Essay 6

Colonial Colonizing:
the Long Poem on Canada


Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way….

—George Berkeley, "America or the Muse’s Refuge" (1726)1

We have but one choice between two different imperialisms, that of Britain and that of the Imperial commonwealth to the south.

—William Wilfred Campbell, "Imperialism in Canada" (1904)2

Since its publication in 1929 in The Kelsey Papers, the Jonsonian verse epistle in which Henry Kelsey recounts his journey in 1690-1691 from York Factory (Churchill) to the Canadian plains has increasingly attracted the attention and imagination of Canadians whose interests include literary history and literary forbears. Pre-eminent among the poets and scholars who have been drawn to "Now Reader Read…" by its prelusive position in Canadian poetry is the late Jon Whyte, who records in a note to Homage, Henry Kelsey (1981) that his reading of the explorer’s journals in 1967-1968 in preparation for a (Centennial?) "Poem about muskoxen"—a "pleistocene relic" that "Kelsey had been the first to describe"—led to the recognition of "an ancestral voice" and a reenactment of the colonial project. Kelsey "took over the poem about the muskox" and it "began to shape itself into epic," writes Whyte; "[m]y academic work on the medieval poem Pearl started to inform what I was doing: I would, like the jeweller in that poem, put his poem in a new setting. Hence ‘homage’" (81). Whyte’s remarks do more than confirm his participation in the nationalistic ancestor-hunting of the Centennial years.3 In the issues of poetic primality, power, and genre that they moot, they speak to the late twentieth-century reader of fundamental characteristics of the long poem on Canada that are embodied in "Now Reader Read…."

An instrument of British imperialism like Kelsey himself, the three manuscript pages of "Now Reader Read…" enact most of the tasks that would characterize Canadian long poems in the ensuing three centuries: (1) comprehension (they provide an inclusive commentary on "the Country" and its inhabitants); (2) commemoration (they memorialize the "Journey" that Kelsey hoped would distinguish him in the minds of his Hudson’s Bay Company superiors); and (3) construction (they describe the "set[t]ing up [of] a Certain Cross" near what is now The Pas, Manitoba as a "token" of the Company’s active presence in the area [1-4]). Moreover, Kelsey’s decision to present his "Relation" (1) in the form of forty-five couplets—as a poem "neither epical in scope nor purely lyrical in quality" (Dixon and Grierson vii)—attests not only to the affinity between accretive poetry and imperial appropriation, but also to the appropriateness as a vehicle for the celebration of colonial achievements of a genre that situates itself between the great narratives of imperial civilizations and the brief utterances of solitary individuals. If confirmation were needed that "the defining tradition of Western epic" and a classical precedent for British imperialism reside in Virgil’s Aeneid (30-19 BC), it could be found in David Quint’s Epic and Empire (1993) and in the chapter on "The Empire and the War" in Richard Jenkyns’ The Victorians and Ancient Greece (1980). And perhaps Lionel Kearns’s answer to the question of "[W]hat is the nature of lyric"—"[a] fine line of the single voice alone" (n.p.)—is sufficient to confirm the identity of lyric and individual expression.4 In the precarious and vacillating "betweenness" that Charles Altieri sees as a salient quality of the Modernist long poem and Smaro Kamboureli extends to the contemporary Canadian long poem (75-77), the "middle-sized poem" (Frye, Anatomy 256) provides a generic equivalent for coloniality—an appropriate vehicle for the stylish and persuasive communication of the liminal experiences, memorable achievements, and constructive activities of colonials engaged in the process of colonization. As insistent in its presentation of a "single voice alone" as it is in its pursuit of the Golden Fleece (see Bentley, Mimic Fires 13-24), "Now Reader Read…" is the primal poem of colonial colonizing in Canada, and it is just as well equipped to coerce Whyte’s "poem about the muskox" towards "epic" as it is to impress him with its "ancestral voice."

An immediate effect of situating the Canadian long poem both generically and ideologically between the epic (imperialism) and the lyric (individualism) is to foreground and polarize aspects of the genre that might otherwise appear transparent or insignificant. Located between the encyclopaedic ambitions of the epic (Frye, "Encyclopaedic Form") and the self-ish concerns of the lyric, the long poem is modestly catalogic in its comprehension of external reality and tends to use the catalogue and its more pictorial cognates (the panoramic survey and the picturesque tableau) either to order the subject environment (and thus to indicate its successful colonization) or to suggest its immense expanse (and thus to suggest its openness or, perhaps, resistance to colonization). Located between the mythic time and la longue durée of the epic and the personal time or la durée of the lyric, the long poem is local, regional, or, at most, national in its historical scope and tends to restrict itself to the commemoration of events that have occurred in the preceding fifty or so years—that is, within the memory of living generations. (In fact, fifty years is precisely the period covered by both The Rising Village [1825, 1834] of Oliver Goldsmith and The Emigrant [1861] of Alexander McLachlan.)5 If an epic embodies the myths and ideals of a civilization (see Bowra) and a lyric stands as a "Memorial"— "a moment’s monument"—to individual experience (Rossetti 74), then a long poem is the record or chronicle of a cultural unit that exists in or beside a civilization and provides its constituents with a comforting sense of their identity and difference. If for no other reason than the presence of local space, local time, and local community at the heart of the Canadian long poem, Dorothy Livesay is fully justified in seeing it as the most poetically "interesting" and culturally "representative" genre in English-Canadian literature ("Documentary Poem" 269). The argument could even be made that in its continual assessment and negotiation of the claims of liberty and authority, individuality and community, independence and interdependence, the Canadian long poem is the literary equivalent of the Canadian political experiment and its fabled art of compromise.

Notwithstanding the medial position of the genre to which they belong, most Canadian long poems tilt towards either epic or lyric in accordance with the ideological orientation of their author. This can be most readily appreciated by looking at two extreme examples of poems on Canada from the pre-Confederation period: Thomas Moore’s "Poems Relating to America" (1806) and William Kirby’s The U.E.: a Tale of Upper Canada (1859). As seen in Essay 2: Tokens of Being There: Land Deeds and Demarkations, Moore visited Canada in 1804 while returning to England from the United States, a nation towards which he was positively predisposed by his Irish background and liberal (Whig) sympathies but quickly came to criticize on a variety of counts, including its harsh and hypocritical treatment of Blacks and Native peoples. (Moore, it may be added here, was an associate of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and a "darling" of the British "Whig aristocracy" [Eldridge 54] who later confessed that his time in the United States was "the only period of…[his] life" in which he was "at all sceptical as to the soundness of th[e] Liberal creed" [Poetical Works (1840) 2: xii].) Not unexpectedly, therefore, Moore’s "Poems Relating to America" comprise a sequence of loosely connected lyrics that frequently attempt to give voice to "other" than Anglo-Saxon racial and linguistic groups: the most famous of the Canadian poems—"A Canadian Boat Song"—purports to be sung by voyageurs and the longest— "To the Lady Charlotte Rawdon from the Banks of the St. Lawrence"—provides a survey of Upper Canada from the perspective and in "words like th[o]se" of an "Indian Spirit" (Poetical Works [1915] 126). In contrast to Moore, Kirby, whose loathing for social and political reform brought him to Canada a year after the unsuccessful Rebellions of 1837-1838, was throughout his life a "spokesman, interpreter and bulwark of the Tory and Loyalist idea" (Pierce 17)—a devoted admirer of Scott and an adoring correspondent of Tennyson who produced numerous long poems in establishment blank verse to flatter and commemorate his conservative and loyalist heroes. To give just one example from his Canadian Idylls (1884, 1894), in "On the Sickness and Retirement of His Excellency Lord Metcalfe from the Government of Canada, Nov. 1845," Kirby’s "spurring memory[,] recall[ing] anew / The panoramic picture of the past," sees the Rebellions of 1837-38 as "a haggard night-mare" upon Canada’s heart and makes the man whose "master hand/ Cast down the misshaped idols worshipped there" an embodiment of the virtues of "The sage, the christian and the statesman" (156-58). Not surprisingly, Kirby’s most ambitious attempt to express and transmit his Tory and Loyalist myths and ideals is a Virgilian epic. As well as being divided into the traditional twelve books, The U.E. hails Virgil ("glorious Maro") as the "Chief of Song" (5-6) in its Introduction, alludes at one point to Homer’s account of the founding of Troy in the Iliad (31), and throughout its grand narrative makes extensive use of Paradise Lost (see Bentley, Mimic Fires 225-47). At a time when literary theorists were regarding the epic as a genre of the distant past that was not to be expected in a new country like Canada,6 Kirby’s "Canadian Epic Poem" (Annals 85), reflects the conservative desire to forge a distinctly British North American identity in Canada and, in doing so, provides the most concrete, not to say leaden, Canadian example of the affinity between the epic genre and the imperial ethos.

Further evidence of the homologies of genre and ethos exemplified in the extremes of The U.E. and "Poems Relating to America" can be found in the work of Moore’s most ardent Canadian admirer, Adam Kidd, and in several of the topographical poems that were written in and about Upper and Lower Canada in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A Rousseauian Irishman who apparently yearned for the unconstrained freedom and love (as he thought) of the Canadian wilderness and its aboriginal inhabitants, Kidd declared himself to be Moore’s "Most Ardent Admirer" in the fulsome dedication to The Huron Chief, and Other Poems (1830) and composed his desultory and episodic title poem as a series of lyrics expressive of the personal moods, chance encounters, and philosophical insights of his wandering narrator and various, mainly Native, characters. In addition, he decentres his text with copious footnotes (some of them scurrilously anti-establishment) and deploys allusions to the Odyssey and Paradise Lost on the side of liberty against authority (so that, for example, three villainous American aggressors are referred to Milton’s unholy trinity of Satan, Sin, and Death). To mount his challenge against oppressive authority generally and American imperialism especially, Kidd tilts The Huron Chief away from the classical epics of imperialism (the Aeneid and the Iliad) and orients it towards the modes of personal expression and episodic adventure (lyric, romance, the Odyssey). More than this, he aligns it through its amatory subject-matter and its citations of the Metamorphoses (circa AD 8)with the Ovidian tradition of transformation and hybridity which, as Quint repeatedly demonstrates (77, 82-83, 140-41), runs counter to the Virgilian epic in its preference for "constant digressions,…interwoven episodes," and unofficial history over "rhetorical unity," "linear narrative," and state mythology. "Et sunt, quid credere esse deos?" reads one of Kidd’s footnotes from the Metamorphoses: "And there are those who believe there are gods?" (1501n.).7

It is symptomatic of the imperial orientation of topographical poetry on Canada that the first poem in the genre—Thomas Cary’s Abram’s Plains (1789)—begins with a syntactical allusion to the opening lines of Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid ("Arms, and the man I sing" [14:231] ("Thy Plains, O Abram…Grateful I sing") and proceeds to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Wolfe’s victory by providing a comprehensive survey of the material resources of Lower Canada and the constructive achievements of its British inhabitants. Much the same emphases recur in Cornwall Bayley’s Canada. A Descriptive Poem, Written at Quebec, 1805 (1806) and in Adam Hood Burwell’s Talbot Road: a Poem (1818), both of which, like Abram’s Plains, draw extensively on Paradise Lost as well as on a plethora of English poems in the highly conservative topographical tradition (see Bentley, Mimic Fires and Mazoff). Paradise Lost also looms large in the background of The Rising Village, John Richardson’s Tecumseh (1828), and Joseph Howe’s Acadia (written in 1832-1834), adding a touch of epic sublimity to their depictions of pioneer heroism and, mutatis mutandis, Native noble and ignoble savagery in defence or defiance of Britain’s colonial interests.8 Richardson was alone among these poets in describing his commemorative and celebratory efforts as an "Epic Poem" (Tecumseh 183), but for all six of them the long poem with epic resonances was clearly the appropriate form for the commemoration and celebration of colonial victories and achievements in the military and agricultural spheres. As Derek Walcott wryly remarks in his Collected Poems, 1948-1984 (1986), "provincialism loves the pseudo-epic" (qtd. In Daymond and Monkman xiii).

