from 'Letters in Canada' 1957

from 'Letters in Canada' University of Toronto Quarterly - 1957

     This is an unusually thin year: one good book, two promising ones, and a miscellaneous assortment of what the Elizabethans might politely have called a paradise of dainty devices, though it would be more accurate to speak of an amusement park of rhythmical gadgets. Some of these latter are pleasant and readable enough: with others, one is strongly tempted to take the plangent tone of a couplet which appears on the opening page of one of the year's few published volumes:

          Last of the mighty oaks nurtured in freedom!
          Brambles and briars now supersede treedom.

     However, here goes. The good book, of course, as the Governor General's committee has this time recognized, is Jay Macpherson's The Boatman (Oxford, x, 70 pp., $2.50). The book itself is one of the few physically attractive objects on my Canadian poetry shelves, and the fact is an appropriate tribute to its contents, for The Boatman is the most carefully planned and unified book of poems that has yet appeared in these surveys. It is divided into six parts. The first, "Poor Child," contains poems that appeared in a small pamphlet reviewed here some years ago: they form a series of tentative explorations of poetic experience, ranging in tone from the macabre "The Ill Wind" to the plaintive "The Third Eye." The next two sections are called "O Earth Return" and "The Plowman in Darkness." The titles come from two poems of Blake that deal with "Earth" as the whole of fallen nature in female form, and the subjects are chiefly the more common [70] mythical figures connected with this "Earth," including Eve, Eurynome, the Cumaean Sibyl, Mary Magdalene, and the bride of the Song of Songs, identified with the Queen of Sheba. Hence the subtitle, "A Speculum for Fallen Women." The two parts are, like Blake's lyrics, matched by contrast against each other, the relation often being marked by identical titles. The contrast is not so much Blake's innocence and experience, though related to it, as a contrast between a theme idealized by a kind of aesthetic distance and the same theme made colloquial and familiar. "Sibylla," whose fate is described in the motto to Eliot's The Waste Land, appears in "O Earth Return" thus:

          Silence: the bat-clogged cave
          Lacks breath to sigh.
          Sibylla, hung between earth and sky,
          Sways with the wind in her pendant grave.

and in "The Plowman in Darkness" thus:

          I'm mercifully rid of youth,
          No callers plague me ever;
          I'm virtuous, I tell the truth --
          And you can see I'm clever:

     In the last two sections the corresponding male figures appear. "The Sleepers," intensely pastoral in tone, is focussed on Endymion and his moon-loved daze, with overtones of Adonis and Adam. Then the figures of Noah and his ark emerge, expanding until they become identified with God and his creation respectively. The creation is inside its creator, and the ark similarly attempts to explain to Noah, in a series of epigrams in double quatrains, that it is really inside him, as Eve was once inside Adam:

          When the four quarters shall
          Turn in and make one whole,
          Then I who wall your body,
          Which is to me a soul, [71]
          Shall swim circled by you
          And cradled on your tide,
          Who was not even, not ever,
          Taken from your side.

As the ark expands into the flooded world, the body of the Biblical leviathan, and the order of nature, the design of the whole book begins to take shape. The Boatman begins with a poem called "Ordinary People in the Last Days," a wistful poem about an apocalypse that happens to everyone except the poet, and ends with a vision of a "Fisherman" who, more enterprising than Eliot's gloomy and luckless shore-sitter, catches "myriad forms," eats them, drinks the lake they are in, and is caught in his turn by God.

     Such myths as the flood and the apocalypse appear less for religious than for poetic reasons: the book moves from a "poor child" at the centre of a hostile and mysterious world to an adult child who has regained the paradisal innocent vision and is at the circumference of a world of identical forms. In the title poem the reader is urged to follow this process as best he may:

          Then you take the tender creature
          -- You remember, that's the reader --

     And you pull hirn through his navel inside out.
The wonderland of this Noah's ark inside Noah, where the phoenix and the abominable snowman have equal rights with books and eggs and the sun and moon, is explored in the final section: "The Fisherman: A Book of Riddles." The riddles are not difficult, the solutions being thoughtfully provided in the title, and, like so many of the Anglo-Saxon riddles, they are circumferential rather than simply elliptical descriptions, hence the riddle on "Egg" symbolizes the poet's relation to her reader as well:

          Reader, in your hand you hold
          A silver case, a box of gold.
          I have no door, however small,
          Unless you pierce rny tender wall, [72]
          And there's no skill in healing then
          Shall ever make me whole again.
          Show pity, Reader, for my plight:
          Let be, or else consume me quite.

