Archibald Lampman (November 17, 1861—February 10, 1899)


"Not an editorial writer…mourn[ed] him….The radio broadcast let…his passing pass….Nobody…missed him enough to report" (Klein 634). Nobody, that is, except a few students and faculty at McGill, Western, the University of Ottawa and perhaps a couple of other places who gathered together on February 10 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the death of English Canada’s finest nineteenth-century poet. Neither of the country’s national newspapers so much as mentioned Lampman on February 10. Nor was The Globe and Mail able to find space for a letter lamenting this oversight. "We are sure…that from our real society/he has disappeared; he simply does not count…."

It was not always thus, of course: in the days and weeks that followed Lampman’s death, tributary poems and articles appeared in numerous Canadian magazines and newspapers,1 and in the ensuing months and years the "memorial edition of his collected poems" (Poems [1900])2 was many times reprinted, most recently in 1974 in the Literature of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint series from the University of Toronto Press. There was a Memorial Cairn erected in 1930 at Lampman’s birthplace of Morpeth, Ontario; there were commemorative poems such as Verna Loveday Harden’s "At the Gates of Old Trinity" in the April 19, 1944 issue of Saturday Night; and, after much cajoling and letter writing by Glenn W. Clever and others, there was a postage stamp issued on July 7, 1989 that depicts Lampman as the embodiment of his credo that we should "be much with Nature;"3

                                                  not as they
That labour without seeing, that employ
Her unloved forces, blindly without joy;
Nor those whose hands and crude delights obey
The old brute passion to hunt down and slay;
But rather as children of one common birth,
Discerning in each natural fruit of earth
Kinship and bond with the diviner clay.
Let us be with her wholly at all hours,
With the fond lover’s zest, who is content
If his ear hears, and if his eye but sees;
So shall we grow like her in mould and bent,
Our bodies stately as her blessèd trees,
Our thoughts as sweet and sumptuous as her flowers.

Of the continuing and increasing relevance of this poem and others like it there can be no doubt, and in a world less given to blindly exploiting Nature’s forces and materials to cater to the needs and desires of the fittest and fattest this might be sufficient to ensure that Lampman continues to be read, pondered, and remembered. What one of Lampman’s favourite authors, John Burroughs, said in discussing the relationship between the poet and Nature applies perfectly to Lampman himself: "[h]e gives more than he takes, always" (157).

No doubt, most people who read this Preface will have personal reasons for enjoying and remembering Lampman’s poetry. As I write these words in early November in London, Ontario, I recall with gratitude that it was such poems as Lampman’s "In November" that taught me to see and love the lanscape of my adopted province when my wife and I moved here in the mid-seventies. If anything, Lampman’s sonnet (which I cannot forbear quoting in its entirety) has been increasingly generous over time in generating the physiological responses that A.E. Housman attributed to great poetry:

The hills and leafless forests slowly yield
   To the thick-driving snow. A little while
   And night shall darken down. In shouting file
The woodmen’s carts go by me homeward-wheeled,
Past the thin fading stubbles, half concealed,
   Now golden-gray, sowed softly through with snow,
   Where the last ploughman follows still his row
Turning black furrows through the whitening field.
Far off the village lamps begin to gleam,
   Fast drives the snow, and no man comes this way;
      The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan
      About the naked uplands. I alone
   Am neither sad nor shelterless, nor gray,
Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream.

"[T]hin fading stubbles…sowed softly through with snow": as many times as I have driven from London to Toronto and to Ottawa in the late fall and early winter Lampman’s lines have come to me both as a response to the landscape and as a brilliant illumination of it. "Lampman loved this Canada of ours and found beauty in its hills and fields," observed Arthur Stringer at the dedication of the Memorial Cairn; "[i]f not the first, he was one of the first to fit its glories into song, to give it splendor and meaning. Because of him, every bloodroot that blooms in every spring, every maple that reddens with autumn, every sheaf of grain that stands golden amid its stubble, every orchard and millet-field, every stream and valley and woodland, has more beauty and meaning for us. Because of what he has given us, every sunrise and sunset is brought closer and made more poignant and memorable to us. In this he was the true pioneer"(10-11). The title of Stringer’s address is "The Poet in Everyday Life."