In addition to confirming that it was the most admired and emulated poem in nineteenth-century Canada as well as Britain (see Hyman 129), the presence of Paradise Lost in the background of so many early Canadian long poems indicates that Samuel Johnson was only partly right in asserting that the subject of Milton’s poem is "not the destruction of a city, the conduct of a colony, or the foundation of an empire" (7:126). Paradise Lost may not treat of imperial themes directly but, of course, it is very much about the process of starting and running a colony: as it opens, the fallen angels are faced with the task of exploring, assessing, and accommodating themselves to a new environment, as also, at its dramatic heart, are Adam and Eve. In Hell and in Chaos, Satan and his followers are enterprising strip miners, city builders, and road makers, and, after the Fall, Adam and Eve are taken by Michael to the "subjected plain" (12: 640) where they will make a new home and their offspring will eventually found colonies and empires. It may well have been Paradise Lost that Mary O’Brien was reading on the verandah of her new home in Vaughan Township, Upper Canada in June 1830 while her husband "superintend[ed] the making of the road by [their] lot" and she herself "stirred a bowl of cream into butter" so distractedly that she "ground off one of her nails" (118). Certainly, Paradise Lost would not have been incompatible with O’Brien’s favourite book—Scott’s novel of British India, Guy Mannering (1815) (see O’Brien 125).

Between Confederation and the First World War, Paradise Lost continued to be a major presence in the background of the Canadian long poem, but now as a means of giving resonance to the expansive ambitions of the new dominion. Isabella Valancy Crawford’s Malcolm’s Katie: a Love Story (1884) is a Tennysonian domestic idyll and medley poem that interweaves a romantic narrative with lyric elements, but it also uses establishment blank verse to describe the settlement of the West and the subjugation of nature by Max Gordon, a hero reminiscent of Hercules both in his physical stature and in his pioneering activities. Near the poem’s beginning and at its conclusion, Max and Katie are given speeches that establish agricultural development as distinct from commercial exploitation as a guiding principle of colonization, and in the course of their love story each develops in a way that permits the emplacement in the West of a resonantly Miltonic family hierarchy consistent with the Victorian middle-class ideal of the self-made man (see Bentley, Mimic Fires 272-91). A similar ideal, but with an intellectual rather than a pioneering (but still Herculean) hero at its apex, emerges at the conclusion of Archibald Lampman’s The Story of an Affinity (written in 1892-1894), a "small novel in blank verse" (Lampman, Annotated Correspondence 120) that employs aspects of the Tennysonian domestic idyll and the Wordsworthian growth poem ("spots of time") to chart the progress of its hero and heroine, Richard Stahlberg and Margaret Hawthorne, towards a semblance of the mutuality enjoyed by Milton’s Adam and Eve before the Fall and after the expulsion. Like Malcolm’s Katie, The Story of an Affinity balances lyric and epic, individual and social elements in a way that reflects the Victorian domestication of Romanticism and, indeed, holds temporarily in suspension the potentially contrarious drives towards self-realization and civic responsibility that fuelled the debate over Canadian independence and imperial federation in the post-Confederation period. It is a measure of the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces that Malcolm’s Katie and The Story of an Affinity achieve that the heroes of both poems are Ulyssean as well as Herculean and that, in the end, the two are safely united with faithful and Penelopean wives.

But in other ways Malcolm’s Katie and The Story of an Affinity seem scarcely to be products of their late Victorian milieu, for by the final decade of the nineteenth century the atomizing and alienating forces of modernity were already giving rise in Canada and elsewhere to a type of long poem—the lyric series—that would foreground the isolation of the individual in a fragmented and heterogenous world.9 It is tempting to see Charles Sangster’s movement from the straightforward (albeit sometimes mysterious) narrative of The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay (1856) to the labyrinthine meditations of Sonnets, Written in the Orillia Woods. August, 1859 (1860) as a precursor of the submersion of plot in a poetic sequence that makes Bliss Carman’s Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics (1903) so engaging and germinal (see Bentley, "Threefold" and Dickie, Rosenthal, and Gall), but, baffling though they may be at times, Sangster’s poems are quite conventional deployments of Romantic and Victorian models and themes (the river poem, the sanctity of human love, and so on). A marked shift in sensibility and technique can be detected, however, in the early long poems of Charles G.D. Roberts: both Orion, and Other Poems (1880) and In Divers Tones (1886) contain epyllions or "miniature epic[s]" in the manner of Theocritus (Bush 204)10 by way of Tennyson’s "Oenone"—"Orion" itself and "Actaeon"—but the Songs of the Common Day,11 New York Nocturnes, and Book of the Rose volumes of 1893, 1898, and 1903 are series of lyrics with submerged metaphysical plots that anticipate Sappho not only in their erotic syncretism, but also in their quietistic avoidance of social and political issues. The precedents for Sappho in Carman’s own work are, of course, Low Tide on Grand Pré (1893) and the Vagabondia volumes (1894, 1896, 1901), the former, according to its Prefatory Note (and much to the distress of at least one conservative critic; see Essay 7: Trees and Forest: Variety and Unity in Early Canadian Writing) a "Book of Lyrics" unified by "a single theme" and a "similarity of tone" (n.p.) and the latter, like Carman’s soporific Pipes of Pan series (1902-1905), a therapeutic celebration of the freedom and camaraderie of the open road and adjoining taverns and terrain.12 Surely it can be no coincidence that all of these volumes by Roberts and Carman were written either just before or not long after they moved from the Maritimes to the United States, leaving behind them the "fetters" (Roberts, Collected Letters 140) of family life and, in Robert’s case especially, a political commitment to furthering Canada’s collective identity either as an independent entity or, failing that, as a central component of a federated British Empire.

With the exhaustion of the fin-de-siècle aestheticism that helped to shape the volumes of Roberts, Carman, and other Canadian writers around the turn of the century and the destruction of the remnants of the Romantic-Victorian sensibility that came with the First World War, Canadians were ripe for literary movements that would speak to the sense of national achievement and international recognition embodied in Canada’s signature on the Treaty of Versailles and its seat in the League of Nations. Given the inherent incompatibility of nationalism and internationalism, it was inevitable that not one but two literary movements would emerge in Canada in the ’twenties and ’thirties and that, eventually, they would come into vigorous conflict. As regards the Canadian long poem, the first of these movements to emerge—the Romantic-Victorian Revival that brought Roberts and Carman back to Canada in the late ’twenties— was the more textually productive, generating several poems that seek to foster national consciousness by bathing heroic individuals from the country’s literary and historical past and present in the awe-inspiring light of the egotistical and epical sublime. In The Wanderer: a Narrative Poem (1936), for example, Nathaniel A. Benson follows a potted history of English literature from Shakespeare and Milton to the great Romantics and high Victorians with a paean to Roberts as "the patriarch of our native tongue" and to Carman as "the sweetest singer of our western world" (4-5), and in Verendrye: a Poem of the New World (1935) A.M. Stephen finds in the "organic rhythms and the freedom of irregular verse" a style answerable not only to the "elemental vastness and beauty" of North America’s "wide open spaces" (viii), but also to the heroic activities chronicled in Lawrence J. Burpee’s 1927 edition of The Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier de La Verendrye…Touching the Search for the Western Sea, one of several archival and historical works of that period— including The Kelsey Papers—that reflect the assumptions of Romantic historiography in their emphasis on great men, momentous events, and national issues.13

Needless to say, the second movement that emerged in the post-War period in response to Canada’s new national and international confidence—the "aesthetic modernism" (Trehearne) of A.J.M. Smith, F.R. Scott, and their fellow cosmopolitans—could have little truck with all this literary, scenic, and historical nativism or, indeed, with the aggrandizing genre in which it found expression. As the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation were underway in 1927, Scott lashed out at the nativists and their heroes in "The Canadian Authors Meet" and Smith’s "Wanted—Canadian Criticism" followed a year later. Neither poet would attempt a long poem until Scott, always much more engaged in the civic and political spheres than Smith, assembled "Letters from the Mackenzie River" in his Collected Poems of 1981. The long poems of the one member of the McGill group who worked in the genre—A.M. Klein—largely succeed in avoiding national themes and epic resonances in favour of pan-national and intensely personal subjects such as those of "Portraits of a Minyan" (1940) and "The Psalter of Avram Haktani" (1944). There is surely no more anti-national use of epic conventions than the allusions to Paradise Lost and the Aeneid in the opening lines of the Hitleriad (1944): "Heil heavenly muse…Adolf I sing but only since I must" (Collected Poems 2: 581).14

But not all Canadian Modernists held themselves as aloof from national and local concerns as the internationalists of the McGill Group. In the early-to-mid ’thirties Livesay used the fragmentary form of The Waste Land (1922) to represent the parched physical and social landscapes of the Depression in "Queen City" (1956) and "Depression Suite" (1956), two lyric and documentary sequences that are open to the charge of pastiche and superficiality not merely because of their simplistic Marxism, but also because they lack the understanding of the mythic method that Anne Marriott would bring to similar subject-matter in The Wind Our Enemy (1930) and that Sheila Watson would transfer to poetic prose in The Double Hook (1959) (a work that, despite the claims of Barbara Godard and other fanciful genealogists of Canadian post-modernism, does not treat, except tangentially, of Native peoples but, like its High Modern models, refers local landscapes and mythologies to assumedly universal archetypes).15 Only marginally less epical in its resonances but much less so in its ethos is Louis Dudek’s Europe (1954), a re-enactment of Pound’s pilgrimage to Europe that nods repeatedly towards the Odyssey, particularly while its itinerant narrator is travelling down the St. Lawrence towards the Atlantic and when he returns, disillusioned with Europe, to affirm the potential of the New World. By and large, then, the long poems of the ’thirties, ’forties, and ’fifties run true to form in concentrating on the cultural work of comprehension, commemoration, and construction, and in tending towards lyric when describing personal and quotidian subjects and towards epic when addressing national or universal themes. At the genre’s extremes during the period stand the shapeless records of ordinary experience that Raymond Souster collected in The Colour of the Times (1946) and the elegant artefacts that Jay Macpherson organized around the Frygian monomyth of "the loss and regaining of identity" (Educated Imagination 21) in The Boatman (1957). It almost goes without saying that Souster’s poems are as empty of epic allusions as Macpherson’s are full of them.