     Miss Macpherson chooses strict metres and small frames:
she is, as the blurb says, melodious, but her melody is of that shaped and epigrammatic quality which in music is called tune. Within her self-imposed limits there is an extraordinary tonal variety, from the delicate ritardando of "The Caverned Woman" to the punning knittelvers of "The Boatman," and from the whispered pianissimo of "Aiaia" (the island of Circe) to the alliterative thundering of "Storm." She can -- a noticeable feat in Canada -- write a sexual poem without breaking into adolescent pimples and cackles; she can deal with religious themes without making any reed-organ wheezes about the dilemma of modern man; she has a wit and an erudition that are free of wisecracks and pedantry; she can modulate in eight lines from "Philomel's unmeasured grief" to the human jay who

          Chatters, gabbles, all the day
          Raises both Cain and Babel.

The elegiac poems are the most resonant, and they make the strongest initial impression, though the lighter ones have equal staying power. There are few dying falls: usually a poem ends with a quiet authority that has a ring of finality about it, leaving the reader nothing to do but accept the poem -- "Reader, take," as the riddle on "Book" says.

     There is little use looking for bad lines or lapses in taste: The Boatman is completely successful within the conventions it adopts, and anyone dissatisfied with the book must quarrel with the conventions. Among these are the use of a great variety of echoes, some of them direct quotations from other poems, and an interest in myth, both Biblical and Classical, that may make some readers wonder uneasily if they should not be reading it with a mythological handbook.

     One should notice in the first place that the echoes are almost invariably from the simplest and most popular types [73] of poetry. They include Elizabethan lyrics ("While Philomel's unmeasured grief' sounds like the opening of a madrigal); the lyrics of Blake; hymns ("Take not that Spirit from me"); Anglo-Saxon riddles; Christmas carols ("The Natural Mother"); nursery rhymes ("Sheba"); ballads and newspaper verse ("Mary of Egypt" and the second "Sibylla"). The use made of these echoes is to create a kind of timeless style, in which everything from the tags of mediaeval ballad to modern slang can fit. One has a sense of rereading as well as reading, of meeting new poems with a recognition that is integrally and specifically linked with the rest of one's poetic experience. The echoes also enable the poet to achieve the most transparent simplicity of diction. There is little of the "density" of more intellectualized poetry, and ambiguities and ironies are carried very lightly:

          In a far-off former time
          And a green and gentle clime,
          Mamma was a lively lass,
          Liked to watch the tall ships pass,
          Loved to hear the sailors sing
          Of sun and wind and voyaging,
          Felt a wild desire to be
          On the bleak and unplowed sea.

The flat conventional phrases here, including the Homeric tag in the last line, would seem commonplace or affected if their context had not been so skilfully worked out for them. It is true that for many readers there is nothing so baffling as simplicity, but Miss Macpherson's simplicity is uncompromising.

     As for mythology, that is one of poetry's indispensable languages: most of the major English poets, including the best poets of today, demand and expect a considerable knowledge of myth, and although Douglas LePan calls Canada a country without a mythology, the same thing is increasingly true even of Canadian poets. Miss Macpherson's myths, like her allusions, flow into the poems: the poems do not point to them. Knowing who Adam and Eve and Noah are will get one through most of the book, and although a [74] glance at the opening page of Robert Graves's Penguin book on Greek myth might help with Eurynome, I find no poem that has the key to its meaning outside itself.

          Oh wake him not until he please,
          Lest he should rise to weep:
          For flocks and birds and streams and trees
          Are golden in his silver sleep.

