Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


THE WORLD OF BOOKS: W.W. Campbell's Poems*


Snowflakes and Sunbeams, by Rev. William Wilfrid Campbell (St. Stephen, N.B.: St. Croix Courier, 1888).


Mr. Campbell’s poetry is one of the latest results of that nascence of the literary spirit which is taking place in Canada now that Canadians begin to feel themselves a people. The tiny work before us—a delightful specimen of the bookmaker’s art—does not contain verse of quite the same high excellence as that which Mr. Campbell has recently given us in certain of the American periodicals, but it does not display all the promise of which the lyric splendor of "The Winter Lakes" and "A Lake Memory" may be regarded as a fulfilment. Mr. Campbell’s note is not as yet one of any great range; but it has intensity and persistent individuality. In power of lyric description it seems to me that this poet must occupy a very distinctive place in the narrow front rank of Canadian singers. No other Canadian, to the best of my knowledge, has so rendered both the spirit and the form of our winter scenes,—unless, perhaps, Mr. Lampman in one or two instances. The sublime landscapes of the Great Lakes Mr. Campbell has pre-empted as his own peculiar field; and he is likely to hold sway there without a rival, by reason of the Swinburnian resonance and breadth of his rhythmic phrases, combined with his deep and subtle insight into external nature in her most impressive aspects. Mr. Campbell is one of those who have drunk at the perennial fountain of Keats,—a draught which always brings a blessing with it. He has also studied Poe with admirable results to his technique. He shows the instincts of the craftsman imbued with right reverence for his craft; and at the same time he shows a sympathy for the common joys of heart and hearth which should secure his verse a warm place in the general regard. Such a quality appears in the following lines entitled:


The doors are shut, the windows fast;
Outside the gust is driving past,
Outside the shivering ivy clings,
While on the hob the kettle sings.
    Margery, Margery, make the tea,
    Singeth the kettle merrily.

The streams are hushed up where they flowed,
The ponds are frozen along the road,
The cattle are housed in shed and byre,
While singeth the kettle on the fire.
    Margery, Margery, make the tea,
    Singeth the kettle merrily.

The fisherman on the bay in his boat
Shivers and buttons up his coat;
the traveller stops at the taver door,
And the kettle answers the chimney’s roar.
    Margery, Margery, make the tea,
    Singeth the kettle merrily.

The firelight dances upon the wall,
Footsteps are heard in the outer hall;
A kiss and a welcome that fill the room,
And the kettle sings in the glimmer and the gloom.
    Margery, Margery, make the tea,
    Singeth the kettle merrily.

The limitations of this little collection, as to range and subject matter, we may regard as due, in the main, to its character as an offering of firstfruits. Yet we may reasonably prophesy that Mr. Campbell’s chief honors as a poet will be won in the field of impassioned interpretation of nature. The field is one of boundless resources, and no one need ever feel cramped therein. That Mr. Campbell brings to the working of it a fine and pure-toned lyric faculty is evident from the following lines, called


The night blows outward
    In a mist,
And all the world
    The sun has kissed.

Along the golden
    Rim of sky,
A thousand snow-piled
    Vapors lie.

And by the wood
    And mist-clad stream
The Maiden Morn
    Stands still to dream.

That he brings fervor of utterance and sensitiveness to the pathos of earth, is made plain by the lines "To a Robin in November," which open as follows:—

Sweet, sweet, and the soft listening heaven reels
In one blue ecstasy above thy song—

And that the seeing eye is not wanting to his equipment no one can doubt who reads this lovely sonnet on


Here, in a deep blue cavern of the sun,
    Like some lost jewel, in the tangled grass
    I lie, where cloudlets ever pass and pass,
And o’er my breast the unseen breezes run.
Deep in my crystal heart, fallen one by one
    From out the burnished quiver of the sky,
    The sunbeams’ golden-shafted arrows lie.
O dreamer of the summer lands, but come,
    And, bending down, gaze on my silent face,
When from the sky’s high dome all clouds are furled,
    And I will show you, by the season’s grace,
        What I by subtlest charm have conjured here,—
        A universe of beauty in a tear—
A mirrored glimpse of all the glowing world.

Like others of our stronger and more original writers, Mr. Campbell is finding it necessary to win recognition at home by first securing it abroad. This is unavoidably the case in a young country with its literature just struggling into existence; for in such a case the standards by which one must be judged are for the most part outside of ourselves.


"The World of Books: W.W. Campbell's Poems," Progress 1:45 (Saint John, N.B.),9 March 1889, 6 [back]