Birney and Purdy: an Inteflextual Instance

by L.R. Early

"Better perhaps to be silent than to be wrong . . . on the subject of influences."1  This good advice from Earle Birney accompanies his roasting of certain critics for misattributing echoes in his poems, and appears in his riposte to an anthology of reviews and essays on his work, published in 1974.  Birney is prepared to countenance a discussion of influences done tactfully and with regard for "the rules of evidence," but he is especially scornful of critics who assume that signs of influence betoken a weak imagination or flagging talent.  That assumption, with its naive view of originality, has been pretty much demolished since 1974.  Recent theory has invigorated the study of connections among writers and texts to the point that so radical a critic as Robert Kroetsch can declare that writers should be afraid of not being influenced.2 Nevertheless, the old antagonism to "influence studies" as invidious has only been succeeded by antagonism to that most notorious theorist of influence, Harold Bloom, who has furnished a powerful interpretive strategy but alienated many readers through his dogmatism, reductive method, and tendency to valorize an established canon of "strong poets."3

     At the same time, the question of influence has been complicated by the advent of a rival and (as yet) unstable term: intertextuality.  A good deal of confusion has attended the brief history of this word, which the common reader might reasonably assume to mean the significant relations between particular texts — the very focus, that is, of traditional studies in literary influence.  In fact the inventor of the term, Julia Kristeva, meant something much larger: the critic concerned with intertextuality must seek "to define the specificity of different textual arrangements by placing them within the general text (culture) of which they are a part and which is in turn, part of them."4  Some subsequent theorists of intertextuality have taken pains to distinguish their work from influence studies.   Jonathan Culler and Michael Riffaterre define "intertext" not as another literary work but as the presuppositions, implicit codes, and semiotic systems that enable a text to mean.5  Still, the term continues to attract critics interested in connections between particular works, and in such related phenomena as parody and genre.  Robert Scholes, for example, defines "intertext" as "a text lurking inside another, shaping meanings, whether the author is conscious of this or not."6

     In a recent discussion, Linda Hutcheon points out that while "influence" has its roots in the "author-oriented" criticism associated with Romanticism, "intertextuality" is more attuned to current theories about the reader's role in conferring meaning on texts: "Meaning in literature is in part dependent not just on other texts which it absorbs and transforms, but on the reader's recognition and activation of that intertextual process."7 That is, the reader is free to elaborate connections among texts (however broadly we define "text") while avoiding all those prickly issues that bedevil influence study: questions about "contact," about intention, and about the unconscious versus the conscious appropriation of models.8   What seems clear to Hutcheon (and to me) is that these approaches should not exclude one another: close attention to connections between specific texts remains a productive enterprise whether one's interest is in authors or in the larger cultural significance of the works in question.  In a spirit of eclectic detachment, then, I want to undertake an intertextual reading, and establish a case of literary influence, through an examination of two poems: Birney's "November Walk Near False Creek Mouth" and Al Purdy's "Eskimo Graveyard."

     "November Walk" was first published as the long introductory piece in Birney's 1964 volume, Near False Creek Mouth.  Although critics have differed on the poem's merit, they have agreed that it marks a pivotal stage in the poet's career.   In an appreciative review of Near False Creek Mouth, A. Kingsley Weatherhead singled out "November Walk" for extensive commentary and offered the opinion that Birney had never written better.9  In the next detailed commentary to appear, Frank Davey condemned the technique of the poem but emphasized its importance as the work that marks the end of Birney's "optimistic humanism."10  Peter Aichinger similarly views it as a "summing up" of Birney's political disillusionment, as does Les McLeod, though McLeod argues that its overt despair is tempered by an implicit affirmation of the poet's struggle to order chaos.11  In some measure, each of these critics has illuminated the poem's structure and imagery, but they have not gone beyond the question of its place in Birney's career to consider its significance in the larger intertextuality of modern literary culture.