For thousands of years poetry has been ringing the changes on a sleeper whom it is dangerous to waken, and the myths of Endymion, of the bridegroom in the Song of Songs, of Adam, of Blake's Albion, of Joyce's Finnegan, are a few of the by-products. Such myths in the background enrich the suggestiveness of the above four lines, but the lines are not dependent on the echoes, either for their meaning or for their poetic value. Or again:

          The woman meanwhile sits apart and weaves
          Red rosy garlands to dress her joy and fear.
          But all to no purpose; for petals and leaves
          Fall everlastingly, and the small swords stand clear.

The reader who remembers his Milton, however vaguely, will see how the fall of sex from love to lust belongs in a complex which includes the first efforts at clothing, the appearance of thorns on the rose, the coming of winter after fall, the angelic swords over Paradise, and the aggressive use of sex which the phallic image of "small swords" suggests. But none of this would have any point if the quatrain itself did not carry its own meaning.

     I have glanced at the critical issues raised by The Boatman because it seems to me a conspicuous example of a tendency that I have seen growing since I began this survey eight years ago. With the proviso that "professional" in this context has nothing to do with earning a living, the younger Canadian poets have become steadily more professional in the last few years, more concerned with poetry as a craft with its own traditions and discipline. The babble of unshaped free verse and the obscurities of private association [75] are inseparable from amateurish poetry, but they are em-phatically not "modern" qualities: serious modern poets in Canada struggle hard for clarity of expression and tightness of structure. The second volumes of Douglas LePan, P.K. Page, and James Reaney (of whom more next year) show this markedly, as do the first volumes of Wilfred Watson and Anne Wilkinson, and all the volumes of Irving Layton since In the midst of My Fever. It is consistent with this that the more amateurish approach which tries to write up emotional experiences as they arise in life or memory has given way to an emphasis on the formal elements of poetry, on myth, metaphor, symbol, image, even metrics. The development is precisely parallel to the development in Canadian painting from deliberately naive landscape to abstraction and con-centration on pictorial form. As in 1890 with the Scott-Lampman-Roberts group, and again in the New Provinces generation, there seems to be once more in Canadian poetry, on a much bigger scale, a "school" in its proper sense of a number of poets united only by a common respect for poetry.

     The title of Daryl Hine's The Carnal and the Crane (McGill Poetry Series, 52 pp., $1.50) comes from a ballad in which two birds (carnal in this context means comeille, crow) discuss the Incarnation. The double entendre in the word "carnal" suggests the theme of the dialogue of soul and body as well, and in connection with "crane" one very astute critic, Mr. Milton Wilson, has murmured the name of Hart Crane. Abandoning speculation, we find The Camal and the Crane also a carefully planned book, leading up to and moving away from a central poem called "The Return from Unlikeness," a group of three dialogues on the Nativity. I take it that "unlikeness" is here used in its Augustinian sense of remoteness from God, by way of the conclusion of Auden's For the Time Being, so that a return from it, which the Incarnation makes possible, would be the achieving of a total identity, a universal homecoming in which everyone, including Judas Iscariot, goes to his own place.

     We begin with the three kings, representing the three aspects of wisdom: wonder, trust in love, and distrust of [76]
unaided reason, confronting Herod. Herod agrees on the importance of finding

          ... the silent centre of private wars
          of blind men who can't imagine all the stars.

But for himself he himself occupies that centre and cannot move out: in other words he is spiritual pride, the demonic centre in Everyman whose vision is despair. The second part deals with the shepherds, who by a most ingenious modulation are identified with the Corydon and Alexis of Virgil's second eclogue. Virgil is traditionally a prophet of the Incarnation, but it is a very different eclogue that has made him so. Corydon and Alexis are also associated with Cain and Abel, destructive passion and its shepherd victim, and with the warning "armed head" of the witches' vision in Macbeth, which we remember was followed by a bloody child and a crowned one. The third dialogue deals with the Annunciation and the jealousy of Joseph. Against the invisible appearance of the Child is set the collapse of earthly power, symbolized by the recent assassination of Caesar, a theme developed later in a fine series of sonnets called "At Pompey's Statua."

