Orion, and Other Poems

by Charles G.D. Roberts





The editor of this volume in the Post-Confederation Poetry: Texts and Contexts series is all too aware of his own slender background in Canadian literary studies. On the other hand, it seemed not impossible even in the 1990s that a Canadian classicist of some sixty years (who passed his school-days when the poetry of Charles G.D. Roberts was still taught and admired) might have some special appreciation of a book published in 1880 by the then twenty-year-old classical graduate of the University of New Brunswick. The thirty poems contained in the young Roberts’ Orion, and Other Poems have never been reissued in their original, quite handsome, form, and the book’s very centenary (as has been well observed) passed without notice. (It would be fair to suggest that this may also reflect a reluctance on the part of the poet to see them all in print again.)

Reading and handling in the Queen’s University Library’s Special Collections the very copy that Roberts had inscribed to Oliver Wendell Holmes in November of 1880 had very much piqued my interest. A few years ago I lamented to Professor D.M.R. Bentley, editor of this series that Orion, and Other Poems was not available in a modern edition with commentary, and that it was quite impossible to appreciate it as disiecta membra poetae in Pacey’s 1885 edition of Roberts’ complete poetical works. He coolly replied: "You are absolutely right. Would you like to do it?" My bluff was called.

Cui dono lepidum novum libellum?

To David Bentley, first and foremost, then. To long-time Queen’s colleagues, Canadianists Les Monkman and Douglas Spettigue—and a more recent one, Tracy Ware—for their confidence and encouragement in the project. To John Adams who gave generously by telephone of his knowledge of the sources for Roberts’ life. To my classical colleagues (and deans) who have humoured me over the years as I gleaned in alien corn. To Norman MacKenzie, who entrusted the classical works of Gerard Manley Hopkins to my apprentice care for his magnificent 1990 Oxford edition of Hopkins’ poetry. To the long-suffering, indefatigable and cunning staffs of Special Collections and University Archives at Queen’s, who coolly produced treasure after treasure for me over the years, chasing down classical sources for Canadian writers: first for Duncan Campbell Scott and Thomas Chandler Haliburton, later for Sir Charles G.D. Roberts. To the staff of the University of New Brunswick Archives at Fredericton, who ferreted out for me exactly what Roberts studied as an undergraduate, and when, and with whom, and from what text-book! And to the editorial assistants at the Canadian Poetry Press, especially Maya Bevan, Jessica Coffey and Jonathan Stover, whose formatting skills and talents enabled the creation of this book.

Finally to Suzanne, who sacrificed domestic tranquillity during my administrative leave of 1996-1997, and rescued me time and again from the toils of Word Perfect 7.

Gratias maximas.