If there was a poet who bestrode the Romantic-Victorian revival and the Modern movement in Canada like a colossus, it was E.J. Pratt. Honourably mentioned by Benson in The Wanderer and reluctantly included by Smith and Scott in New Provinces (1936), Pratt drew on both the Modern and the Romantic-Victorian traditions, combining imagistic techniques with natural and folkloric subjects in Newfoundland Verse (1923) and, in his masterpiece, The Titanic (1935), brilliantly interweaving the polyvocalism and pan-Euro-Americanism of The Waste Land with ethical and evolutionary ideas derived from Thomas Huxley, Thomas Hardy, and other late Victorian thinkers and poets. In accordance with the nationalistic demands of the times, Pratt turned his hand during and after the Second World War to heroic subjects and the epic genre. Brébeuf and His Brethren (1940) is divided into twelve books and tells a story that, as already seen (Essay 4: Savages and Relics: the Commemoration of Native Peoples in the Nineteenth Century), Pratt regarded as "a great act in the national drama…a chapter in the history of religion…a saga of the human race" and—though he does not say so explicitly—a parable for the times in its emphasis on "courage, faith, self-effacement, [and] endurance—that sheer holding on at solitary posts in the darkness of an approaching catastrophe" (E.J. Pratt 114). (It is not insignificant that Brébeuf and His Brethren is a poem about the heroism of French Catholics by an ostensibly Protestant English Canadian: in 1943, E.K. Brown and Duncan Campbell Scott would follow suit with Lampman’s "At the Long Sault: May, 1660" a fragmentary depiction of Dollard des Ormeaux that trumpets its epic possibilities in its Homeric comparison of the so-called ‘saviour[s] of New France’" [Margaret Kennedy 54] to "a tired bull moose" dragged down by a "ravening pack" of "sleepless wolves" [Poems (1974) 27].)16 Towards the Last Spike (1952), Pratt’s Verse Panorama of the Struggle to Build the First Canadian Transcontinental from the Time of the Proposed Terms of Union with British Columbia (1870) to the Hammering of the Last Spike in the Eagle Pass (1885) (to give its full, original title), cannot be assigned the label of epic as readily as Brébeuf and His Brethren for the very good reason that Pratt, now writing in the shadow of Northrop Frye’s Viconian theory of the ironic nature of Modern literature, views the epical "triumph" (Collected Poems 388) of the politicians, entrepreneurs, and engineers who built the C.P.R. and unified Canada from what R.D. MacDonald has recently termed a "wry and remote perspective" ("E.J. Pratt" 41). Among the "objects and forces and natural phenomena" that Pratt had once listed as sources of epic "sublimity" are "a range of mountains…[and] struggles on the immense scale, whether physical or moral, involving the fate of nations and people" (Pursuits 214). The natural and national sources of epic sublimity are abundantly present in Towards the Last Spike, but the machinery and actors in the "Struggle"—the ironic spike that Donald Smith misses with his "first stroke" (Collected Poems 387)— ensure the poem’s ironic distance from the high mimetic mode.

While the sublime and epical themes of Towards the Last Spike recall earlier phases of the Canadian long poem, its "wry" and ironical tone anticipate developments in the genre that began to coalesce fully some ten years later with the publication in Tish 12 (August 14, 1962) of the first instalment of David Dawson’s "tentative coastlines," a work that, in the words of Frank Davey’s Introduction to Tish No. 1-19 "revealed Dawson as the first of us to work with the serial poem—an open-ended form already being explored in San Francisco but which Dawson, I believe, stumbled across accidentally as a extension of the multi-section poem in progress" (10). It matters little whether "tentative coastlines" was as generically original as Davey believes, for its real importance lies in its radical reorientation of the long poem on Canada away from the imperial-national ethos of the epic and towards the local-personal matrix of the lyric: at the outset of the first instalment of the poem, after carefully locating his poetic "I" on a "beach…6 miles" from both "the city" (presumably) of Vancouver and the western limit of the continent, Dawson looks back "200 yrs…to/ Valdez/ quadra/ Spanish galleons in the bay/ scanning our shores." But instead of proceeding to commemorate explorer heroism or colonial construction, he looks to the north of "our shores" and, later, "my mountains"—that is, north of the areas appropriated by European civilization—to where "the Kwakiutl once lived" and imagines a spiritual-sexual union between himself and one of their chiefs: "I would/ pray with him/ then lay down/ between his bronze-brown thighs/ to come into maquinna,/ My lord maquinna,/ ME" (242, 244). "In David Dawson’s Tentative Coastlines," Robert Duncan would affirm in the next number of Tish, "there is a breakthru to a tutelary daemon of an other Vancouver" (253). As an Indian lover on the western margins, Dawson’s "ME" has precedents in The Huron Chief and the lyrics of Constance Lindsay Skinner’s still sadly underrated Songs of the Coast Dwellers (1930), but the shamanistic homosexuality and programmatic openness of "tentative coastlines" transgressed Canadian social and poetic conventions in ways that heralded new directions for the long poem in Canada.17 Henceforth, the traditional activities of the genre—comprehension, commemoration, and construction—would be displaced or supplemented by contestation of the colonizing project from a counter-cultural standpoint. In Vancouver in August 1962, as earlier in San Francisco and later in Vietnam, the westward march of European imperialism ground to a halt and turned back on itself. As if sensing both the elegiac and the liberatory implications of the moment, Davey and George Bowering followed the sixth and final instalment of "tentative coastlines" in Tish 14 with "Morte d’Arthur" and "Grandfather," the former a Poundian meditation of the "ruin of [a] realm" (285) and the latter a Purdyesque commemoration of a patriarch whose geographical movements and constructive activities were an embodiment of British imperialism in Canada.

Directed not merely against but towards supplanting Canada’s established poetic and ideological orders, the contestatory long poems of the last three decades have now been thoroughly institutionalized by a process that, to a remarkable degree, replicates in the academic sphere the colonial and colonizing activity of establishing a node of power (Duncan’s happy term is "beach-head" [253]), defending it against the "natives" (Seymour Mayne’s charge of derivativeness in Tish 3, was followed by the berserker ragings of Robin Mathews and Keith Richardson), and then striking out for fresh fields and pastures new ("Frank Davey is moving to Victoria," Bowering recorded in Tish 19; "I’m moving to Calgary" ["The Most Remarkable Thing"]). Thanks in great measure to the creative and academic efforts of the Tish poets and their associates in such venues as Imago, the long poem magazine that Bowering edited in Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver from 1964 to 1974, Open Letter, the creative-critical journal that Davey began at York University in 1975, and The Long Poem Anthology, the class-room text that Michael Ondaatje published through Toronto’s Coach House Press in 1979, college and university teachers and students of Canadian literature are now as thoroughly familiar with the contestatory long poems of Bowering, Davey, Ondaatje, and others as they are comfortable with the shibboleths of North American counter-culture that, with engaging local and personal variations, constitute their standard subject-matter.18 Can there be an advanced course in Canadian literature at any college or university that does not include—and rightly—one or more of Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston (1974), Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue (1977), and a book of bp Nichol’s Martyrology (1972-1988)? As became increasingly apparent in the course of the event that marked its canonization—the Long-liners Conference on the Canadian Long Poem that Davey organized at York in 198419the contestatory long poem may have begun on the margins but it now holds the centre.

In perhaps the only tedious portion of Seed Catalogue Kroetsch answers the question "How do you grow a past/ to live in" with a theoretically interminable catalogue that nevertheless ends with "the absence of Aeneas" (38-39). Such an assertion of absence is, of course, a testament to presence, an acknowledgment that, though the Aeneid took place elsewhere, its central character and imperial ethos occupy a special position in the present as well as the "past" of all Canadians, not least those who have engaged in the constructive and creative activities of raising seeds, houses, barns, children, communities, and poets that Kroetsch, no less than Goldsmith, recognizes as the staples of colonial culture and the long poem.20 Like several other long poems of the so-called Prairie Renaissance— Andrew Suknaski’s "Homestead, 1914" (1976), for example, and David Arnason’s Marsh Burning (1980)—Seed Catalogue both acknowledges and interrogates the pre-conditions of its creation— namely, the existence of the communities that for all their imperial and colonial sins of omission and commission have made possible the long poem in English in Canada. Indeed, one of the many old lessons that Kroetsch’s poem teaches anew is that no poetic expression, be it epic or lyric or something in between, can exist in any meaningful way without a receptive community. Not until after the establishment of "the home place" and the inculcation of communal awareness does Kroetsch draw from himself and his surroundings the achingly affective and playfully connective passages that make up the final section of Seed Catalogue (34, 50-51). Only when an isolated settlement has become a thriving community does it generate The Rising Village. Without the Hudson’s Bay Company, there would be no "Now Reader Read…." Neither as self-centered as the lyric nor as self-occluding as the epic, the long poem has served from the beginning in Canada as a means of aligning individual with collective experience and, in so doing, establishing its author’s membership in a community that may be local, regional, national, or, in Kelsey’s case, merely corporate, but which is none-the-less valued, validating, and even valorizing. Nor, by and large, have the communities hailed and flattered in long poems failed to honour their side of the genre’s implied social contract: Kelsey was almost continuously employed by the H.B.C. until two years before his death in 1724 (Davies 310-13); Goldsmith was fêted by a crowd of "perhaps…two thousand persons" when he left New Brunswick in 1844 (qtd. in Myatt 108); and Completed Field Notes: the Long Poems of Robert Kroetsch, which was published by "The Canadian Publishers" in 1989, won the Governor-General’s award for poetry in English for that year. Or, arguably, should have.