     The climax of the book is a series of three poems, of which the first two concern a "fat boy," a poet, seen first from the outside by his friends who bury him, and then from the inside as an unconscious denizen of Eden. The poet dies

          declaring that the universe was tandem,
          not single, quod erat demonstrandum.

Tandem means among other things fallen, and we hear a great deal about the "January apple," the twisting of love into lust, the fatality of the "father," and similar topoi. Mr. Hine's fallen world is an underworld of death and rebirth, many of its features derived from the sixth book of the Aeneid. It is associated with autumn and winter, the hunting season and "The air grown perilous with falconry," when Orion, the hunter and the winter constellation, lover of Aurora and type [77] of cyclical rebirth opposed to the dialectic of resurrection, presides over both love and death. It is the world of "Avernus," where Aeneas, in one of the most eloquent poems in the book, wanders talking to the shadow of the silent Dido, and where sex is represented by the wound of Adonis. It is a world full of ferocious birds and beasts of prey, a "flood of animals" like those Dante fled from, including the wolf who "is time," and which in the aggregate are Cerberus, the watchdog of death, whom the friends of the fat boy assume to have swallowed him. We reach this world by being ferried over the Styx by Charon, who also haunted Mr. Hine's earlier Five Poems. But a more concentrated look shows that Avernus is really a water-world under the Styx, the world that has never recovered from the deluge. In "The Boat" and "The Lake" (a frozen lake, modulating the water symbol to ice) this water-world expands into what Mr. D. G. Jones, of whom more in a moment, calls the more frequented and practical pool of Narcissus.

     This world, then, is the pool of Narcissus: what goes on in it is the dreamy reflection of reality into which Adam fell, the hypnotized imitation of life by the ego. Marriage, for instance (see "Epithalamium," one of the most equivocal poems in that genre I have ever read), introduces lovers to an Elysium which is the reflection of Eden, but full of serpents and bitter fruits. What the flood did the fire shall overthrow, and the redemption of this world by Christ is usually symbolized by fire, the fiery furnace and the burning bush that burn without destroying, and in which reflections find their own true forms: "Lent's end in Easter, water's in ice that shone."

     There are great inequalities in the success with which Mr. Hine expresses all this. "The Return from Unlikeness" seems to me a poetic exercise, not a realized poem, and I have no hesitation in calling "The Entombment" a positively bad poem, because no mediocre poet can be positively bad. I doubt if any Canadian poet has potentially greater talents than Mr. Hine, and few in recent years have struck out more vivid and haunting lines, lines that can become part of one's permanent reading. As we eavesdrop on the murmuring [78] dialogues going on in the poet's mind, every so often a voice speaks, like Friar Bacon's head, with oracular simplicity and power. But these lines are often embedded, like Jack Horner's plums, in a context of rather soggy verbiage. Thus:

                    ... hero turns
          to Christmas Eve where Southwell's infant burns --
          heat as continence! fire as innocence!
          and the offended eye goes dark in marvels,
          while the heart asks of its thorns
          the sort of alchemy that transfigures peril.

The reference to Southwell's Burning Babe is creaky but passable; the next line is a fine comment on it; the third line is superb; the fourth and fifth are blither. One still, in speaking of The Carnal and the Crane, has to speak of expendable poems, of great advance, of promise and future achievement. These are not, to be sure, small things to speak of.

     It is disturbing to find that, after the "fat boy" poems have reached some kind of synthesis, the final poem, "The Farewell," is still muscle-bound and squirming, and one feels the truth of the poet's remark:

          Only gargoyles leaning out of dogma,
          elements of doubt in faith's alloy,
          deny the gravitation of belief,
          defy the forts and pass the last frontiers.

But it is not the gravitation of belief that is the difficulty of using religion as metaphors for poetry: it is rather (apart, of course, from the superficial temptation to easy resonance) the rigidity of the construct from which the gargoyles lean. Christianity is held together by doctrine, compelling the poet to the struggle of digesting abstractions. One feels that the decentralized mythology in Miss Macpherson (to whom The Carnal and the Crane is dedicated) at any rate permits of a more relaxed and spontaneous poetic process. However, that is a technical obstacle only, and one that Mr. Hine is well equipped to surmount. More important, the modern religious poet is apt to confuse inspiration with a state of grace, and [79] feel that it is safer to renounce the full authority of poetry and keep ironically swimming around with all us other poor fish. See Eliot and Auden, more or less passim. Facilis descensus Averno, and Mr. Hine clearly has no interest in being facile. He has a grotesque wit, of a kind that takes the stock example of vulgarity, the replica of the Venus of Milo with a clock in her stomach, and expands it into "Venus big with time," and we may look forward to a poetry of released powers and flying gargoyles.