     "November Walk Near False Creek Mouth" represents the city of Birney's long-time residence, Vancouver, as the last issue of an attenuated civilization, threatened with nuclear destruction and waiting for the end.  Intertexts for the poem might extend to the myth of Atlantis and the biblical account of the flood; they certainly include much of Birney's own work, especially his long verse drama The Damnation of Vancouver.   In terms of genre, the poem's affinity is with that venerable line of poetry that makes a speaker's stroll through a symbolic landscape the occasion for a desultory meditation.  There is a long tradition of such meditative walks in Romantic and modern poetry, reaching back from A.R. Ammons's "Corson's Inlet" through Archibald Lampman's "Winter-Store," Wordsworth's various excursions, and the ambulatory poems of the eighteenth century, to "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso," and their classical antecedents.  In the case of "November Walk," however, this generic intertextuality is both obvious and superficial.   The major text lurking inside Birney's poem is not another instance of this genre, but an essentially dramatic work, and the single most influential poem in English of the early twentieth century.  Milton Wilson once wrote of Birney that "any inescapable influence of his generation that he found irrelevant (T.S. Eliot, for example), he has managed to escape completely."12 With respect to form and style in Birney's poetry this may be true.  But in so far as The Waste Land is profoundly central to that massive intertextuality we call modernism, it could hardly fail to generate resonance in a poem with the preoccupations of "November Walk."

     Eliot's poem represents as its unreal city the London of the post World War One period.   Birney's work, by contrast, is a pre-war poem which augments Eliot's nightmare vision with the more recent theme of imminent nuclear annihilation.   "November Walk" is, as I have said, meditative rather than dramatic.   Nevertheless, its meandering, ostensibly random movement serves the same purpose as do the discontinuities of The Waste Land in providing a fractured screen for "the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history."13   Rather than emulating Eliot's ironic medley of voices, Birney, as speaker, multiplies the ironic contexts of his utterance: the season of winter's coming, the waning day, the ebbing tide, and the symbolic meaning of Vancouver's geographical setting, as the farthest reach of failing Western energies.   At the same time, Birney projects an Eliotic vision of a world rubbled with mythologies, a world whose people pervert or trivialize whatever traces of divinity are left to them.  Birney's gallery of maimed moderns — lanknosed lady, wrinkled tourists, snorkeled manlings — are close counterparts to the grotesques and exiles who populate Eliot's early work.  And like Eliot, Birney emphasizes blighted sexuality as the primary symptom of civilization's gathering malaise.

     "November Walk," then, reinscribes Eliot's pessimism and portentousness in a measure that might cause a naive reader to raise the hoary issue of originality.  It is more apposite to note the poem's strengths, especially its metaphoric richness and visual intensity, and to observe that it is very much a poem of its own time.  That time, in so far as successive decades can serve as indices to shifts in our cultural consciousness, is the 1950s rather than the 1960s.  "November Walk" was written between 1961 and 1963 but it expresses the peculiar ethos of the preceding decade.   By the early 60s, Birney's humanism had been corroded by the protraction of the Cold War, by unrelenting tyranny in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union, and by the triumph of vulgarity and conformity in North American life.  "November Walk" omits any sign of the counter-cultural energies that were about to reinvigorate North American life and Birney's own work.  In this context, perhaps the most curious thing about the poem is its emphasis upon enervated sexuality.  Just as Eliot represents the malaise of post-war London in terms of a corrupt and joyless lust, so Birney stresses the absence of sexual power in his attenuated Vancouverites —

the barren end of the ancient English
who tippled mead in Alfred's hall
and took tiffin in lost Lahore14

"Barrenness" is an important motif in the poemApparently, eros has shrivelled into the senile daydreams of the "gamey old gaffer" who dozes, sitting across from the book-reading lady

                               writing in stillness
his own last book under the squashed
cock of his hat    with a bawdy plot
she never will follow

Like a belated D.H. Lawrence, Birney interprets the psyche of his countrymen as passionally crippled, even unto 1963: it is south that he must turn, in the "Caribbean Turnabout" of the following poems in Near False Creek Mouth, for reassurance that humour, spontaneity, and sexual vigour thrive elsewhere.

