Monday, October 22, 2012

Canadian poetry

A poem is not a destination, it is a point of departure.
The destination is not determined by the reader.
The poet’s function is but to point direction.
A. M. Klein, The Second Scroll, 1951

Charles Sangster 1822-1893
Born in Kingston, Upper Canada, Charles Sangster knew only a rudimentary education before embarking on a lifetime of hard work, which included a period of journalism and a position with the Post Office. During the 1850s and 1860s, when he published The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay, and Other Poems (1856) and Hesperus, and Other Poems and Lyrics (1860), he was one of Canada’s most admired poets.
Midnight Sonnet 1874-‘75  
As in the depths of some old forest home
The dead trees lie and cumber all the ground,
Ev’n so my thoughts, with not a wing to roam,
Where erst they travelled without stint or bound,
Lie strewn promiscuous. Through all my mind
I seem to stumble over the dead past,
As if there were no present to be twined
In sweet memorial chaplets round the brown
Of some dear fancy, though not doomed to last
Beyond the heart-beats of the passing Now.
Yet searching through the rubbish, I perceive
The sharp green blades just peering through the ground,
Fern fancies, as it were, round which to weave
Some yet unheard-of-gleams of fine inspired sound.  
Alexander McLachlan 1818-1896
A native of Johnstone, Scotland, Alexander McLachlan was strongly influenced by Glasgow radicalism before his immigration to Upper Canada in 1840. After a series of unsuccessful farming ventures, he settled near Guelph, where he worked as a tailor, lecturer, and immigration agent. In 1877 he moved to a farm near Orangeville. His first volume, The Spirit of Love, and Other Poems (1846), was followed by The Emigrant and Other Poems (1861), Poems and Songs (1874), and The Poetical Works of Alexander McLachlan (1900).  

Young Canada Or Jack’s as Good as His Master
I love this land of forest grand!
The land where labour’s free;
Let others roam away from home,
Be this the land for me!
Where no one moils, and strains and toils
That snobs may thrive the faster;
And all are free, as men should be,
And Jack’s as good as his master!
Where none are slaves, that lordly knaves
May idle all the year;
For rank and caste of the past, -
They’ll never flourish here!
And Jew or Turk if he’ll but work,
Need never fear disaster;
He reaps the crop he sowed in hope,
For Jack’s as good’s his master. Our aristocracy of toil
Have made us what you see –
The nobles of the forge and soil,
With ne’er a pedigree!
It makes one feel himself a man,
His very blood leaps faster,
Where wit or worth’s preferred to birth,
And Jack’s as good’s his master! Here’s to the land of forests grand!
The land where labour’s free;
Let others roam away from home,
Be this the land for me!
For here ‘tis plain, the heart and brain,
The very soul grow vaster!
Where men are free, as they should be,
And Jack’s as good’s his master!

William Wilfred Campbell 1860?-1918
Probably born near Newmarket, Ontario, William Wilfred Campbell studied, like his father, to become an Anglican minister. Deeply disturbed by the post-Darwinian challenge to traditional orthodoxy, he left the Church in 1891 for a civil service position in Ottawa. He published four volumes of poetry and drama before bringing out his Collected Poems in 1905; these were followed by two novels and several books of prose as well as his edition of the first Canadian Book of Canadian Verse (1913).
Indian summer  
Along the line of smoky hills
The crimson forest stands,
And all the day the blue jay calls
Throughout the autumn lands.

Now by the brook the maple leans
With all his glory spread,
And all the sumachs on the hills
Have turned their green to red.

Now by great marshes wrapt in mist,
Or past some river’s mouth,
Throughout the long, still autumn day
Wild birds are flying south.

Charles G. D. Roberts 1860-1943
Born in Douglas, New Brunswick, the son of an Anglican minister and first cousin of Bliss Carman, Charles G. D. Roberts published his first book, Orion, and Other Poems, in 1880. A graduate in classics from the University of New Brunswick, he taught for ten years at the University of King’s College in Windsor, Nova Scotia, before embarking on a career in New York, London, and Toronto as an editor, journalist, and man of letters. Well known for his innovations in the genre of the realistic animal story, his cultural nationalism, and his contribution to literature, he received a knighthood in 1935. His poetry publications include In Divers Tones (1886), Songs of the Common Day (1893), The Iceberg and Other Poems (1934), and Selected Poems of Sir Charles G. D. Roberts (1936).  

The Skater  
My glad feet shod with the glittering steel
I was the god of the winged heel.

The hills in the far white sky were lost;
The world lay still in the wide white frost;

And while the woods hung hushed in their long white dream
By the ghostly, glimmering, ice-blue stream.

