Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski

Letter 4

Twilight Park
Haines Falls, N.Y.
20. August. 1927



You are a dear, Margaret!


Here are two nice letters from you almost at once. If only you were here to walk with me, it would be so much nicer than this pen and ink business. You don’t know the mountains! That is a great pity. The Catskills are the oldest range in America, and very beautiful with their old soft curves, and dense woods over all the summits. I would show you some of the loveliest scenes in the East, within an eight or ten mile walk from here—from here and back, I mean.

I am glad you have got yourself a fit place to write and think and do histories.1 But me! How could you do me, if you have never seen the Catskills, where I have spent most of every summer for years and years, nor the Adirondacks where I have wintered and cured, nor the Canadian Rockies, nor the Sierras in California, nor the Santa Catalina range in Arizona, nor the great plateau where is the old City of Santa Fe and the Indian pueblos, nor Grand Pré nor Connecticut! You’ll have to travel, Margaret, and hurry, hurry, Margaret, to catch up to me. It is a long trail. And the time is short. Here I am until about 15 September, then New Canaan in the glory of October, then beginning the writer’s tour of the South West and California until—God knows when.2 You should hurry, Margaret!

The Ryerson Press should give you a roving commission—to hunt down Canadian bards and bardlings. Biographies are next to impossible, but you might become an anthropologist of the living.

All this is not so flippant as it reads. As I say biographies are parlous things. Facts and dates mean so little. A true photograph of the exterior person is what is needed. The pose, the bearing, the motion, the stride, the voice and tone, a trick of the eye, a habit of the hand, all mean so much, and cannot be recorded without observance and skill. In addition there must [be] subtle insight such a[s] a novelist should have, and a poetic or artistic appreciation such as most critics never have. There are few good photographers, and fewer competent writers. That is why nearly all interviews and most personal sketches are dire failures.

But from the only thing of yours in prose I have ever read, I judge that you have the unusual gift that should make these histories you propose worthwhile. Is this impudent or worse—condescending? No, not at all, I mean to offer you a compliment. Fill your fountain pen. I have no terrors.

Well, $25.00 isn’t much but it is a good deal for an oyster stew, and about as much as I ever got on the average for a poem.3 Publishers are given to grand gestures, and one must endure them. The "Sleeping Beauty" is four or five years old.4

I am away on a new tack in verse now. Cannot say how it will go.

I also wish there could be an edition of my work, of any kind, so it were complete. Alas!

I am glad you have fine new vesture.

When you come to the mountains with me, either East or West, you shall melt in tears and cry all you want to, my dear.

Finally, I wish I could suggest something to promote our old friends [sic] hymn.5 You say it is in the hymnals. But what any national anthem needs is adequate music. Most of them are impossible. Couldn’t young Finn6 do it?

I spent a year in an Advertising agency not long ago, in the "Copy" department.7 I enjoyed it, but fear I did not develop any genius for publicity.

Allah does not advertise, you may have noticed.

Few creators do, whether they are masters, or only apprentices like your




What is your new address?

  1. In a letter of August 12, Lawrence explains that she has rented a space for writing her essays on Canadian explorers and pioneers (see Introduction xi and xix n.5) in the Hambourg Conservatory at 194, Wellesley Street, Toronto. She also tells Carman of her plan to write an essay on him. No such essay was published during his lifetime, but a year after his death "In Memory of Bliss Carman" appeared in the Canadian Home Journal 27 (June, 1930), 14. Lawrence’s letter of August 12 indicates that Carman has sent her three photographs of himself, perhaps in his letter of July 28. [back]

  2. Carman is referring to the poetry reading tour (his seventh) that had been arranged for him the previous spring by his friend A. Joseph Armstrong (see Letter 23 n.3). The tour began on November 2, 1927 and ended on December 5 (see Letters 23-41). [back]

  3. According to Lawrence’s letter of August 12, McClelland and Stewart (see Letter 3 n.5) had requested the Ryerson Press to pay twenty-five dollars each for the Carman poems to be included in a selection of his work. [back]

  4. See Letter 3 n.7. [back]

  5. "Lord of the Lands" by Alfred Durrant Watson (see Letter 1 n. 3), published in his Heart of the Hills (1917) and sung to the tune of "O Canada." In a letter of August 13, 1927 (the second of the two to which Carman is replying), Lawrence expresses her desire to see Watson’s words adopted as Canada’s national anthem and observes that Lorne Pierce (see Letter 34 n.6) is working to the same end by including it in various anthologies and text books. She also implies that she is Watson’s literary executor. [back]

  6. Caesar George Finn (dates unknown) was a Canadian pianist and composer living in Toronto. Helmut Kallman’s Catalogue of Canadian Composers (1952) lists him as the author of a string quartet and a violin sonata. In a letter of September 26, 1927 to Carman, Lawrence credits Finn with a sonata for violin and piano and with setting W.B. Yeats’s "Lake Isle of Innisfree" to music in 1926. In a column on "Music" in the June 15, 1929 issue of Saturday Night, she interprets "the award to Caesar Finn of a scholarship in musical composition by the Curtis Institute" as evidence that Toronto is becoming "an admirable place for the creation of art. . . . [I]n 1927 Mazo de la Roche won a notable prize for her novel ‘Jalna’ and . . . in 1928 Morley Callaghan . . . was the subject of a lively literary discussion among the columnists of New York. . . . Caesar Finn is the only student of the Toronto Conservatory of Music who has ever been accepted by the Curtis Institute in composition" (7). [back]

  7. In 1919 Carman worked as a copy writer for the Ericson Advertising Company of New York City (see Letters 261-62). [back]