     The year after Near False Creek Mouth was published, it was reviewed in the Summer 1965 issue of Fiddlehead by Alfred W. Purdy, who observed that it marks two developments in Birney's poetry: the adoption of a more personal stance and the disappearance of a fateful, even tragic, sense notable in his earlier work.  These observations are true of many poems in the book, but quite inappropriate to "November Walk," which Purdy describes, astonishingly, as "a leisurely philosophic walk around False Creek."15  In that same summer of 1965, Purdy spent several weeks in the Arctic, gathering material for his volume North of Summer, published in 1967.  That phrase "leisurely philosophic walk" certainly misrepresents Birney's despairing meditation on civilization's last days, but it nicely describes Purdy's creative excursion in North of Summer, and it is especially apposite to one of the volume's best pieces, "Eskimo Graveyard."  Whether unconsciously or deliberately — but surely not fortuitously — this peripatetic meditation "absorbs and transforms" specific elements of crucial significance in Birney's poem.

     "Strong poets," according to Bloom, make poetic history "by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative space for themselves."16  Therefore every strong poet must affirm an identity through struggling against the formidable authority of a great precursor.  Bloom readily invokes the Freudian vocabulary of Oedipal ardour and the family romance to indicate the nature of this struggle.  If he were interested in poets other than those canonized in the literatures of Europe and the United States, Bloom might make much of Purdy's statement in his review of Near False Creek Mouth that he long admired Birney "with rather a schoolboyish veneration."17   Indeed, Purdy has taken a much closer interest in Birney than merely writing an occasional book review or magazine profile.  He has also written a fifteen-hundred word analysis of one Birney poem, "Bushed," and a dramatization of another, "David."18  Moreover, the two writers have known each other since the early 1950s, and a 1981 National Film Board tribute to Birney shows them sharing a drink and some thoughts on the nature of inspiration.19 No doubt, more than once, they have "tippled mead in Alfred's hall." No doubt, too, poets — even "strong" ones — are not quite so circumscribed by egotism or as limited to the "great tradition" as Bloom would have them be.  Purdy himself has furnished a typically forthright statement that affirms some of Bloom's premises (before Bloom published them), while avoiding Bloom's excesses:

In a narrow particular sense poets are in competition with each other, despite the fact each one is supposed to be unique.  In another sense entirely, quite apart from the material rewards for poetry (which don't happen to be very bounteous any way), a good poem acts as spur, incentive and springboard for another poet.  It is something he can learn from, somebody else's step ahead, whereby he too can take a step ahead still farther in a direction he may not have known existed.  Maybe also a catalyst, a thought-trigger which affects more than one person.  And because it is these things, it enables others with the right mixture of humility and insufferable egotism to learn.20

The Eliotic word "catalyst" is perhaps as useful a term as any of those Bloom gives to the six "revisionary ratios" by which he classifies the workings of poetic influence.  The precursor's work remains itself, though it causes a reaction traceable in a subsequent work.  Such traces may range from deliberate allusion and artful parody to nebulous echoes and clusters of parallels and antitheses.  They may also indicate an extremely complex reaction encompassing the gamut of attitudes from admiration to repudiation and revolt.  I want now to return from poets to poems, and to examine the ways in which "Eskimo Graveyard" transforms the landscape, rhetoric, and meaning of "November Walk Near False Creek Mouth."

     The locale of Purdy's poem is the Baffin Island settlement of Pangnirtung, near the Arctic Circle.  While that might suggest a stark antithesis to Birney's languishing coastal metropolis, in fact the landscapes of "November Walk" and "Eskimo Graveyard" are remarkably alike.  In both poems, the speaker rambles through the littered terrain of an old river delta at low tide, thinking toward the place's meanings.  In both cases, the harsh and ugly landscape becomes an ironic modern version of the Romantic vision of a natural world charged with beauty, harmony, and significance.  Birney's walk brings him only confirmation of his pessimism, leading finally to a recognition of "the unreached unreachable nothing" on which existing things are founded.  Of course, le néant is a signal theme of modernism.21  For my present purpose it is suggestive that one of its celebrated expressions occurs in Part II of The Waste Land, when the neurasthenic woman is startled by a gust of wind:

"What is that noise?"
                    The wind under the door.
"What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?"
                    Nothing again nothing.
You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember

For the ancients, the wind brought rumors of divinity, and for the Romantics it stimulated and figured a spiritual renewal.23  For modernists, however, the wind is apt to whisper intimations of a universe void of divinity and meaning.  Purdy's speaker confronts this overwhelming ques tion in the Arctic graveyard where he sees

wrapped in blankets
above ground a dead old woman
(for the last few weeks I'm told)
without a grave marker
And a hundred yards away
the Anglican missionary's grave
with whitewashed cross
that means equally nothing24

But Purdy moves away from this vision toward its antithesis, as the tide turns.  Like Birney, he considers the deaths both of individuals and of cultures — not only the old Eskimo woman and the missionary, but also the waning systems of custom and belief that they embody.  On one level, the speaker's remark that unburied corpse and whitewashed cross mean "equally nothing" merely repeats the old poetic saw that death obliterates distinctions; on another, it implies the same sense of futility in the larger human enterprise that darkens Birney's meditation.  But Purdy is less willing to see modern life as void.  Certainly the People of Pangnirtung are radically affected by the advent of Public Works, Schools, and the H.B.C.; Purdy, however, depicts neither the People nor the newcomers as at a "barren end," as Birney does his devitalized Vancouverites who "drink now their fouroclock chainstore tea / sighing like old pines as the wind turns."  At the Eskimo graveyard Purdy's speaker also listens to the wind:

The river's soft roar
drifts to my ears and changes
tone when the wind changes
ice debris melts at low tide
& the Public Works guy is mildly pleased
with the good gravel we found
for work on the schoolhouse
which won't have to be shipped in
from Montreal

     In "November Walk," the speaker's despair conditions his view of the human figures in the landscape as caricatures and of their city-building as a "compulsive rearing of glassy cliff."  Even the vessels moving shoreward at sunset are seen as grotesque:

Born from the glare come the freakish forms
of tugs
 all bows and swollen funnels
straining to harbour in False Creek
and blindly followed by mute scows
with islets of gravel to thicken the city

In the corresponding passage of "Eskimo Graveyard," Purdy plays with the irony that the burial ground yields the right kind of gravel for work on the schoolhouse.  He also plays against the stereotypes of meddling bureaucrat and exploited native.  The "Public Works guy" is neither an arrogant interloper nor a menace to the community, but, as far as we can tell, a responsible worker and amiable companion.   The Eskimo mothers and children display a similar friendliness and equanimity.  In the documentary context of North of Summer, they are people casually glimpsed in ordinary circumstances.  Purdy seldom resorts to caricature (except self-caricature), and his poems generally project a sense of shared human experience that cuts across distinctions of time and place.  Where the human figures in "November Walk" are mostly solitary ("More ones than twos on the beaches today"), the people in "Eskimo Graveyard" are, for the most part, connected in relationships of various kinds.  There are the speaker and the "Public Works guy," the "Public Works guy" and his foreman, Eskimo mothers with their children, and the boys lounging by the H.B.C. ("two of them arm in arm / in the manner of Eskimo friends").  Even the unburied old woman and the Anglican missionary are ironically paired.

     In contrast to "November Walk," with its argument of decline and extinction, Purdy's stroll north of summer sharpens his awareness of the changes taking place around him.  The movement of "Eskimo Graveyard" is not toward the confirmation of a thesis but toward the accumulation of perceptions: a process that usually requires adjustments in one's judgements, and not infrequently a change of mind.  Frank Davey has described the very different effect of Birney's prefabricated thesis on the structure of "November Walk":

In form it attempts to be open, but in theme it is closed from its beginning, and this closure tends to paralyze the form.  Nothing can really happen in the poem because, while leaving the form open, Birney has preconceived what the poem will "say." The opening lines tell us about our atomic doom; the remainder embroider but do not advance.25