Here was a pathway, smooth like glass,
Where I and the wandering wind might pass

To the far-off palaces, drifted deep
Where Winter’s retinue rests in sleep.

I followed the lure, I fled like a bird,
Till the startled hollows awoke and heard

A spinning whisper, a sibilant twang,
As the stroke of the steel on the tense ice rang;

And the wandering wind was left behind
As faster, faster I followed my mind;

Till the blood sang high in my eager brain,
And the joy of my flight was almost pain.

Then I stayed the rush of my eager speed
And silently went as a drifting seed, -

Slowly, furtively, till my eyes
Grew big with the awe of a dim surmise,

And the hair of my neck began to creep
At hearing the wilderness talk in sleep.

Shapes in the fir-gloom drifted near.
In the deep of my heart I heard my fear.

And I turned and fled, like a soul pursued,
From the white, inviolate solitude.

Bliss Carman 1861-1929
Born in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Bliss Carman studied at the universities of New Brunswick, Oxford, Edinburgh, and Harvard before settling in the United States as a poet, literary editor, and essayist. A cousin and close friend of Charles G. D. Roberts, he collaborated with American poet Richard Hovey on a series of Vagabondia poems (1894-1900) celebrating the joys of the open road. His works include Low Tide on Grand Pre (1893), Ballads of Lost Haven: A Book of the Sea (1897), Sappho, One Hundred Lyrics (1903), and Sanctuary: Sunshine House Sonnets (1929). To show the evolution of “Low Tide on Grand Pre”, one of Bliss Carman’s best known poems, it is here reprinted following its first version, “Low Tide on Avon.”

Wild Geese  
To-night with snow in the November air,
Over the roof I heard that startling cry
Passing along the highway of the dark –
The Wild Geese going South. Confused commands
As of a column on the march rang out
Clamorous and sharp against the frosty air.
And with an answering tumult in my heart
I too went hurrying out into the night
Was it from some deep immemorial past
I learned those summoning signals and alarms,
And still must answer to my brother’s call?
I knew the darkling hope that bade them rise
From Northern lakes, and with courageous hearts
Adventure forth on their uncharted quest.

Archibald Lampman 1862-1899
Son of an Angelican clergyman, Archibald Lampan was born in Morpeth in southern Ontario, and published his first poems while a student at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. After an unhappy attempt at teaching, he obtained a junior position in the post office in Ottawa. During his lifetime Lampman published two volumes of poetry, Among the Millet, and Other Poems (1888) and Lyrics of Earth (1895); at the time of his death, a third book, Alcyone, was in press. The posthumous publication of The Poems of Archibald Lampman (1900) was supervised by his close friend, Duncan Campbell Scott.  

Winter Uplands  
The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound;
The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew
Across the open fields for miles ahead;
The far-off city towered and roofed in blue
A tender line upon the western red;
The stars that singly, then in flocks appear,
Like jets of silver from the violet dome,
So wonderful, so many and so near,
And then the golden moon to light me home –
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost and beauty everywhere.
[1899] (1900)

Duncan Campbell Scott 1862-1947
The son of a Methodist minister, Duncan Campbell Scott was born in Ottawa, his home for most of his life. At the age of seventeen he became a clerk with the Department of Indian Affairs, where he rose to deputy superintendent general, a position he held from 1913 until his retirement in 1932. An accomplished author of short stories as well as poetry, he enjoyed a long literary career, from the publication of The Magic House, and Other Poems (1893) to The Circle of Affection, and Other Pieces in Prose and Verse (1947).

The Onondaga Madonna  
She stands full-throated and with careless pose,
This woman of a weird and waning race,
The tragic savage lurking in her face,
Where all her pagan passion burns and glows;
Her blood is mingled with her ancient foes,
And thrills with war and wildness in her veins;
Her rebel lips are dabbled with the stains
Of feuds and forays and her father’s woes.

And closer in the shawl about her breast,
The latest promise of her nation’s doom,
Paler than she her baby clings and lies,
The primal warrior gleaming from his eyes;
He sulks, and burdened with his infant gloom,
He draws his heavy brows and will not rest.

Pauline Johnson 1861-1913
Born on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario, to an English mother and a Mohawk father, Pauline Johnson chose to identify strongly with her Native heritage, publishing her poems and stories in newspapers and magazines. After she discovered her gift for oral performance in 1892, she toured Europe and North America for nearly two decades, presenting her poems in venues ranging from upper-class drawing rooms to frontier stages. Her first book of poetry, The White Wampum (1895), was followed by two more volumes of poetry and three of prose.

The Corn Husker  
Hard by the Indian lodges, where the bush
Breaks in a clearing, through ill-fashioned fields,
She comes to labour, when the first still hush
Of autumn follows large and recent yields.

