Bliss Carman's Letters to Margaret Lawrence 1927-1929

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley

Assisted by Margaret Maciejewski

Letter 8

Twilight Park

Haines falls, N.Y.

14. September. 1927



Margaret dear, I am so glad you have run away from the City1 for a while—and that you have somewhere to run to. It is absolutely necessary to the artist, writer, creator, as a self-protective measure. Else he would be smothered by the mass,—with its "mass production". (Incidentally—what a travesty of creation mass production is! The individual worker reduced to a zero.) And I should be delighted to share your brief outing, if I might. Vain wishes alone are vain. But some wishes, clearly conceived and deliberately held, are always accomplishable. Is it not so? I am not fretful, therefore, at delays. As John Burroughs says, "I know my own will come to me."2 And your own will go to you. Therefore be very careful how you wish, precious Margaret. For if these two wishes should chance to be identical, there would inevitably result an ecstatic cataclysm of nature somewhere between the two wishing points. This is not all jest. If it were I wouldn’t say it. Not to you.

In reverting to Krishna,3 I like what you say about Messiahs and mothers. Also I am glad you recognize the near-impossibility of devoting a life to creative undertaking in both physical and spiritual realms.4 Almost a super-human task. I never deliberately avoided domestic responsibilities. But I did instinctively, as I see now. If I had acquired a family, I would have passed out long ago. I could never have supported them. I have hardly succeded in supporting myself. And the shame, worry, and despair of that failure would have killed me, as it has killed many hardier men than I.

O yes, my dear, "Swing in your own orbit," as our radiant friend said.5 Stick to the creative, if it proves to be your calling, as it seems to be. And leave the procreative to others. Few people understand how closely these two purposes are linked in the essence of humanity. It is very difficult however to exercise them both in one life time. But don’t avoid love. Only distil it with spiritual creations. Masterpieces are almost as rare as messiahs. And though less godlike are still very needful. I don’t think we shall be taken to task at the last for neglecting our duties to the race.

This is all rather pedantic, I fear. But it is true. Only—just here in the conversation I should want to kiss your cheek—both cheeks— and beg to be restored a proper status of delightful human companionship. For you are a generous dear. You give so liberally of your precious time and thought, and I value it all enormously. Such understanding is so terribly rare in life. There are doubtless many who know. But one so seldom meets them.

It is a heavenly September day in the mountains, and I am thankful for the serene beauty of it.

I sent you some time ago two volumes of poems—"Daughters of Dawn" and "Earth Deities".6 You haven’t mentioned them. There may have been a delay in the customs. Ballads and Lyrics7 does contain the best of the earlier things—the Vagabondias8 and the first five of six other early books.9 But don’t buy it. You shall have it. Behind the Arras is out of print and hard to get.10 But it is included in the Two Volume Collected Poems.11

O yes, Margaret, I love being Carman to you. Or anything else you choose.

My first name (of the two usual ones)12 I was always called at home as a boy and often since by certain intimates. My Vancouver family the Fewsters13 always call me that. But I don’t care for it much simply as a name. It never seems to fit me really. I have had many familiar more-or-less intimate names. But what I often think I need is a new name. Do you know all about that mystery of the New Name? Where does one get it—if not in being admitted to some Indian tribe? If I could be endowed with a new magical name, perhaps I could get away from my old tiresome evil self and write all new, in a new style, wondrous new beautiful things.

Ah me!


With dear love to you




P.S. The writer of the foregoing epistle is commonly so known, but is really anonymous!

  1. In a letter of September 8, 1927, Lawrence tells Carman that she will be leaving Toronto on September 12 for a short holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She also expresses the wish that Carman could join her there and anticipates a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. [back]

  2. Carman is remembering the final line of the opening stanza of "Waiting" (1862), a poem by the American nature writer John Burroughs (1837-1921):

    Serene, I fold my hands and wait,
         Nor care for wind, nor tide, nor sea;
    I rave no more ’gainst time or fate,
         For lo! my own shall come to me. [back]

  3. Jiddu Krishnamurti (see Letters 2 n.1 and 5 n.8). [back]

  4. In her letter of September 8, Lawrence explains the difficulties that an intellectual and spiritual woman faces in trying to find a congenial mate. [back]

  5. See Letter 6 n.1. [back]

  6. See Letter 6 n.3. [back]

  7. Carman’s Ballads and Lyrics, ed. R.H. Hathaway (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1923). [back]

  8. Songs from Vagabondia (1894), More Songs from Vagabondia (1896), Last Songs from Vagabondia (1901), and Echoes from Vagabondia (1912). The first three of these volumes contain poems by both Carman and Richard Hovey. The last contains poems by Carman alone. [back]

  9. In the Author’s Note to Ballads and Lyrics, Carman states that the collection is made up of poems taken from Low Tide on Grand Pré (1893), Behind the Arras (1895), Ballads of Lost Haven (1897), By the Aurelian Wall, and Other Elegies (1898), and A Winter Holiday (1899), as well as from the Vagabondia series. [back]

  10. Behind the Arras. A Book of the Unseen (1895). [back]

  11. The deluxe two-volume edition of Carman’s Poems published in New York by Scott-Thaw and in London by John Murray in 1904, and reissued in Boston by L.C. Page in 1905 with minor alterations. [back]

  12. Carman was christened William Bliss Carman. [back]

  13. Ernest Philip Fewster (1868-1947) and his wife Grace were close friends of Carman who lived in Vancouver, BC. Both were physicians and theosophists, two vocations that provided the basis of their friendship with Carman: in 1920 they sent him a cheque to help cover his medical expenses, and his correspondence with them frequently touches upon theosophical themes (see Letters 267-68 and 299f). "‘Shamballah’ is quite a long rigmarole, and threatens to lose itself in verbiage," he told Grace Fewster in December, 1922; "I have spent some time in the very pleasant reading room of the United Theosophists near here [in Los Angeles, California] in connection with these shambling Shamballistics" (Letters 299). Carman dedicated Wild Garden (1929) to Ernest Fewster as the "Master of Ancient Wisdom" and his title may be a deliberate echo of Fewster’s 1926 collection of essays, My Garden Dreams. In the ’thirties and ’forties Ernest Fewster published several collections of poetry and he set down his recollections of Carman in "Bliss Carman in Vancouver," Acadie 1 (July, 1930), 25-27. [back]