It might be said that where "November Walk" confronts us with a structure, "Eskimo Graveyard" gives us a process.   In terms of Roman Jakobson's influential analysis of the binary modes of language, Birney's poem is predominantly metaphoric and Purdy's primarily metonymic.  According to David Lodge, in an elaboration of Jakobson's distinction, the metonymic mode is more characteristic of prose, and particularly of literary realism, documentary texts, and postmodernist writing.  The metaphoric mode is more characteristic of Romantic and Symbolist poetry and of twentieth- century modernist works, with their proclivity to system and closure, and their recourse to myth.26

     "November Walk" opens with a glum thematic assertion, and imme diately establishes the speaker's presence and the ironic metaphors and mythical perspective that give his voice authority:

The time is the last of warmth
and the fading of brightness
     before the final flash and the night
I walk as the earth turns
from its burning father
here on this lowest edge of mortal city
where windows flare on faded flats

The wavelike rhythm of the poem simultaneously evokes the False Creek setting and contributes to a sense of aimlessness and futility.  The deployment of regularly paired nouns and modifiers, the recurrence of indented passages, and the less frequent recurrence of italicized stanzas — all reinforce this effect of aimless fluctuation.  In the larger design of the poem, this sense of bafflement is amplified by the vertical imagery that cuts across the speaker's horizontal path.  His own clamberings up and down the uneven shoreline are part of this pattern, as are the movements of setting sun and ebbing tide.  At one point he imagines the cosmic forces ("spiralling down from nothing") that have shaped the present world, and at another he envisages the evolutionary movement ("swirling up / . . . into the sun-blazed living mud") that has shaped this world's life.  These movements of descent and ascent will ultimately go nowhere: an irony that implies, among other things, a parody of the transcendental gestures of Romantic poetry.  The complex patterning of detail in the poem is well calculated to produce a sense of thwarted motion.  The stanzaic ordering of the meditation reinforces this effect, and Birney gave it still further emphasis when he chose, in his Collected Poems (1975), to divide "November Walk" into seven sections headed by roman numerals.27

     In "Eskimo Graveyard" the speaker's consciousness moves metonymically from one object of attention to the next.  In the opening lines this movement is from a general impression of "glacial litter," to its more particular features, to their larger context of geographical terrain and geological time:

Walking in glacial litter
frost boils and boulder pavements
of an old river delta
where angry living water
changes its mind every half century
and takes a new direction
to the blue fiord
The Public Works guy I'm with
says you always find good gravel
for concrete near a graveyard

This syntax, with its purposefully dangled participle, indeterminate focus, and shifting direction defers the speaker's overt appearance in the poem.  At the beginning of "Eskimo Graveyard" the prejudging ego is subordinated to the recording of impressions.  Eventually the speaker's "I" will register itself more insistently and his thoughts will circle back to the question of the "dead old woman." But in general, the technique conveys the sense of ideas and images casually juxtaposed in the order in which they come.  The arrangement of short lines in unbroken succession enacts the linear procession of the speaker's walk, of his thoughts, and of passing time.  The language remains thoroughly commonplace, eschewing anything more extraordinary than a few references to Arctic phenomena.

     In "Eskimo Graveyard" the transformation of imagery found in "November Walk" complements the transformation of structure.  Perhaps the most interesting case involves the imagery of sunset and twilight.  As Birney's speaker watches the darkness gather, his lines thicken with metaphors that evoke the traditional association of sunset with the crucifixion:

The tree-barbed tip of Point Grey's lance
has failed again to impale the gone sun
Clouds and islands float together
out from the darkening bandsaw of suburbs
and burn like sodium over the sunset waters

Like the other mythological allusions in "November Walk," this one bespeaks only the absence of redemption, making the more absurd the final judgement of a nuclear cataclysm foreshadowed in the burning sky.  Purdy's twilight vision is more low-keyed and ambiguous:

I keep walking
as if something ought to happen
(I don't know what)
with the sun stretching
a yellow band across the water
from headland to black headland
at high tide in the fiord
sealing in the settlement
as if there was no way out
and indeed there isn't
until the looping Cansos come
dropping thru the mountain doorway

The colour contrasts here are more arresting but less transparent to interpretation than those in Birney's poem.  Perhaps this vivid visual image should be taken to mean no more than what it seems to be: the image of a settlement in its elemental setting.  Perhaps it could be construed metaphorically as an image of the human condition: life in a sunlit world bounded by the darkness of its origins and future.  In any case, Purdy's composure is in distinct contrast to Birney's despondency over a species that has created the conditions for its own destruction.  As a topographical metaphor, Birney's False Creek suggests the dead end he foresees for the human enterprise: up shit creek without the will to avert catastrophe.  By contrast, Purdy's blue fiord is a cul de sac only to a limited imagining.  Against Birney's nightmare of ballistic missiles racing down the sky, Purdy's looping Cansos, "dropping thru the mountain doorway," urge a persistent faith in the imagination's capacity to make itself at home.

     Birney's critics have been persuasive about the significance of "November Walk" in relation to the poet's career.  In its vision of impending doom, the poem might well be taken to represent the nadir of a disillusioned humanism.  It is a commonplace of intellectual history that the Christian vision of Apocalypse has coloured all those humanisms, whether Romantic, liberal, or Marxist, that look forward to a millennium of some sort.  It is particularly ironic, then, that in "November Walk" the most obvious allusion to a mythical apocalypse is not to the marvel envisaged in the Book of Revelations, but to Gotterdammerung.28  And as if its intimations of ecological and nuclear disaster were not enough, Birney's poem deals in cosmic apocalyptics as well.  This latter theme is implicit in the double meaning of certain lines ("the earth's liquidation," "the cooling sun"), and becomes explicit at the conclusion of "November Walk":

But still on the highest shelf of ever
washed by the curve of timeless returnings
lies the unreached unreachable nothing
whose winds wash down to the human shores
and slip

into each thought nudging my footsteps now
as I turn to my brief night's ledge

in the last of warmth
and the fading of brightness
on the sliding edge of the beating sea

These lines bring us to last things in more than one sense.  In the end, Birney chooses to stress the most discouraging features in the picture that twentieth-century science has drawn of the universe: its closure through the curvature of the space-time continuum, its movement toward maximum entropy, and its ultimate emptiness in the perspective of eternity.

     One of the subtexts of "Eskimo Graveyard" is, surely, a rejection of apocalyptics.  Purdy's Arctic sojourn furnished him with the same perspectives of geological time and cosmic space that inform Birney's vision of human insignificance, and several poems in North of Summer elaborate that theme.29  But for the most part Purdy avoids apocalyptics in this volume through a determined attention to the immediate and an affirmation of significance in the commonplace.  As in so much of his work, that affirmation is grounded in a vision of continuity: a hallowing of the past and the dead through memory, and a reorientation to the present through meditation on the coordinates of place and history.30  Toward the poem's end, the speaker of "Eskimo Graveyard" finds himself wondering how often memories of the dead Eskimo woman will flicker through the minds of her survivors.  His own thoughts are diverted for a moment by the onset of "nightlong twilight," but he returns to the question:

That old woman?
it occurs to me
I might have been thinking
about human bookkeeping
debits and credits that is
or profit and loss
(and laugh at myself)
among the sealed white tents
like glowing swans
for a most improbable

To conceive of memory in quantitative terms, like an H.B.C. account, is, after all, absurd.  The imagination, which encompasses memory, works in very different terms, such as the strong and cryptic image with which Purdy's poem ends.  The strength of this image stems from both its immediate context and its allusive richness.  For almost its entire length "Eskimo Graveyard" employs the metonymic principle of contiguity rather than the metaphoric principle of similarity as its mode of elaboration, and generally excludes overt metaphor and self-conscious allusion.  The simile of the swans, then, comes with sudden force, though not necessarily with indecorum.  As Lodge has pointed out, "we would expect the writer who is working in the metonymic mode to use metaphorical devices sparingly; . . . and to incline toward simile rather than metaphor proper when drawing attention to similarity between things dissimilar."31