In its hesitant querulousness, this last statement returns the discussion to the political dimensions of the Canadian long poem, but with some troubling questions born of contemporary realities. Is there any longer a cohesive Canadian community to occasion long poems and honour their authors, or are Canada’s communities once again local, regional, and off-shore? Is there any more a justification for using the term "the Canadian long poem," or should every long poem written by someone with Canadian citizenship or experience be treated as a singularity? These are not idle questions at a time when regionalism, separatism, and globalization are working alongside multiculturalism, self-help therapies, and a host of minority and individual rights movements to reduce the Canadian nation to bite-sized chunks in the global soup of neo-conservatism. In very many ways, the forces of pluralism and individualism have been liberating, enriching, and salutary in Canadian society and Canadian literature. The ensemble of "Canadian long poems" now includes works that comprehend, commemorate, construct, and contest Canadian and non-Canadian realities from many different perspectives. No longer can a student named Smith or Macdonald at, say, the University of Ottawa, read Brébeuf and His Brethren or, for that matter, the very different responses that Pratt’s poem occasioned from F.R. Scott in "Brébeuf and His Brethren" (1945) and from Eldon Garnet in Brébeuf: a Martyrdom of Jean De (1977), without realizing that there are indeed "other" stories to tell. No longer either can such a student read the summary sentence of Steveston— "This is the story of a town, these are the people…" (89)—without a conditioned wince of embarrassment or, worse, a condescending sneer of assumed superiority. By no means all literary texts, particularly those written before the dawning of the New Age, can meet the exacting standards of contemporary tolerance. So, as this capacious and fragile nation labours in the closing years of a millennium and more of European imperialism to embrace diversity without triggering fragmentation, an optimistic historian of Canadian literature can only hope that the full and growing corpus of long poems written in and about Canada in the last three centuries will continue to be tolerated and occasionally appreciated for what it is—a various, sometimes moving, and just possibly coherent record of the emergence and, it may be, disintegration of the nation that still provides a great many Canadians with a large part of their collective and personal identities.

Memorable Lyrics


What makes a poem enter the collective memory of a culture? Or, to put the question more precisely, why are certain poems remembered by a large number of people in a particular society across a span of time? Part of the answer doubtless lies in school anthologies and rote learning: a poem enters a society’s poetic repertoire when it has been memorized by a generation or more of children. But this begs the underlying question of why certain poems have proved to be memorable or worthy of memorization. To this there is no simple answer, but a complex set of factors that include a poem’s subject-matter, poetic technique, and length: memorable poems tend to be those that deal in a technically accomplished and concentrated manner with such perennial and emotional themes as love, death, and departure. Such, at least, is the inference that can be drawn from three poems that have made their way into the memories of many Canadians (and some non-Canadians) in the present and previous centuries: "In Flanders Fields" (1919) by John McCrae, "Indian Summer" (1889) by William Wilfred Campbell, and "The Lone Shieling" stanza of the "Canadian Boat-Song" that was first published in Blackwoods’s Edinburgh Magazine in September 1829. All of these poems are brief lyrics, all deal with very emotional subjects, and all display a high level of technical skill. All three also contain what appears to be the fourth prerequisite for memorability: one or two (at most three) vivid images that the poem makes into emblems of its central emotions and attitudes—condensers of feelings and thoughts that are activated every time they are supplemented by the energy of an emotive and knowledgeable reading or hearing.21


In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.   Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
                              In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
                              In Flanders fields.
                                                (McCrae 3)

"In Flanders Fields" is a rondeau, a fixed French form popular among late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English poets such as Henry Austin Dobson and W.E. Henley and appropriate in its geographical as well as its mournful associations to an elegiac poem set in Belgium.22 While broken into three stanzas as is conventional for rondeaus, its most important structural feature is the change of focus and direction that occurs between its second and third stanzas. In the first two stanzas, "the Dead" describe their physical and temporal circumstances, their "place" in the graveyards of Flanders, and their feelings while still alive "Short days ago." In the third stanza, they address the living, enjoining them to continue the fight and keep the faith in order that they, "the Dead," may rest in the knowledge that they have not died in vain. But, despite being divided into three stanzas and two parts, "In Flanders Fields" gives the overwhelming impression of being a coherent and unified whole. Several factors implicit in the rondeau form account for this. One is the metrical pattern (iambic tetrameter), which remains constant throughout the poem except in the dimeter, but still iambic, refrain or retrement ("In Flanders fields") and in the trochees that lend emphasis and force to the opening words in several lines ("We are the Dead," "Loved and were loved," "Take up our quarrel"). Another is the rhyme scheme (aabba aabc aabbac), which runs the same two rhymes through all three stanzas and uses a third only in the phrase that further contributes to the unity of the poem by providing its title, initiating its opening line, concluding its second and third stanzas and, for all these reasons, signalling its final closure.23 Almost needless to say, all of these factors contribute not only to the unity of the poem, but also to its memorability: along with aural and syntactical repetitions such as "row on row," "Loved and were loved," and "we are the Dead…we lived…we shall not sleep," regular, and, thus, predictable, rhythms and rhymes are powerful aids to memory that, as every student of Anglo-Saxon literature knows, abound in oral poetry and popular song.

A third factor that contributes to the unity and memorability of "In Flanders Fields," while also providing an intimation of its social function, is its single yet collective lyric voice. Spoken as if by all "the Dead" in unison—by a "we" with one identity and one will— the poem presents itself as the expression of a communal experience and purpose that transcends individual death and, indeed, the deaths of large groups in the community.24 At the core of the poem, in its middle stanza, McCrae has placed a sharp and moving contrast between life and death, sensuous vitality and impotent stillness:

                                 Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
                              In Flanders fields.

But in the surrounding stanzas, and with the assistance of some skilful enjambement—"in the sky/ The larks, still bravely singing" and "To you from failing hands we throw/ The torch"—he suggests that a continuity of bravery and purpose can surmount the rift between "the Dead" and the living and connect the gruesome present to a happier past and a brighter future. The final stanza of the poem is an impassioned call for persistence and a stern caution against severance:

Take up the quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
                              In Flanders fields.

Both obviously and subtly,25 McCrae’s poem is an affirmation of community and a plea for continuity. "Little wonder then that ‘In Flanders Fields’ has become the poem of the army," wrote Sir Andrew Macphail in 1919; "[t]he soldiers have learned it with their hearts, which is quite a different thing from committing it to memory…. That is the true test of poetry,—its insistence on making itself learnt by heart…. Nor has any piece of verse in recent years been more widely known in the civilian world" (57). Macphail’s words are residually as true today as they were in 1919 for, of course, "In Flanders Fields" "was recited as part of the official Armistice Day program in 1918, and has since become an integral part of…Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada," Britain, and other English-speaking countries (Colombo, Quotations 373). It has, in fact, become an element as well as an expression of communal continuity.

If any part of the poem is more easily remembered and still as widely known than any other, it is the first two lines: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row." In addition to introducing the contrast between the living and "the Dead" that is repeated (retraced) and resolved in the rest of the poem, these lines contain its two most vivid and memorable images. But what precisely do people visualize when they hear, read, or recall the opening lines of "In Flanders Fields"? An informal survey of younger and older family and friends indicates that most "see" scarlet poppies with their petals being ruffled by a gentle wind and symmetrical rows of white crosses in a memorial cemetery. If asked to explain the significance and appropriateness of these images, they seldom have any difficulty: poppies are symbols of remembrance, and the fragility of their petals and stems reflects the precariousness of human life at the front during the First World War; and rows of crosses suggest self-sacrifice, as well as remembrance and, more specifically, the great memorial cemeteries of western Europe. Such explanations say a great deal about the capacity of McCrae’s poem to evoke the imagery of commemoration that it no doubt helped to create, beginning with its anonymous publication in Punch on December 8, 1915. Precisely for this reason, however, they are partly anachronistic, for when McCrae composed his poem near Ypres on May 3, 1915, there were no memorial cemeteries in western Europe,26 and the scarlet poppy was an "emblem," not of remembrance, but of "sleep" and death (Macphail 55)—hence, the incongruity of "the Dead" being unable to "sleep though poppies grow/ In Flanders fields." Moreover, the impression that most people today derive from the phrase "the poppies blow" is also anachronistic and erroneous, for the word "blow" in this context is not a present participle—"blowing"—that has been shortened for the purposes of rhythm and rhyme but a noun meaning "bloom," "blossom," or "[a] state of blossoming" (OED).27 According to Cyril L.C. Allinson, who was probably with McCrae when he composed the poem near a "little cemetery" where a close friend, Lieutenant Alex Helmer, had recently been buried, "‘[t]he poem was almost an exact description of the scene in front of us both’" (qtd. in Delaplante).28 Clearly, what it was to McCrae and is today are two very different things, but if readers choose they can try to strip away some of the varnish of anachronism by recovering and recalling a semblance of its compositional setting and original meaning. There is no guarantee of success, however, for those ruffling poppies and anachronistic crosses have been so frequently and deeply traced on the memories of most Canadians that "In Flanders Fields" almost automatically evokes them.29 Nevertheless, there was that "little cemetery" with its crude wooden crosses and slumberous unmoving poppies, and remembering is more "an affair of construction than…of mere reproduction" (F.C. Bartlett 205).


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.
      (Campbell Selected Poetry 20-21)

Like "In Flanders Fields," "Indian Summer" is one of the best-known, most-anthologized, and least-discussed Canadian poems. Written in the early 1880s and published by Campbell in various places—Poems! (c. 1881), the Toronto Varsity magazine (1881) and Varsity Book (1885), Snowflakes and Sunbeams (1888), Lake Lyrics (1889), and Collected Poems (1905)—all of them Canadian, "Indian Summer" is unequivocally a poem by a Canadian for Canadians. This helps to explain its matter-of-fact quality, its simple and direct presentation of a series of natural images and events—the call of "the blue jay," "the sumachs on the hills," "Wild birds flying south"—that Campbell clearly assumes will be familiar to his central and eastern Canadian audience. At the emotional core of the poem is the anticipation of seasonal change that, as much as seasonal change itself, characterizes life in a northern climate. Especially before and during the transitional seasons of spring and fall, Canadians are likely to feel the kinds of longings and regrets that bring to mind momentous thoughts of life and death, rebirth, regeneration, and resurrection. So at least theorized the Confederation poets under the influence of the environmental and "meteorological determinism" (Westbrook 94) of Washington Irving, John Burroughs, and others. "There is…an analogy to our life, and even to the genius of…[the] race" in the distinctive qualities of the Canadian season and woods, suggests Campbell in Canada (1907); in the fall "[a]ll nature seems in a mood of quiet contemplation" that includes "thoughts and imaginings upon life and death" and encourages Canadians to "measure the petty strife and…shrivelled ambition" of the work-a-day world against "the vast spaces and the eternal silence" (126, 123-24).