While she was enduring the Canadian winter in Toronto in February 1837, Anna Jameson remarked that "Canada [was] a colony, not a country" in part because "it [was] not yet identified with the dearest affections and associations, remembrances, and hopes of its inhabitants," and four months later, while rambling around what is now southwestern Ontario, she added that "[i]n Canada the traveller can enjoy little of the interest derived from association, either historical or poetical" (66, 232). As a "pioneer" in the creation of the sorts of "associations" that Jameson saw as critical to the emergence of a country from a colony, Lampman helped to create in Canada an imagined place—a place that enters the minds of its inhabitants and others, not merely as a physical entity, but as the historically and poetically resonant home of an "imagined community" (Anderson). "An artist…opens our eyes for us," wrote Aldous Huxley in 1932; "[w]hat was empty of significance becomes, after his passage suddenly full—and full of his significance…. Nations are to a very large extent invented by their poets and dramatists" (49-50). So here, a century after his death on February 10, 1899, is a small tribute to one of Canada’s foremost and not quite forgotten pioneers, inventors, and poets: Archibald Lampman.



  1. Steven Artelle has located several elegies and tributes in addition to William Wilfred Campbell’s well-known "Bereavement of the Fields" that were published in the immediate aftermath of Lampman’s death: Jean Blewett, "Archibald Lampman. ‘Poet by the Grace of God’," The Globe (Toronto), February 18, 1899, 19; Maurice W. Casey, "Archibald Lampman," University of Ottawa Review 1.8 (April 1899): 473-74; E.R.C., "Archibald Lampman," The Ottawa Evening Citizen, February 24, 1899, 4; Mary Hasbrouck, "Archibald Lampman. In Memoriam," The Ottawa Evening Journal, February 13, 1899, 8; Theodore Roberts, "A Lament to the Memory of Archibald Lampman," Northland Lyrics (Boston: Small and Maynard, 1899), 80-81; Charles Gordon Rogers, "Archibald Lampman. Died February 10, 1899," The Ottawa Evening Citizen, February 14, 1899, 4; and Lyman C. Smith, "Archibald Lampman. Obit February, 1899," The Globe (Toronto), February 18, 1899, 9. [back]

  2. See Whitridge, xxx-xxxiv for the full text of the letter by the volume’s sponsors, S.E. Dawson, William D. LeSeur, and Duncan Campbell Scott, from which this quotation is taken. [back]

  3. For a discussion of these and other components of the commemoration of Lampman, see my Mnemographia Canadensis 1: 313-32. [back]

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso Editions and NLB, 1983.

Bentley, D.M.R. Mnemographia Canadensis: Essays on Memory, Community, and Environment in Canada, with Particular Reference to London, Ontario. 2 vols. London: Canadian Poetry Press, 1999.

Burroughs, John. Pepacton. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1885.

Huxley, Aldous. Texts and Pretexts: an Anthology with Commentaries. London: Chatto and Windus, 1932.

Jameson, Anna Brownell. Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada. 1838. New Canadian Litorary. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990.

Klein, A.M. Complete Poems. 2 vols. Ed. Zailig Pollock. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990.

Lampman, Archibald. Poems (including At the Long Sault). Ed. Margaret Coulby Whitridge. Literature of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974.

Stringer, Arthur. "The Poet in Everyday Life." In Addresses Delivered at the Dedication of the Lampman Memorial Cairn at Morpeth, Ontario. Ed. W. Sherwood Fox. London: Western Ontario Branch of the Canadian Authors’ Association, 1930. 9-11.

Whitridge, Margaret. Introduction. In Poems (including At the Long Sault). By Archibald Lampman. Literature of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint: Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974. vii-xxxvi.