     An interpretation of the strong closing simile in "Eskimo Graveyard" might lead us to other texts: perhaps to the final stanza of Blake's "Mock on, Mock on, Voltaire, Rousseau," or to the last lines of another of Purdy's northern poems, "Lament for the Dorsets."32  It might tempt us toward the classical myths of Leda and Cygnus, or toward the association in folklore of the swan with "the soul's journey to heaven, thus resurrection."33  But whatever more arcane perspectives are brought to bear upon the simile, the perspective and line structure of the poem itself encourage us to see this "birth" as rather more likely than the explicit qualification "most improbable" suggests.  Unlike "November Walk," with its fixation upon last things, "Eskimo Graveyard" emphasizes construction, resilience, and a resistance to ultimates of any kind.  In its very indeterminacy, then, this closing simile resists the closure that it appears to impose upon the poem.

     Perhaps comparisons are not inevitably odious.  In any case, they are inevitable in literary criticism.  If, as Kroetsch has suggested, our literary culture is moving from the metaphoric to the metonymic, this discussion of "November Walk Near False Creek Mouth" and "Eskimo Graveyard" may clarify some of the implications of that movement.34  On the one hand, in its formal complexity, ironic use of myth, metaphoric and allusive density, and vision of a degenerate metropolis, Birney's poem conforms to the canons of high modernism.  On the other, while certain features of "Eskimo Graveyard" indicate that Purdy has had "the right mixture of humility and insufferable egotism" to learn from Birney, they also indicate a revolt in favour of the technical practices and thematic norms of postmodernism.  In my view the preponderance of evidence shows that Purdy has been influenced by Birney.  But in so far as the word "influence" may be tainted by the connotation that the influenced work is qualitatively "secondary," not just chronologically "second," perhaps we should limit it accordingly, or even dispense with it.  "Intertextuality" is free from this pejorative connotation, and its flexibility invites us not only to examine texts in one-to-one relationships, but to understand those relationships in their literary and historical contexts.


  1. Earle Birney, "Epilogue," Earle Birney, ed. Bruce Nesbitt, Critical Views on Canadian Writers 9 (Toronto: McGraw, 1974) 211.[back]

  2. Robert Kroetsch, in Shirley Neuman and Robert Wilson, Labyrinths of Voice: Conversa tions with Robert Kroetsch, Western Canadian Literary Documents 3 (Edmonton: NeWest, 1982) 24.[back]

  3. Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (London: Oxford UP, 1973).  For some critiques of Bloom see Geoffrey H. Hartman, The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1975) 41:56; Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980) 318-46; Paul A. Bové, Destructive Poetics (New York: Columbia UP, 1980) 7-31; Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983) 183-85.[back]

  4. Julia Kristeva, "The Bounded Text" (1969); rpt. in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia UP, 1980) 36.[back]

  5. Jonathan Culler, "Presupposition and Intertextuality," MLN 91 (1976): 1380:96; Michael Riffaterre, "Syllepsis," Critical Inquiry 6 (1980): 625-38, and "Intertextual Representation: On Mimesis as Interpretive Discourse," Critical Inquiry 11 (1984): 141-62.[back]

  6. Robert Scholes, Semiotics and Interpretation (New Haven: Yale UP, 1982) 145.[back]

  7. Linda Hutcheon, "Literary Borrowing . . . and Stealing: Plagiarism, Sources, Influences, and Intertexts," English Studies in Canada 12 (1986): 236.  The key phrase here is taken from Kristeva: "any text is the absorption and transformation of another"; see "Word, Dialogue, and Novel" (1969); rpt. in Roudiez 66.[back]

  8. On establishing the probability of "contact" in discussions of influence see Göran Hermerén, Influence in Art and Literature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1975) 164-72.[back]