In its two preliminary appearances in Poems! and Varsity, "Indian Summer" contained two stanzas that made elaborately and unnecessarily explicit the spiritual implications of its natural images and events:

And mists come up at golden dawn
    From the still lake beneath,
And fold their tents upon the hills
    Like the white camp of death,

Then steal away at even’s hour
    Like hosts with banners furled,
When the great purple sun hath set
    Along the murm’ring world.
    (Campbell Selected Poetry 208)

Without these two stanzas,30 "Indian Summer" has the three-part structure that underlies much popular music31music that is popular because it is straightforward and affective. Not the least because they are written in a version of the common ballad metre (a4b3c4b3), the remaining three stanzas have a "[s]implicity and directness" that helps to account for their memorability and may, indeed, be, as Campbell maintained, "essential to the highest class of verse" (Selected Poetry 179).32 Certainly, the edited and concentrated version of the poem has the qualities that Campbell attributed to "great nature poet[ry]" in the Introduction to his Collected Poems: "it conveys…an impressive sense of the majesty of life and death…[w]hether the idea be death or a season, [its] mood is the creation of a soul strongly imbued with a feeling of the sublimity of life. In such verse one is lifted out of the common into an atmosphere of spiritual exaltation, such as only poetry has the power to create" (Selected Poetry 180). That "Indian Summer" does these things helps to explain its presence in countless school anthologies, particularly in Ontario, and its status as "one of the best-recognized Canadian poems ever written" (Algie).

But does the key to this fame reside only in the poem’s unquestionable success in generating an emotional, and, perhaps, spiritual, response? The answer is probably no, for surely much of the memorability of "Indian Summer" derives from its vivid natural images and its accomplished poetic techniques. A few moments in the presence of the poem’s opening line—"Along the lines of smoky hills"—reveals that the combination of "Along," "lines," and "hills" very effectively creates the impression of a distant range of hills in Campbell’s native Ontario or a similar landscape and that the word "smoky" has been brilliantly chosen to elicit an image of hills that resemble smoke either (or both) because of their brownish colour or because of an autumnal haze.33 Moreover, the pronounced rising and falling of the line’s iambic tetrameter assists in the creation of an image of the hills’ contours, as do the rhythmic ascents and descents of its actual letters. With the second and third lines, the "crimson forest" and the "blue jay" add bright patches of colour to the hitherto drab landscape, and the irregular rhythm and internal rhyme of "all the day the blue jay calls" unobtrusively imitates the sound of the bird whose very name derives from its raucous cry of "jay, jay." The final line of the stanza—"Throughout the autumn lands"—does more than proclaim the sights and sounds so far recorded to be general and, therefore, typical; it carries forward the long "o" and "a" sounds from the previous lines to reinforce the sombre mood for which the "smoky hills," the "crimson forest," and the call of the "blue jay" have become emblematic.

The second and third stanzas of "Indian Summer" also put poetic skill at the service of vivid imagery. In the lines "Now by the brook the maple leans / With all his glory spread," the word "leans" hangs at the end of the line to suggest the pendant aspect of the maple, and the phrase "his glory" confers an element of personal and spiritual achievement and triumph on the tree’s fall display. The remaining lines of the second stanza reinforce the sense that the sombre mood created earlier is being counteracted not only by an appreciation of the natural splendours of Indian summer, but also by a recognition that, far from lamenting the passage of summer into winter, the natural world willingly treats Indian summer as an occasion for colourful display: "And all the sumachs on the hills/ Have turned their green to red." In the third stanza, a repetition of the words "Throughout" and "autumn" from the fourth line of the poem ("Throughout the autumn lands") serves the dual purpose of signalling its imminent closure and recapturing its earlier mood. Now, however, somberness combines with appreciation to produce an awed sense of immense geographical spaces and perennial natural forces:

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

By stressing "great" and "Wild" with spondees, Campbell emphasizes the extent of the marshes and the naturalness of the birds’ migration. By placing a caesura—the only one in the poem— between "long" and "still," he slows the pace of the line to convey something of the common enough feeling that Indian summer is a protracted period of calm, a lull, before the storms of winter. These are not esoteric techniques or obscure effects, but examples of the "impressive qualities" of "true poetry" that can be recognized, Campbell insisted, without any "subtle insight into the intricacies of language and the laws of prosody" (Selected Poetry 180). It is not techniques that make a poem memorable but their results.

That "Indian Summer" is still capable of generating an emotional response in Canadians is indicated by Robert Nielsen’s recent ruminations about the relative lack of songs and poems that his "countrymen" might sing or recite after a "Canadian wedding in a foreign land":

in lieu of a song I might…urge [them]…to join me in mouthing a few lines of verse:

Along the line of smoky hills
    The crimson forest stands
And all the day the blue-jay calls
    Throughout the autumn lands.

Okay, okay, they’re corny and are banished from all the best anthologies. But—unlike just about everything else to do with my country— I love them. I think of them constantly and they stir deeply whatever there is in me that is "Canadian."


The Lone Shieling

From the lone shieling of the misty island
    Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas—
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
    And we in dreams behold the Hebrides….

When the "Canadian Boat-Song" of which this is the second of five stanzas appeared in the "Noctes Ambrosianae" section of Blackwood’s in September 1829, it was preceded by an explanation of the poem’s origins by John Wilson ("Christopher North"):

By the by, I have a letter this morning from a friend of mine now in Upper Canada. He was rowed down the St.Lawrence lately, for several days on end, by a set of strapping fellows, all born in that country, and yet hardly one of whom could speak a word of any tongue but the Gaelic. They sung heaps of our old Highland oar-songs, he says, and capitally well, in true Hebridean fashion; and they had others of their own, Gaelic too, some of which my friend noted down, both words and music. He has sent me a translation of one of their ditties—shall I try how it will croon? (qtd. in Bentley, "The ‘Canadian Boat-Song’" 69)

"‘Hech me! that’s really a very affectin’ thing, now’," exclaims James Hogg ("The Ettrick Shepherd") after the singing of the "Canadian Boat-Song—(from the Gaelic)"; "[w]eel, Doctor, what say you? Another bowl?" (70).

There the matter rested for twenty years until, following the second appearance of the "Canadian Boat-Song" in the June 1849 number of Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, the first of several candidates for the poem’s authorship—Hugh Montgomerie, the 12th. Earl of Eglinton—was suggested at the close of an anonymous article on Highland exiles (see Dowler 70). Since then, at least seven other candidates for the authorship of the "Canadian Boat-Song" have been more-or-less seriously considered, including Wilson himself, Hogg, John Galt, and—perhaps most likely—David Macbeth Moir, a Scottish "physician and poet" who went under the title of "Delta" in Blackwood’s Magazine and may have written the poem "at the instigation of Galt, his regular correspondent while in Upper Canada" (Dowler 71-72). The authorship debate continued well into the present century, and spawned two closely argued monographs: Edward MacCurdy’s A Literary Enigma (1935), "a competent survey of the evidence for all eight nominees" that guardedly endorses the candidacy of Moir, and G.H. Needler’s The Lone Shieling (1941), a close analysis of the poem’s literary form that "develops the case for a Galt-Moir collaboration" (Dowler 72). The fact that Needler’s argument for the poem’s Canadian origins was published in Toronto during the Second World War is neither coincidental nor unprecedented. In the March 1918 number the The Canadian Magazine, Charles S. Blue had drawn on earlier suggestions by two British scholars to argue the case for Wilson’s other literary "friend in Upper Canada," William "Tiger" Dunlop, and in the August 22, 1942 issue of The London Free Press Victor Lauriston revisited the same evidence to conclude patriotically that "the champions of Huron’s claim to the authorship of the ‘lone shieling song’ can safely sheathe their claymores. Tiger Dunlop answers the requirements as no one else does. And, admitting that, his anonymously-published poem was undoubtedly the first writing from Huron county [Ontario] to find a place in literature" (qtd. in Draper 78).

Long before the turn of the century, the most valued portion of the intellectual property that Lauriston and his predecessors sought to assign to different authors and countries had become the stanza that R.E. Rashley describes as "[t]he most complete expression" in early Canadian poetry of "the regret of the immigrant at the loss of his familiar home" (4). As MacCurdy notes in the introductory chapter of A Literary Enigma, the "lone shieling" stanza was quoted in isolation in 1860 by the Scottish writer Norman McLeod to illustrate his observation during a visit to Canada fifteen years earlier that "one of the most interesting and remarkable features of the Highlander abroad is his undying love of the land which he still fondly calls his home" (12). MacCurdy also records that W.E. Henley (who spent a good deal of time in Scotland) and Robert Louis Stevenson (who was born there) "knew only the ‘shieling’ stanza" of the "Canadian Boat-Song" (13), and that the latter used it as an epigraph for the chapter entitled "The Scot Abroad" in The Silverado Squatters (1883). The fact that the same stanza was known and quoted by two very important British imperialists—the Earl of Rosebery (the British foreign secretary in 1886 and 1892 and prime minister in 1894-1895) and Joseph Chamberlain (the British colonial secretary who advocated imperial unity in 1903-1904 and furnished the prototype for Fawcett Wallingham in The Imperialist [T.E. Tausky 327-28])—suggests that in the decades surrounding the turn of the century it had become associated not merely with emigrant homesickness, but also with colonial affection for the Mother Country. The fact that it is included as "Scotland Yet" in Field Marshall, Viscount Wavell’s well-known war-time anthology, Other Men’s Flowers (1945) indicates that by the Second World War it had ceased to be perceived merely as an expression of Highland nostalgia or colonial affection and had become instead a more general, albeit still primarily Scottish, statement of steadfast allegiance in adversity that might be expected to appeal to soldiers overseas. Wavell, it may be recalled, held commands in the Middle East, Italy, and India in the years preceding the publication of his anthology. For readers of Other Men’s Flowers in 1945 there must have been many referents for the "mountains" and "seas" of the stanza’s second line.

