Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski

Letter 13

New Canaan, Connecticut

1. October. 1927



Oh, Margaret, I’m so thankful you are all right!1 For several days I have been worried that I did not hear from you, and had a fear you must be ill. You see I was right. Perhaps you told me. Please don’t do it again. You see I have been quite spoiled by your lavish giving of yourself in these delightful letters, so packed with you, and yet never egoistic. Always giving.

The terror on your behalf was rather revealing. And for the moment was worse when I read your news.

My banishment to the Great North Woods six or eight years ago was a little dashing, but I found that courage came abundantly at need.2

The actual was not so bad, for I was after all only going to my own wintry north. Did I send you my pamphlet "Open Letter" about it?3

The worst I ever went through was a Nervous Prostration (deserving of capitals) many years ago.4 It lasted some months with hideous waves or spells of dreadful apprehension, a perfectly abnormal fear, which would settle down on me as definite and distinct as an ague, yet wholly mental. This Summer in September I had a slight return of it in the mountains.5 But it is all over now. It was due to over-fatigue.

Oh, I’m not kind to you exactly, darling thing, I only correspond—I mean we correspond, being fitted and alike, needing and being needed. Letters take the place of the all-sufficient silence of the Mountains or the desert which would enfold us if our trails crossed in them. (Better say "will" and "when" instead of "would" and "if"—) The senses are friendly and full of solace, and scarcely need the perilous golden gift of speech. Still the ancient worthy who invented the alphabet should be canonized, as the Saint of lovers. Should he not?

I glory in the phrase "to make a havoc of geography"[.]6 That is lovely. It recalls the "Would we not shatter it to bits" of Omar7 and our youth. (Excuse me! I should never have said our youth.) But I fear I cannot make Toronto as I don’t know any wires to pull in the emergency. But I rather expect to be disengaged for two or three weeks over Christmas. If so I shall come back North and East over the holidays. It might happen then.

I cannot finish answering your precious letter now, as it is late and I have to run home. But I will finish in the morning.

Such wonderful warm Indian summerish days now!

Good night, dear heart.


With love Carman

  1. In a letter of September 29, 1927, Lawrence tells Carman that she has been quite ill with a digestive disorder but is now fully recovered. [back]

  2. After suffering a lung haemorrhage symptomatic of tuberculosis early in October, 1919, Carman spent some four months in sanitaria in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, New York. See Letters 263-67. [back]

  3. An Open Letter (1920) is Carman’s poetic statement of gratitude to those who helped to pay for his medical expenses in 1919-20. These included Dr. Gertrude M. Johnson, who, with the assistance of an anonymous donor (probably Carman’s close friend Gladys Baldwin), gave him tests and treatments in March and April, 1919 at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, and Mary Perry King, who "publicized his illness and gave benefit readings of his verse." A letter and a cheque from Ernest Fewster early in 1920 initiated Carman’s friendship with his "Vancouver family" (see Letter 8 n.13). See also Letters 259-67. [back]

  4. In 1900, following the unexpected death of his friend and collaborator Richard Hovey on February 24 of that year, Carman suffered a nervous breakdown that necessitated a rest cure in a sanatorium in Thomasville, Georgia. See Letters 127-30 and, for the medical and literary context of Carman’s "Nervous Prostration," D.M.R. Bentley "Carman and Mind Cure: Theory and Technique," Bliss Carman: a Reappraisal, ed. Gerald Lynch, Reappraisals: Canadian Writers 16 (Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1990), 85-110. [back]

  5. In a letter of September 10, 1927 to Ernest Fewster, Carman writes "I have much enjoyed walking the trails all summer, but in the past few days have been feeling rather ragged and nervous—chilly in the early hours of morning, with a distinctive touch of mental apprehension, my old enemy, most unpleasant . . . . I don’t like living under the shadow of terror, even if it is only imaginary" (Letters 346). [back]

  6. Carman is quoting from Lawrence’s letter of September 29 in which she urges him to arrange a poetry reading in Toronto as an excuse for visiting the city. [back]

  7. Carman is remembering the third line of the seventy-third stanza of Edward Fitzgerald’s 1859 translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám:

    Ah Love! could thou and I with fate conspire
    To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
         Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
    Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!

    (In the 1872, 1879, and 1889 editions of Fitizgerald’s translation, this stanza becomes number ninety-nine.) [back]