     D. G. Jones's Frost on the Sun (Contact Press, 46 pp., $1.50) shows a talent of considerable force emerging from some undistinguished competence. There are a few rather laboured conceits, like "Public Figure," "Death of a Hornet," and "Clothesline"; the rare allusions to myth, in striking contrast to the two previous poets, are not made with much conviction, and an occasional flash of wit, like the descrip-tion of a "Faculty Party" as "a matter of oral adventure" does not always prevent a poem from sagging into common-place. These peripheral points noted, what remains is for the most part an intensely pictorial poetry, with reference to Marin, Klee, Hokusai, and the Chinese, the favourite subject being birds, which Canadian poetry seems to be strongly for this year. "Do poems too have backbones?" the poet asks in a poem called "John Marin," and he clearly knows the answer. In "A Problem of Space" he speaks of the power that a poem, like a picture, can gain by sketching in the essentials only, "Leaving all the rest to space." Poetry of course has the problem of rhythm in addition to that of pattern, and I think Mr. Jones succeeds most completely in his economical and disinterested ambitions when he is less preoccupied with visual design and lets his rhythm work itself out. In "Request" and "Soliloquy" a lilting variable rhythm sustains itself to the end -- a notable achievement in free verse, which is so apt to cripple itself by cutting off its feet, like the dancer in Andersen's fairy tale. In "The Phoebe" the rhythm follows the fluttering movements of the bird, and in "The Time of the Fictitious "I' " it follows the subject: [80]

          Sometimes we are shattered. The
          coherence gone, the planets of our brain
          sail loosely in their microcosrnic air.
          Sometimes we can
          pick up nothing, start nothing;
          poise lost, stance lost,
          neither in the wind nor out of it
          we must wait, on choppy seas,
          till the wind turn,
          till the moon come round,
          and wind and tide, again, draw on.

     To write like this a poet has to be indifferent to his own cleverness, and achieve the kind of higher detachment in which genuine sympathy and insight become possible. There are deeper tones in the book, in "Desire is Not Lust," in "Strange Characters for Christmas," in "At Twilight in the Park," which make one hope that eventually such words as serenity and wisdom may be appropriate for this poet. "Strange Characters for Christmas" has a fine haunting phrase about "the silent bleeding of small human lives," and is written in quatrains in which the first and third lines rhyme and the second and fourth do not, giving the effect of a precise twist:

          And remember now the falling night
          And the years of the darkening Lord of Love
          And the illusive April of Platonic Light
          And the fiery winter of mechanic power.

"At Twilight in the Park" shows that it is possible to be delicate without being sentimental, and "November, Gananoque," despite a bad line or two, that it is possible to make something out of ugliness and boredom -- no poet in this century can avoid that technical problem -- without being cute.

     Alfred W. Purdy's Emu, Remember! (Fredericton, Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1956, 16 pp.) is conversational lyrical verse, less formally precise than his earlier work. It is quite skilful in the use of slant rhymes in "Poem" and "Elegy for a Grandfather," if more hampered by stock phrases of the [81] "forest of always Sunday" type. The tone is strongly personal, as the poet tends to see nature as a wilderness of self-reflecting mirrors, whether it presents "halls of trembling glass" on shipboard or "vectors of light" at sunrise. In this situation one is in danger of going backward into the pure narcissism of nostalgia. The poet's distrust of this is marked in the phrase:

                    ... time is a wound
          Delivered when new things can't strike flame

and in the self-discoveries of "Cantos" and "Contraband." The forward direction is the subject of two of the best poems, "Post Script" and "The Cave Painters." The cave painters, we are told:

          Having discovered an ache in the loins
          A clarity of colour, shores beyond their shores,
          Become inhabitants of loneliness and applicants
          To leave the mind-prison, be dissolved
          In the myth's creation and absorbed.