The appeal of "The Lone Shieling" stanza derives from its poetic techniques as well as its subject-matter. Spoken, like "In Flanders Fields," by the collective voice of a community, the stanza recalls McCrae’s poem in two other respects: it is unified by a tight rhyme scheme (abab5, an adaptation, perhaps, of the stanza used by Thomas Gray for his "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"); and it divides into two parts on either side of the conjunction "Yet," which signals a shift of focus from the physical barriers that divide the immigrants from their homeland to the emotional and mental ties that "still" bind them to "the Hebrides."

In the first part of the stanza, "the sense of remoteness proves the dominating influence" (MacCurdy 92) and the dominating mood is one of separation and nostalgia. The stanza’s opening word, "From," establishes immediately the sense of separation, and in the first line the highly connotative words "lone" and "misty" begin to characterize the speakers as intensely wistful exiles from a cherished "island" and home. The word "shieling"—meaning either or both a summer pasture and a cattle or sheep herder’s summer hut— has Scottish referents and resonances that simultaneously define the speakers as Highlanders and reinforce their group identity by excluding others from the specifics of Highland experience. (To people unfamiliar with the word, "shieling" may recall "shale" and "shelving" and thus suggest a "natural rock formation" [Will R. Bird qtd. in Ian McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" [34].) In grammatical terms, the first line of the stanza is a parenthetical opener, an adverbial phrase that modifies "divide" and, by its placement before the subject, verb, and object of the sentence, helps to emphasize the group’s sense of being separated or "divide[d]" from their home. Their sense of separation and division is given further emphasis in the second line of the stanza, where the two elements of the sentence’s compound subject—the "mountains" and "the waste of seas" (the enormous physical and geographical barriers that separate the exiles from their "island")—are so placed as to separate the pronoun "us" from the "misty island" of line 1 and the reclaimed Highlands of lines 3 and 4. Even the broken rhythms of the first two lines and the gaping caesura in the second reflect the speakers’ emotional and physical state:

From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas….

While the first line tends towards the trochaic and the second towards the iambic (and, thus, the rhythm of the second part of the stanza), both contain extra unstressed syllables whose cumulative effect is to quieten and prolong their expression of separation and longing. A combination of unstressed syllables, long vowels, and sibilants makes "and the waste of seas" particularly affective and memorable. The pluralized "seas" both culminates a pattern of consonance in the lines and emphasizes the immensity of the division between the exiles and their homeland.

The second part of "The Lone Shieling" stanza focuses on the emotional and imaginative forces that permit the exiles to transcend their physical alienation from the "Highland[s]" and the "Hebrides." The regular, iambic rhythm of its two lines reinforces the sense that emotional turmoil is giving way to harmony:

Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.

These lines are not introduced by "But" (which would merely signal a turn of thought) but by "Yet," a conjunction that, particularly when followed by "still," brings with it a sense of temporal continuity and endurance. Instead of being divisive, the caesura in the first line demarcates parallel grammatical structures ("the blood is strong, the heart is Highland") whose present-tense, copula verb ("is") affirms the existence in the "blood" and "heart" of an enduring "Highland" identity. In the second line, the connective conjunction "And" anticipates the contact between the Highlanders and their homeland that occurs in "dreams" when the "Hebrides" are not merely seen but "beh[e]ld"—actively kept in view by the mind’s eye. Much of the credit for what MacCurdy calls, in Arnoldian fashion, the "magical" quality of the stanza’s final line (92) must go to its regular cadence and repeated sounds, but another contributing factor is the special poetic and emotional emphasis that falls on the concluding word. Not only does "Hebrides" stand out as the only three-syllable word and, strictly speaking, proper noun in "The Lone Shieling" stanza,34 but in its terminal and climactic position it becomes the focal point for all the preceding expressions of alienation and longing. Characterized in the preceding lines as achingly beautiful and desirable, the "Hebrides" are the home of the heart that will never be lost from view to those who remain true to their racial and national origins. With "The Lone Shieling" stanza, the "Hebrides" are transformed into a transcendental goal for anyone who has felt the aches and longings of homesickness.

But, of course, the strongest effects of the stanza have been felt in the groups designated by McLeod and Stevenson as the "Highlander" and the "Scot" "abroad." Probably the most concrete confirmation of this can be found in the episode described by Ian McKay as the "oddest event" in the construction of Nova Scotia as an essentially Scottish province between 1933 and 1954 ("Tartanism Triumphant" 34): the building after the Second World War of the replica of a "Lone shieling" that now stands beside the Cabot Trail in northern Cape Breton. As McKay records, the project was instigated in 1934 by a bequest to the Crown of a hundred acres by a former Dalhousie University professor named Donald S. MacIntosh, who requested in his will "‘that the government of [Nova Scotia] maintain a small park [on the property]…and…build there a small Cabin35 which will be constructed in the same design or plan as the lone shieling on the Island of Skye, Scotland’" (qtd. in McKay "Tartanism Triumphant" 33). Since the Premier of Nova Scotia at the time was Angus L. Macdonald, a Liberal with a conservative bias and a regional vision who, in McKay’s neo-Marxian (Foucauldian, Gramscian) terms, saw "pre-Capitalist Highland culture" as a bulwark against modernity (8, 17-18), MacIntosh’s bequest was accepted by the Province and used to strengthen the case for the establishment in 1937 of the park whose very name—Cape Breton Highlands National Park—attests to the "naturalization" of Macdonald’s belief in Nova Scotia’s "inherently Scottish" identity (34). The fact that Macdonald had earlier alluded to "The Lone Shieling" stanza in a speech on the "Memorial to the late Bishop MacEachern of Prince Edward Island, 1929"36 makes his enthusiasm for MacIntosh’s bequest especially understandable. A bronze plaque carrying details of the bequest and an unlineated version of "The Lone Shieling" stanza was unveiled in Cape Breton in 1947 by Fiona McLeod of McLeod (McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" 34).

McKay’s research into "the Construction of Scottishness in Nova Scotia, 1933-1954" in "Tartanism Triumphant" (1992) is brilliantly illuminating, but not everyone will agree that the project that helped greatly to establish a national park on Cape Breton, to secure a lasting source of tourist revenue for Nova Scotia, and to enhance the economic prospects and local pride of many Maritimers (and, indeed, Canadians) was quite as risible and sinister as he suggests.37 (The "tartanization" of Scotland itself has been similarly ridiculed and denounced by critics of the Left, but it, too, has had many positive effects.) It is true that the Lone Shieling that stands in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is inauthentic ("Tartanism Triumphant" 33), but this does not prevent it from having educational value or serving as an aid to memory. When Mary Arseneau and Darcy Terrell were visiting it in August 1989, a "Scotsman…from the Hebrides" arrived and informed them "that shielings were often made of wood, and that this replica was a little more grand than the typical shieling. Most often [he explained] only the young people went up to the shieling for the summer, and many romances began there. In fact, he said he learned the difference between boys and girls during summers spent at a shieling." To the surprise of all present, the same Scotsman "arrived quoting the very lines that are inscribed on the plaque…. [H]e said that in Scotland it is known as the ‘Canadian Boat-Song.’" Like the "lines on the plaque" and the "replica" that they inspired, the Scotsman’s memories confirm the presence in "The Lone Shieling" stanza of one of the crucial ingredients of memorable poems: a vividly clear image—in this case the "lone shieling" itself—that serves as a condenser for the ideas and emotions expressed in the poem.

McKay is doubtless right in seeing the construction of the Lone Shieling as "the crowning moment of tartanism in Nova Scotia"38 but his premises are shakier when he explains the presence of only one stanza of the "Canadian Boat-Song" on the plaque in Cape Breton Highlands National Park as evidence of the "eras[ure] from public tartanism" of "an alternative vocabulary" of political protest that "could not be admitted into the official and hegemonic story of the Nova Scotia Scot" (34). There may well be political as well as mnemonic reasons for the absence from the plaque of the lines of "The Canadian Boat-Song" that refer to the Highland Clearances ("No seer foretold the children would be banish’d,/ That a degenerate Lord might boast his sheep" [qtd. in Bentley, "The Canadian Boat-Song’" 70]), but there is more to the presence there of "The Lone Shieling" stanza than "a monument to one generation’s drive to tame and to commercialize its vividly, re-imagined, incompletely Scottish past" (McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" 34). There is also the residue of a long and complex literary and historical process that attests to the perennial human need for the inspiration and comfort of poetry.

On the evidence of "In Flanders Fields," "Indian Summer," and "The Lone Shieling" stanza of the "Canadian Boat-Song," it would appear that W.H. Auden was wrong in asserting that "poetry makes nothing happen" (Collected Poems 197). In Canada, some poems have helped to create rituals, identities, and even places: poetry has made things happen.




  1. As Berkeley’s editors point out, his "only known serious poem" was frequently reprinted in the eighteenth century and was particularly famous in America (7: 369-71). [back]

  2. Campbell, Selected Poetry 180. Dating from the same year as Campbell’s address to the Empire Club in Toronto is "The Discoverers," a quite successful but longer poem in the manner of Tennyson’s "Ulysses" that is "dedicated to the memory of those great souls who, in days gone by, in the bold spirit of discovery ventured out on the then trackless seas of the unknown west, in quest of the New World which their undaunted zeal and enterprise have won for us as a boon to the race and a blessing to mankind" (Selected Poetry 111). [back]

  3. Other examples of the totemic construction of ancestors from the years surrounding Expo 67 are John Newlove’s "The Pride" (1968), Margaret Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970), and Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners (1974). Laurence uses the last lines of Al Purdy’s "Roblin Mills" [II] (1968)— "but they had their being once/ and left a place to stand on" (Collected Poems 133)—as the epigraph for The Diviners and Whyte, in his turn, adapts the opening sentence of Laurence’s novel— "[t]he river flowed both ways" (3)—as the epigraph for Homage, Henry Kelsey. A possible model for Atwood’s book is Robert Penn Warren’s Audubon, a Vision (1969). [back]

  4. As an indication of the historical and literary complexities of the relationship between and among the imperial ethos, the individual lyric, and the long poem, it may be noted that Dryden’s influential translation of the Aeneis (1697) dates from the same decade as "Now Reader Read…" and that Kearns’s text-book definition of the lyric appears in Convergences (1984), a work that juxtaposes the perspectives of the European explorers and the Native peoples of Canada’s west coast in the eighteenth century without, Smaro Kamboureli argues, allowing "[e]pic intention…[to] suspend the poet’s subjectivity" (55). A recent poem that is seldom discussed but would richly reward examination in relation to epic and lyric is Henry Beissel’s Cantos North (1982), a twelve part treatment of the exploration, representation, and exploitation of the Canadian north and its peoples. [back]