Age in her fingers, hunger in her face,
Her shoulders stooped with weight of work and years,
But rich in tawny colouring of her race,
She comes a-field to strip the purple ears.

And all her thoughts are with the days gone by,
Ere might’s injustice banished from their lands
Her people, that to-day unheeded lie,
Like the dead husks that rustle through her hands.

E. J. Pratt (1882-1964)
Edwin (Ned) John Pratt was born in Western Bay, Newfoundland. He grew up in various coastal settlements and was educated at St. John’s Methodist College. An ordained minister, he taught and preached for four years in coastal villages until entering the University of Toronto in 1907. A series of degrees followed – B.A. in Philosophy (1911), M.A. (1912), B.D. (1913) and PhD in Theology (1917). He joined the English Department of Victoria College in 1920 and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1953. He was also editor of Canadian Poetry Magazine from 1936-1942. In his lifetime, Pratt published 17 books of poetry. His books include Newfoundland Verse (1923), The Titanic (1935), Brebuf and His Brethern (1940), and Towards the Last Spike (1952). He received three Governor General’s Awards for his poetry. His collected works were first published in 1944 and again in 1958.  

The Shark  
He seemed to know the harbour,
So leisurely he swam;
His fin,
Like a piece of sheet-iron,
And with knife-edge,
Stirred not a bubble
As it moved
With its base-line on the water.

His body was tubular
And tapered
And smoke-blue,
And as he passed the wharf
He turned,
And snapped at a flat-fish
That was dead and floating.
And I saw the flash of a white throat,
And a double row of white teeth,
And eyes of metallic grey,
Hard and narrow and slit.

Then out of the harbour,
With that three-cornered fin
Shearing without a bubble the water
He swam-
That strange fish,
Tubular, tapered, smoke-blue,
Part vulture, part wolf,
Part neither-for his blood was cold.

A. J. M. Smith (1902-80)
Further academic studies followed and he received his PhD. in 1931 from the University of Edinburgh. He held several contract teaching positions and received a permanent appointment to Michigan State University in 1936. He retired from that position in 1972.
Smith was interested in not only writing poetry but in writing about poetry as well. His anthology, The Book of Canadian poetry: a critical and historical anthology, published in 1943 made possible the teaching of Canadian poetry at the university level. He quickly followed with the publication of his own poems: News of the phoenix and other poems and received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in English. He also edited many other anthologies including The Blasted Pine (1957, revised 1967). His Collected Poems was published in 1962.

News of the Phoenix
They say the Phoenix is dying, some say dead.
Dead without issue is what one message said,
But that had been suppressed, officially denied.

I think myself the man who sent it lied.
In any case, I’m told, he has been shot,
As a precautionary measure, whether he did or not.


Swift current This is a visible
and crystal wind:
no ragged edge,
no splash of foam,
no whirlpool’s scar;
-in the narrows,
sharpness cutting sharpness,
arrows of direction,
spears of speed.

A. M. Klein (1909-1972)
Abraham Moses Klein was born in Ratno, Ukraine. He moved to Montreal with his family in 1910. Klein entered McGill in 1926 and became associated with a group of poets – A. J. M. Smith, F. R. Scott and others – who later came to be identified as the McGill School.

A published poet at the age of 18, Klein founded The McGilliad in 19430 with David Lewis. In 1930 he entered law school at the University of Montreal and he received his L.L.B. in 1933.

In 1938 Klein began supplementing his law practice by editing the Canadian Jewish Chronicle. The following year he became speechwriter and adviser to Samuel Bronfman, in his capacity as president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Klein ran unsuccessfully for the CCF in 1948.

He received the Governor General’s award for his collection of poetry, The Rocking Chair and Other Poems in 1949. His novel, The Second Scroll, published in 1951 received much critical acclaim. Unfortunately Klein suffered a breakdown soon after and he was virtually silent for the last 20 years of his life.

My father bequeathed me no wide estates;
No keys and ledgers were my heritage;
Only some holy books with yahrzeil dates
Writ mournfully upon a blank front page-

Books of the Baal Shem Tov, and of his wonders;
Pamphlets upon the devil and his crew;
Prayers against road demons, witches, thunders;
And sundry other tomes for a good Jew.

Beautiful: though no pictures on them, save
The scorpion crawling on a printed track;

The Virgin floating on a scriptural wave,
Square letters twinkling in the Zodiac.

The snuff left on this page, now brown and old,
The tallow stains of midnight liturgy-
These are my coat of arms, and these unfold
My noble lineage, my proud ancestry!

And my tears, too, have stained this heirloomed ground,
When reading in these treatises some weird
Miracle, I turned a leaf and found
A white hair fallen from my father’s beard.


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