We may assume that this indicates the direction that Mr. Purdy's future writing will take, perhaps in fiction, as the biographical note suggests, where he will have a chance to recapture the more objective and dramatic qualities of his earlier work that are largely missing from this collection.

     Three Dozen Poems, by R. G. Everson (Montreal, Cambridge Press, 51 pp., illus., $3.00), illustrated by Colin Haworth, with drawings "done with lamp black and a dry hog's hair brush," is amateur verse at its best -- limited in its objectives, amused and amusing, unfailingly urbane, and with the primary aim of being pleasant to a reader. All the poems are brief epigrams in a cultivated speech in which life and literature meet on equal terms. Thus a vision of "Lovers under Parliament Hill," ending with the reflection that "lovers possess the world while overthrown," suggests Themistocles and Landor by contrast. Sometimes the wit increases to brilliance: [82]

          In a dark house that they passed
          A telephone hunted with magical empty sounds,

the context of this being a crowd leaving a theatre after a performance of The Tempest. More deeply disturbing tones than this do occur, as in "Comical Sun," but they are rare. There is a conventional but nicely turned irony in "Coming Home in Winter" and "The Fishermen," and vigorously sketched imagery in "Late-August Breeze":

                    A belly-low wolf breeze
          pursued a thistledown whose untied hair
          and white face curved above the cattle-bellowing
                    lawn chairs. The leaves like fishes
          turned death-white undersides. We later found
          nothing was hurt except the feel of Summer. ...

     The other publications of the year are retrospective. The Blasted Pine: An Anthology of Satire, Invective and Disrespectful Verse (Macmillan, xx, 138 pp., $3.50), is edited by F. R. Scott and A. J. M. Smith. It is no surprise to readers of Canadian poetry that so unusually large a proportion of it should be satire and light verse. Canada's place on the revolutionary sidelines of the United States, and its status as a small nation between huge empires, determined that bent in our genius long ago. But still it took very expert scholarship and critical judgment to produce a book like this, which not only features such regular satirists as McLachlan, Glendinning, O'Grady, Leacock, and Hiebert, and such largely satiric poets of our day as Birney, Louis MacKay, Souster, Layton, Dudek, and Klein, but also isolates a most lively element from Pratt, Lampman, Wilson Macdonald, and many others, including of course the two editors. A few non-Canadian poems are included, notably Samuel Butler's "A Psalm of Montreal." Some questions suggest themselves. Are there no satiric folk songs? No poetic wits born of political controversy in the newspapers, especially in the previous century? Why is the religious satire exclusively Protestant: don't Canadian Catholics ever laugh at themselves? Is it editorial predilection or Canadian poetry [83] that admits so little right-wing satire? Where is Pamela Vining Yule, that engaging discovery of the first edition of Mr. Smith's anthology? Meanwhile the book we have is delightful.

     The Eye of the Needle (Contact Press, 71 pp., $2.50) is a collection of F. R. Scott's "satires, sorties and sundries," i.e., the light verse of one of our best light verse writers. There are a few new poems, but the majority are well known to readers of Canadian poetry. It is good to have them together. Many of them were inspired by the depression and allied events, and, appearing now in the full tide of the capitalist counter-reformation, with the political principles they support obviously heading for the limbo that swallows all political principle on this continent, they have an oddly desperate air. But they are not, as the poet himself notes, out of date: rather they remind us of all the things that we are zealously trying to forget: unemployment, exploitation, social and cultural snobbery, the unscrupulousness of the press, the middle-class hypocrisy that asserts that only striking workers are being selfish, the helplessness of the intellectual, and the fact that most of the guardians of our destinies are exactly as stupid and ill-informed as they appear to be.