  5. The exceptions to this rule tend to be long poems that take as their subject the whole of Canadian history—the three post-Confederation poems entitled "Canada" (1887, 1891, and 1897) by Thomas Frederick Young, John Frederic Herbin, and Charles Campbell, for example, and Patrick Anderson’s "Poem of Canada" in The White Centre (1946). Even as a product of time—as, in Thomas Cary’s words in the Preface to Abram’s Plains (1789), "the offspring of a few leisure hours" (1)—the long poem stands between the epic and the lyric as neither the result of an immense investment of time on the part of a single writer (or an oral tradition) nor the residue of a brief period of observation or meditation by an individual poet. Until the advent of Canada Council grants, creative writing departments, and writer-in-residence positions, Canadian long poems were almost without exception the products of people for whom writing poetry was a (possibly) remunerative hobby rather than the sustaining occupation that it could sometimes be in the densely populated and patron-rich metropolitan centres of the empire. See also David Sinclair (vi). [back]

  6. In 1858, Thomas D’Arcy McGee was envisaging Canadian "epics as solemn and beautiful as our great rivers" (["Protection" 2]) but by 1886 Sara Jeannette Duncan would state that "[w]e are conscious of not having been born in time to produce an epic poet or a dramatist; but still in vain do we scan the west for the lyrist, the east for the novelist whose appearing we may not unreasonably expect" ("We are still" 707). In his Handbook of Poetics for Students of English Verse, a text prescribed by Charles G.D. Roberts at King’s College in Windsor, Nova Scotia immediately after its publication in 1885 (see Roberts, Collected Letters 59-60), Francis B. Gummere traces the descent or "differentiation" of lyric and drama from epic and observes that, while "[t]he epic must rely solely on Imagination and Memory" because "[i]t deals with the past," the lyric "deals with the present" and "belongs to a latter stage of culture" (2, 15, 40). "‘The lyric poets’" he adds, quoting Paul Albert in La Poésie (1870) "‘are the interpreters of the new society’" (40)—a comment that may well have influenced Roberts’s (and Carman’s) formal choices in the late ’eighties and ’nineties. [back]

  7. It is worth noting that the most Ovidian portion of Abram’s Plains—Cary’s mention à propos the "piteous groans of rending firrs" at a saw-mill in Malbaie that the "Spirits of [Native] warriors…/ Who in cold blood, butcher’d a valiant foe" are "transform’d to weeping firrs" (144-51)—is also the one in which he manifests some sympathy for the Native peoples and some interest in their myths. See also Hilda Taylor (12-14) for the importance of the Metamorphoses to the British topographical tradition. [back]

  8. To the list of long poems already mentioned—Talbot Road, The Huron Chief, and The U.E.—that draw on Paradise Lost to demonize American invaders of Canada may be added Gavin Russell’s Thoughts and Sentiments Connected with the Invasion of Upper Canada (1839), which invokes the "Seraphic muse of Milton" to "Tell how assembled demons did conspire / To drench this happy land with gore" (5) in 1838. [back]

  9. In First Principles (1860), Spencer sees an "essential trait of Evolution" as a simultaneous movement towards homogeneity and heterogeneity (324), a process that he extrapolates to society and its productions: "[t]he increase of a society in numbers and consolidation has for its concomitant an increased heterogeneity both of its political and industrial organization. And the like holds of all super-organic products—Language, Science, Art, and Literature…. The result…is to change an indefinite homogeneity into a definite heterogeneity" (488-89). [back]

  10. In "A Study of Longfellow" (1885), Henry Norman classifies Evangeline and the Song of Hiawatha as "miniature epics" or "modern idyllic epics" in a line that stretches back through Goethe’s Hermann and Dorothea (1797) to J.H. Voss’s Luise (1795), and may stretch forward to The Story of an Affinity, since Lampman considered writing the poem "in the metre of Evangeline but more like Hermann and Dorothea" (qtd. in Connor 78, and see Bentley, Mimic Fires 308-17). [back]

  11. The volume in which Songs of the Common Day was first published also contains "Ave," Roberts’s "Commemoration Ode" (Collected Letters 156) for Shelley’s Centenary in 1892 and one of several major poems of a commemorative or elegiac nature by the Confederation poets, including Carman’s "The White Gull" (1898) and Duncan Campbell Scott’s "Ode for the Keats Centenary" (1926), that can be classed as "greater Romantic lyrics" (see Ware, "Generic Approach" 14-15, 22-113 and Essay 8: Literary Sites and Cultural Properties). [back]

  12. Among the factors that must have converged to produce the poetic sequences and unified volumes of lyrics that begin to appear in Canada in the ’nineties (Archibald Lampman’s Lyrics of Earth [1895-1896] is another case in point) are Edgar Allan Poe’s rejection of the "long poem" and elevation of the lyric in "The Poetic Principle" and his definition of the long poem as "merely a succession of brief ones" in "The Philosophy of Composition" (33, 22), and Walt Whitman’s adoption of Poe’s views in the various editions of Leaves of Grass (1855) that were published after 1860. See the work of James E. Miller, Jr. and Kamboureli (50-51). For a discussion of the therapeutic aspects of Carman’s work, see Bentley, "Carman and Mind Cure: Theory and Technique" (1990). [back]

  13. A similar long poem is Nathaniel A. Benson’s Dollard: a Tale in Verse (1933). Two years before publishing his edition of La Vérendrye’s Journals and Letters under the imprint of the Champlain Society, Burpee edited Paul Kane’s Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America (1859) for the Radisson Society. Also worth mentioning in this context are the many collections and translations of ballads and folksongs in the ’twenties and ’thirties by Charles Marius Barbeau, John Murray Gibbon, Helen Creighton, Edward Sapir and others whose work harkens back to Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry and its numerous Romantic and Victorian successors in its attempt to incorporate popular and folkloric materials into the national literature and national consciousness. [back]

  14. The Rocking Chair and Other Poems (1948) was, of course, a departure for Klein in the direction of local, national, and French-Canadian subject-matter. It is also a carefully composed volume whose concluding poem, "Portrait of the Poet as Landscape," draws on the tradition of the pastoral elegy to lament the effective demise of the Modern poet as a social force. "Portrait of the Poet as Landscape" is included in a Canadian offshoot of W. MacNeile Dixon and H.J.C. Grierson’s The English Parnassus: an Anthology Chiefly of Longer Poems: Roy H. Allin and Allan F. Meiklejohn’s Longer Poems for Upper School, 1955-1956 (1955). [back]

  15. Bowering sees The Double Hook as a postmodern novel in "Sheila Watson, Trickster" (197) and in "Between One Cliché and Another: Language in The Double Hook" Barbara Godard assumes that its principal characters are "descendants" of the "Thompson Indian tribe" and that the novel as a whole "deals...with the alienated Indians of British Columbia" (164, 160). The monomyth upon which The Double Hook is structured is none other than that which gave Sir James Frazer the title of The Golden Bough: the "legend" that a candidate for the priesthood in "the worship of Diana at Nemi" could "only succeed to office by slaying the incumbent" and was thus "both a priest and a murderer" (Frazer 1). [back]

  16. In his Introduction to At the Long Sault and Other New Poems (1943), Brown refers to the subject of the volume’s title poem as "a great theme": "the issue was epic in significance; the background was grand; the incident superbly heroic in quality" (qtd. In Kennedy 54). [back]

  17. Kamboureli’s On the Edge of Genre: the Contemporary Canadian Long Poem (1991) is the most comprehensive discussion of these new directions to date, but discussions of particular poems, poets, and developments appear in numerous articles, monographs, and anthologies, notably Laurie Ricou’s chapter on "Poetry" in the fourth volume of the Literary History of Canada (1990) (see especially the discussions of the "serial long poem" the "process-poem" and the "documentary long poem" [26-44]) and Manina Jones’s That Art of Difference: Documentary-Collage and English-Canadian Writing (1993). [back]

  18. Since Dorothy Livesay’s proclamation of the "documentary poem’ as a "Canadian genre" in 1969, it has been conventional to invoke the documentary films produced by Herbert Grierson and his followers at the National Film Board of Canada during and after the Second World War as a precedent for the genre and a proof of its Canadianness. Yet Grierson was committed to the documentary film long before he came to Canada, and, in recent years, the N.F.B. has become less known for documentary than for animation, a technique whose reliance on caricature arguably parallels the preference for types—outlaws, rebels, tricksters, anarchic children, and the like—in contemporary Canadian long poems. [back]

  19. See Davey and Ann Munton, ed., Proceedings of the Long-liners Conference 223. "Yet another subtext," observes Davey, "was provided by the absence of panels on long poems by women or by young writers, and by the absence of many of the writers of such work" (Proceedings 3). The "Epi(pro)logue: in Pursuit of the Long Poem" by Barbara Godard in the published Proceedings of the Conference partially atones for one of the "absence[s]" to which Davey refers, but it does not conceal the gender-bias of either the Tish movement, the Canadian long poem, or the epic tradition towards which the long poem tilts through most of its history. During the Victorian period, the notion of separate spheres for men and women led to the rigid gendering of epic as masculine and lyric as feminine (see Bristow and, in relation to Crawford, Devereux 189-206) and during the Modern period the association of Modernism itself with masculinity led to the denigration of female poets (see Bentley, The Gay] Grey Moose 251-72 and, in relation to the Canadian long poem, "Bibliocritical Afterword" 625). [back]

  20. In "The Bildüngsgedicht as Garden in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Canadian Long Poems" (1991), Wanda Campbell provides a very astute discussion of the continuities among several nineteenth- and twentieth-century long poems, including The Rising Village and Seed Catalogue. [back]

  21. In the Novum Organum (1620), Francis Bacon lists six "aids to the memory": "the cutting off of infinity; the reduction of the intellectual to the sensible; impression made on the mind in a state of strong emotion; impression made on the mind disengaged; multitude of points to take hold of; expectation beforehand" (332). Of these, the first three and the last seem most pertinent to poetry, the "cutting off of infinity" or the restriction of possibilities being an attribute of brevity or concentration and "the reduction of the intellectual to the sensible" or "whatever brings the intellectual conception into contact with the sense" being an effect of a "thing," "image," or "place" (331-32). In De Augmentis Scientiarum (1623), Bacon groups these last items under the term "Emblem," observing that "an object of sense always strikes the memory more forcibly and is more easily impressed upon it than an object of the intellect" (520). The emotions listed in the Novum Organum to illustrate Bacon’s third category—"impression made on the mind in a state of strong emotion"—are "affection…fear, admiration, shame, [and] delight" (332). As regards the sixth category—"expectation beforehand"—Bacon held the view that "verse is more easily learned by heart than prose" because "if we stick at any word, we have a prenotion that it must be such a word as fits the verse" (519). In The Institutio Oratoria (circa AD 95), Quintilian suggests that "it is easier to learn verse than prose, …[and] easier to learn prose when it is artistically constructed than when it has no such organisation" (XI, ii, 39). In M.G. Vassanji’s The Gunny Sack (1989), Juma observes that after his days in the Tanzanian army the "songs [that the soldiers had been forced to sing] remained, clear, every nuance in place, all improvisations at instant recall" (204). "[I]t’s easier to remember poetry" states Tony Harrison in "The Mother of the Muses" (The Gaze of the Gorgon [1992] 38). [back]

