whose doubts are articulated. This is perhaps shown most poignantly in a final soliloquy, where Trudeau, in attendance at his own funeral, examines the successes and failures of his life.

This poem, while certainly not a work of “definitive realism,” nevertheless does an excellent job of expressing the ambition and struggles not just of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, but also of Canada and the world during the latter half of the 20th century. Memorable rhymes accentuate the narrative (such as a couplet spoken by the young Fidel Castro, “Let peaceniks puff of beatnik love—I trust in my Kalashnikov!”) and Clarke expertly laces the passages of his poem with endless cultural and historical references. Trudeau is an ode. Not just to the man himself, but to his era, his people and everything he came to represent.