  9. A.  Kingsley Weatherhead, "Back to Canada," Northwest Review 7.1 (1965): 86-89; rpt. in Nesbitt 136-40.[back]

  10. Frank Davey, Earle Birney, Studies in Canadian Literature 11 (Toronto: Copp Clark, 1971) 109.[back]

  11. Peter Aichinger, Earle Birney, Twayne's World Authors Series 538 (Boston: Twayne, 1979) 34; Les McLeod, "Irony and Affirmation in the Poetry of Earle Birney," Essays on Canadian Writing, Earle Birney Issue, 21 (1981): 146-49.[back]

  12. Milton Wilson, "Poet Without a Muse," Canadian Literature 30 (1966): 14-20; rpt. in Nesbitt 150.[back]

  13. T.S. Eliot, "Ulysses, Order, and Myth," rev. of Ulysses, by James Joyce, Dial 75 (1923): 480-83; rpt. in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (London: Faber, 1975) 177.[back]

  14. Earle Birney, "November walk near False Creek mouth," Near False Creek Mouth (Toronto: McClelland, 1964) n. pag. All quotations from the poem refer to this edition.[back]

  15. Alfred W. Purdy, "A Pair of 10-Foot Concrete Shoes," rev. of Near False Creek Mouth, by Earle Birney, Fiddlehead 65 (1965): 75-76; rpt. in Nesbitt 133.[back]

  16. Bloom 5.[back]

  17. Purdy, "A Pair" 132.[back]

  18. A.W. Purdy, "Prose Birney," rev. of The Creative Writer, by Earle Birney, Canadian Literature 31 (1967): 62, 63; see also Purdy, "The Man Who Killed David," Weekend Magazine [Globe and Mail, Toronto] 14 Dec. 1974: 16:17.[back]

  19. Earle Birney: Portrait of a Poet, dir. Donald Winkler, National Film Board, 1981.[back]

  20. A.W. Purdy, "Alienation and Aloneness," rev. of Moving In Alone, by John Newlove, Canadian Literature 25 (1965): 70.[back]

  21. George Woodcock has noted this aspect of "November Walk" in "The Wanderer: Notes on Earle Birney," Essays on Canadian Writing, Earle Birney Issue, 21(1981): 89.[back]

  22. T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909 -1935 (London: Faber, 1936) 65.[back]

  23. See M.H. Abrams, "The Correspondent Breeze: A Romantic Metaphor," Kenyon Review 19 (1957): 113-30.[back]

  24. Alfred Purdy, "Eskimo Graveyard," North of Summer: Poems from Baffin Island (Toronto: McClelland, 1967) 26.  All quotations from the poem refer to this edition.[back]

  25. Davey 109.[back]

  26. David Lodge, The Modes of Modern Writing: Metaphor, Metonymy, and the Typology of Modern Literature (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell UP, 1977).[back]

  27. The Collected Poems of Earle Birney, 2 vols. (Toronto: McClelland, 1975) 2: 43-51.[back]

  28. Frank Davey has observed that "unlike the Norse Gotterdammerung, this twilight of baleful omens sees as yet no violence, no energy of plot and counterplot.  All gods are debased and moribund, and the people await the last explosion with languorous acquiescence" (Davey 107).[back]

  29. See, in particular, "Listening" and "Dogsong," North of Summer 50-51, 52-53.[back]

  30. These themes have been repeatedly noted in critical discussions of Purdy's work.   See Dennis Duffy, "In defence of North America: The past in the poetry of Alfred Purdy," Journal of Canadian Studies 6.2 (1971): 17-27; Ofelia Cohn-Sfetcu, "The Privilege of Finding an Opening in the Past: Al Purdy and the Tree of Experience," Queen's Quarterly 83 (1976): 262:69; and John Lye, "The Road to Ameliasburg," Dalhousie Review 57 (1977): 242-53.[back]

  31. Lodge 113.[back]

  32. See A.W. Purdy, "Lament for the Dorsets," Wild Grape Wine (Toronto: McClelland, 1968) 54-55.[back]

  33. Gertrude Jobes, Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols (New York: Scarecrow, 1962) Part 2: 1516.[back]

  34. Neuman 9.[back]