  22. Dobson’s rondeaus include "With slower pen" and "In after days" and Henley’s "When you are old" and "What is to come." [back]

  23. In "John McCrae: an Essay in Character" (1919), Sir Andrew Macphail recalls that "In Flanders Fields" was "first called to [his] attention" on the Belgian front in December 1915 by a Major in the Royal Engineers, who provided a detailed analysis of its form, particularly its rhyme scheme: "[t]here are two rhymes only, since the short lines must be considered blank, and are, in fact, identical…. He pointed out the dangers inherent in a restricted rhyme" and demonstrated the skill with which the rhymes are chosen: "[t]hey are vocalised. Consonant endings would spoil the whole effect. They reiterate O and I, not the O of pain and the Ay of assent, but the O of wonder, of hope, of aspiration; and the I of personal pride, of jealous immortality, of the Ego against the Universe" (54). The unnamed "Sapper officer" also commented very perceptively on the stanzaic structure of the poem and the closural force of its final line: "[t]he theme has three phases: the first a calm, a deadly calm, opening statement in five lines; the second in four lines, an explanation, a regret, a reiteration of the first; the third, without preliminary crescendo, breaking out into passionate adjuration in vivid metaphor, a poignant appeal which is at once a blessing and curse. In the closing line is a satisfying return to the first phase [and phrase] and the thing is done" (55). Not much can be added to this, except that, like those in George Herbert’s "Virtue" ("And thou must die"), Keats’s "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" ("And no birds sing"), and Byron’s "On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year" ("Still let me love!"), the final words of "In Flanders Fields" "fail…to fulfil the expectations of a tetrameter, [and thus] prepare…the listener for unfulfillment, [and] premature death" (Stallworthy 132-33). Perhaps McCrae had in mind one or more of these other poems when he wrote "In Flanders Fields." [back]

  24. In The Great War and Modern Memory (1975), Paul Fussell suggests that "the voice-from-the-grave device" is appropriated from Thomas Hardy’s "Channel Firing" and "Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave" and transformed by McCrae "from a mechanism of irony to one of sentiment" (249). Viewing the poem as a "butterfly" to be "broken…upon the wheel"’ in order to show the superiority of "another ‘poppy’ poem," Isaac Rosenberg’s "Break of Day in the Trenches," Fussell adds several other violations of high Modern and New Critical tenets to its lack of irony: "the rigorously regular meter with which…[it] introduces the poppies makes them seem already fabricated of wire and paper" like Remembrance Day poppies; "it manages to accumulate the maximum number of well-known motifs and images…under the aegis of a mellow, if automatic pastoralism"; and, worst of all, it succumbs in its final stanza to "recruiting-poster rhetoric" for which "words like vicious and stupid would not seem to go too far…against a negotiated peace" (249-50). Fussell also suggests that "[n]o ‘poppy’ poem or reference emerging from the Great War could entirely shake off th[e] association" of the flower with homosexuality that he finds in Gilbert and Sullivan’s depiction of the aesthete Bunthorne in Patience (1881) with a "‘poppy or a lily in [his] medieval hand’" (248) and in other works of the fin-de-siècle period. [back]

  25. Both the opening and the closing stanza have a semi-colon in the third line, but whereas in the former instance the semi-colon marks a gulf between the "crosses" and the "larks," below and above, "the Dead" and the living, in the latter it is more connective—a threshold being crossed by the thrown "torch." [back]

  26. In point of fact, the graves in the European memorial cemeteries of the First World War are marked, not with crosses, but with headstones of a uniform height that are slightly curved at the top (see Wood and Swettenham 9). It is highly likely that "the crosses, row on row" of McCrae’s poem, coupled with the rows of white crosses that illustrate such articles as Don Delaplante’s "An Immortal Poem from 20 Minutes of War" (1968) and Rosemary Pitcher’s "Beneath the Crosses Lay His Friend and His Spirit" (1972), have contributed to the anachronistic impression that the graves of European memorial cemeteries are marked with crosses rather than headstones. For recent and wide-ranging discussions of commemorative practices in Canada after the First World War, see the work of Denise Thomson (1995-1996) and Jonathan F. Vance (1997). [back]

  27. Both the original and the revised OED describe this usage as "of recent origin," and the latter quotes two examples that might have been known to McCrae: "And stocks in fragrant blow" in Matthew Arnold’s "Thyrsis" (1867) and "Purple crocuses in bud and blow" in George Meredith’s Amazing Marriage (1895). Perhaps the most likely precedent for McCrae’s usage of "blow," however, is Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám (1859), where it appears in several stanzas (5, 13, 18, 48), once as a rhyme word ("Look to the Rose that blows about us—’Lo,‘Laughing,’ she says, ‘into the World I blow’" [11]). Allinson maintains that McCrae "‘used the word blow…because poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind’" (qtd. in Delaplante). [back]

  28. In In Flanders Fields: the Story of John McCrae (1985), John F. Prescott records two other, less plausible, accounts of the poem’s composition (95-96), and suggests that "[a] raw wooden cross…was planted in the soil over the grave" of Lieutenant Helmer, whose last diary entry, as recorded by McCrae, was "‘[i]t has quieted a little and I shall try to get a good sleep’" (qtd. in Prescott 94). [back]

  29. In "He Wrote the Words Canadians Can Never Forget" (1963), Lillian C. Gray suggests that the annual recitation of "In Flanders Fields" prompts Canadians to remember McCrae himself with "affection and pride" and that "[h]is memory adds stature to the thousands of wounded who, like [him]…, gave their lives hoping to make a better world." The stone house in Guelph, Ontario where McCrae born was opened as a museum on August 26, 1968 and contains various "memorabilia of his life and work,…particularly a holograph of his famous poem. Adjacent to the cottage are the Memorial Gardens, dedicated to the memory of the war dead, with as a focal point the bronze replica of an open book displaying the text of ‘In Flanders Fields’" (Colombo, Canadian Literary Landmarks 122). In 1968, a 5 cent Canadian stamp was issued that bears McCrae’s name, portrait, and dates, the title and first two lines of "In Flanders Fields," and a quite realistic depiction of a battle field and grave markers. [back] 

  30. The poem is also better for the absence of a lame stanza with which, according to Audrey Dick, it once concluded (perhaps in a classroom anthology or a truant imagination):

    Haste to the woods, put books away
    They’ll wait the tardy comer
    For them there’s many a winter’s day
    But brief our Indian Summer.

    The rhyme scheme of this stanza (abab) does not accord with the rest of the poem. [back]

  31. Robert Service, himself the author of several easily remembered and well-known poems, describes the "three-verse pattern" of popular verse as "attack, build-up and pay off" (qtd. in Klinck, Robert Service 13) [back]

  32. In "Rudyard Kipling" (1944), T.S. Eliot makes a famous and pertinent distinction between "verse" and "poetry," defining the former in terms of an intent "to tell a story" and "arouse emotion": "[t]he poetry of [verse] is incidental…the form is short rhymed stanzas…. [Verse] must have a meaning immediately apprehensible to its auditors…. The metrical form must be of a simple kind which does not call attention to itself…. There should be no metrical complications corresponding to subtleties of feeling that cannot be immediately responded to" (11). [back]

  33. It is remotely possible that John Bradbury’s description of Indian Summer in his Travels in the Interior of America, in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811 (1817) was known to Campbell: "[a]bout the beginning or middle of October the Indian summer commences, and is immediately known by the change which takes place in the atmosphere, as it now becomes hazy, or what they term smoky. This gives to the sun [a] red appearance, and takes away the glare of light, so that all the day, except a few hours about noon, he may be looked at with the naked eye without pain: the air is perfectly quiescent and all is stillness, as if nature, after her exertions during the summer, were now at rest" (258-59). See also Catharine Parr Traill’s description of similar phenomena: "I had reckoned much on the Indian summer, of which I had read such delightful descriptions, but I must say it has fallen far below my expectations. Just at the commencement of…November…we experienced three or four warm hazy days, that proved rather close and oppressive. The sun looked red through the misty atmosphere…. Not a breeze ruffled the waters, not a leaf (for the leaves had not entirely fallen) moved. This perfect stagnation of the air was suddenly changed by a hurricane of wind and snow" (Backwoods of Canada [1836] 127). One of the "delightful descriptions" of Indian Summer that Traill (and Campbell?) read is that of John Howison in Sketches of Upper Canada (1821): "[t]he atmosphere has a haziness and smokiness which makes distant objects appear indistinct and undefined, and a halo often encircles the sun…. The Indian Summer is so delightful, that one would almost suppose the country where it takes place to be transported for a season to some celestial clime, where the elements ever existed in harmony and acted in unison" (231). [back]

  34. "Highland" in the third line is adjectival; the northwest regions of Scotland are the "Highlands" (plural). [back]

  35. MacIntosh’s instructions gain resonance from the opening lines of W.B. Yeats’s "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" (1873): "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made" (44). [back]

  36. "‘We spring from the same soil, you [the residents of Prince Edward Island] and I…we honour the same heroes, we venerate the same names…. The call of the blood is strong and our hearts are still Highland" (qtd. in McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" 26). [back]

  37. "Over a million tourists were welcomed [to Nova Scotia] in 1980," observes James H. Morrison in "American Tourism in Nova Scotia, 1871-1940" (1982), "and tourism is now recognized as Nova Scotia’s leading resource industry. In a province of just over 800,000 people, tourism [in 1980] provided more than 24,000 jobs and contributed over $500 million annually to the provincial economy" (40). [back]

  38. Other contributions to the construction of the Province as Scottish included the installation of a "Scots piper" at the border near Amherst to "’pip[e] tourists’ onto Nova Scotia" (1948), the approval of a plaque to commemorate Flora Macdonald’s stay in Windsor, N.S. in the winter of 1779 (1950), and the institution of an "official tartan" for the Province (1953-54) (see McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" 30, 28, 44-45). [back]