     Dorothy Livesay is a poet who has remained within a single convention, though with modulations. Selected Poems 1926 - 1956 (Ryerson, xxii, 82 pp., $3.50) is a retrospective exhibition of Miss Livesay's five volumes of verse, with an introduction by Professor Pacey. The book is really her collected poems, with some omissions: I do not know, for example, why the epilogue to "The Outriders" is simply called "Epilogue." Miss Livesay is an imagist who started off, in Green Pitcher (1929), in the Amy Lowell idiom:

          I remember long veils of green rain
          Feathered like the shawl of my grandmother --
          Green from the half-green of the spring trees
          Waving in the valley.

The virtues of this idiom are not those of sharp observation and precise rhythm that the imagists thought they were [84] producing: its virtues are those of gentle reverie and a relaxed circling movement. With Day and Night (1944) a social passion begins to fuse the diction, tighten the rhythm, and concentrate the imagery:

          Day and night rising and falling
          Night and day shift gears and slip rattling
          Down the runway, shot into storerooms
          Where only eyes and a notebook remember
          The record of evil, the surn of commitments.

From "Prelude for Spring" on, the original imagist texture gradually returns, and is fully re-established by the end of the book:

          I dream of California, never seen:
          Gold globes of oranges, lantern lemons,
          Grapefruit moving in slow moons,
          Saucers of roundness
          Catapulting colour.

     Imagism tends to descriptive or landscape poetry, on which the moods of the poet are projected, either directly or by contrast. The basis of Miss Livesay's imagery is the association between winter and the human death-impulse and between spring and the human capacity for life. Cutting across this is the irony of the fact that spring tends to obliterate the memory of winter, whereas human beings enjoying love and peace retain an uneasy sense of the horrors of hatred and war. That man cannot and should not forget his dark past as easily as nature I take to be the theme of "London Revisited," and it is expressed more explicitly in "Of Mourners":

          Not on the lovely body of the world
          But on man's building heart, his shaping soul.
          Mourn, with me, the intolerant, hater of sun:
          Child's mind maimed before he learns to run.

     The dangers of imagism are facility and slackness, and one reads through this book with mixed feelings. But it is one [85] of the few rewards of writing poetry that the poet takes his ranking from his best work. Miss Livesay's most distinctive quality, I think, is her power of observing how other people observe, especially children. Too often her own observation goes out of focus, making the love poems elusive and the descriptive ones prolix, but in the gentle humour of "The Traveller," in "The Child Looks Out," in "On Seeing," in the nursery-rhyme rhythm of "Abracadabra," and in many other places, we can see what Professor Pacey means by "a voice we delight to hear."

     The Selected Poems of Marjorie Pickthall (McClelland & Stewart, 104 pp., $3.00) has an introduction by Dr. Lorne Pierce. The introduction is written with much sympathy, but tends to confirm the usual view of this poet as a diaphanous late romantic whose tradition died with her. "With Marjorie Pickthall the old poetic tradition in Canada may be said to have come to its foreordained end. It came to its end at Victoria College. With a young student, E. J. Pratt, who borrowed books from the Library where Marjorie pickthall was assistant, the new tradition began." Dr. Pierce knows far more about Marjorie Pickthall than I do, but still I have some reservations about this. She died at thirty-nine: if Yeats had died at the same age, in 1904, we should have had an overwhelming impression of the end of a road to Miltown that we now realize would have been pretty inadequate.

     Marjorie Pickthall was, of course, no Yeats, but her Biblical- Oriental pastiches were not so unlike the kind of thing that Ezra pound was producing at about the same time, and there are many signs of undeveloped possibilities in this book. For some reason I had not read her little play, The Wood Carver's Wife, before, and I expected to find it Celtic twilight with a lot of early Yeats in it. It turned out to be a violent, almost brutal melodrama with a lot of Browning in it. Also, it is an example of a very common type of critical fallacy which ascribes to vagueness in her theoretical grasp of religion what is really, at worst, second-hand Swinburne, and, at best, the requirements of her genre. When she writes of Pe\re Lalemant she is subtle and elusive, not because her religion was fuzzy, but because she was writing lyric; when Pratt writes of [86] Brébeuf he is dry and hard, not because his religion is dogmatic, but because he is writing narrative. Anyway, I think she handed rather more over to Pratt, besides library books, than simply her own resignation. ...

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