The Politics of Nature: Archibald Lampman’s Socialism
by James Doyle
In the Winter 1952 issue of the Toronto literary magazine New Frontiers, the anthologist and critic Margaret Fairley surveyed some of the principal trends and artists in the Canadian cultural heritage. "Archibald Lampman is our best nature poet," Fairley asserted, "and perhaps the most admirable, because he expresses frankly his disgust with his daily life in Ottawa, and is quite outspoken about his escape into the country." Fairley was by no means the first to point out the bifurcated impulse in Lampman’s poetry towards the celebration of nature and the criticism of society. But unlike many other commentators, Fairley suggests that the two inclinations are unified parts of a coherent vision. Lampman’s escape into the country, she implies, was only a preliminary stage in the expression of his ultimate desire: "he craved a human life which he could enjoy as he enjoyed the hills and rivers; he could not forget that he was a citizen" ("Our Cultural Heritage" 5).
The socialist ideology underlying Lampman’s expressions of this craving has been acknowledged by most of his critics and biographers. Duncan Campbell Scott, in his Memoir introducing the posthumous Poems of Archibald Lampman (1900), declares that Lampman "was on the side of socialism and reasonable propaganda to that end, and announced his belief and argued it with courage whenever necessary" (xxii). But Scott offers no details on this subject, and subsequently suggests that Lampman was not seriously committed to socialism. In his Introduction to a new edition of Lyrics of Earth (1925), Scott claims that "The Land of Pallas" represents "the thinking in which Lampman indulged in 1894-95, when he belonged to a group of friends who were playing lightly with socialistic ideas" (41). Carl Y. Connor gives Lampman’s socialism similarly brief attention in his 1929 critical study, offering neither documentation nor elaboration for his laconic suggestions that the poet may have been influenced by "the flaming socialism of his friend James Macoun," and that Lampman "was said to be a Fabian, but it is doubtful if he ever identified himself very definitely with any sect" (84).
Politically committed literary critics in the 1930s might have been interested in the possibility that Lampman was a socialist, but commentators in that decade tended to perpetuate the view established by the McGill group in the 1920s that associated all the Confederation poets with what Leo Kennedy called the "pot-bellied serene Protestantism of Victorian England which still flourished in Canada during the spruce youth of Edward" (124). By the 1940s critics were prepared to be more tolerant toward Victorianism, but they remained reserved about Lampman’s socialism. E.K. Brown’s On Canadian Poetry (1943) recognizes Lampman’s reaction against the "seamy side of politics" in Ottawa and his contempt for modern politicians and capitalists, and echoes Scott by referring to Lampman’s association with "a small group who were interested in socialist ideals." But in Brown’s view, Lampman lacked the socialist’s commitment to the regeneration of society; Brown insists, in fact, that the poet became pessimistic about the possibilities of reforming modern society, and retreated from it to seek a "refuge" in nature (93-95, 101).
Even F.W. Watt, who made a comprehensive study of political radicalism in nineteenth-century Canadian literature, does not allow that Lampman articulated a clear socialist point of view. According to Watt, Lampman remained ambivalent about modern industrialism and urbanization, and vacillated between "the idealized rural landscape and the mechanized, vulgarized city" ("Masks" 206; "Literature of Protest" 462). Barrie Davies, in a 1971 article, identifies Lampman as a "radical poet of nature" and tries to reconcile his attitudes to the rural and urban milieux. In the end, however, Davies comes to much the same conclusion as Brown. Although Lampman shared the belief of most nineteenth-century social reformers in "human nature…and the limitless power of the human mind," says Davies, his socialist beliefs do not draw sustenance from his love of nature. In the long run, his poetry reveals "…very little which can be described as optimism" ("Lampman" 43).
Davies thus ends up expressing one of two tendencies prominent in critical responses to Lampman’s socialism. Many writers, including Davies, see the poet’s socialism as being at odds with his love of nature. Others ignore his socialism entirely, or dismiss it as unimportant. In the 1975 University of Ottawa symposium on Lampman, Ralph Gustafson eliminated the tension between Lampman’s idealization of nature and his alleged social pessimism by rejecting the social poems as insignificant aberrations. "Lampman was not cut out to be a socialist poet," says Gustafson bluntly; "he was a nature poet" (5). L.R. Early, in an otherwise insightful book-length study of Lampman’s life and writing (1986), identifies the contrast between Lampman’s landscape poetry and social poetry as "one of the deepest rifts in his imagination" (33), and proceeds to devote most of his attention to the landscape poetry.
By the 1980s, however, other commentators were challenging the hypothesis of the supposed rift between nature and social concerns in Lampman’s imagination. In a 1981 article D.M.R. Bentley focuses on Lampman’s "visionary" poems, to refute critics such as Davies, Watt, and Gustafson "who have seen Lampman as a mere dreamer, an escapist…who sought solace from the city and from himself in an external nature" ("Watchful Dreams" 188). Bentley finds the keys to the unity of Lampman’s poetry in various factors, including the poet’s classicist studies and love of nature, as well as his indebtedness to English Victorian social critics such as Thomas Carlyle and William Morris. But Bentley is ultimately interested in locating the principles of unity not in the ideology of Lampman’s poems, but in their form and technique. Although Bentley continues the tradition begun with Scott of acknowledging Lampman’s commitment to socialism, a comprehensive evaluation of this commitment and its influence on his poetry remains to be attempted. In spite of much important critical work, Lampman still appears primarily as a nature poet whose social poetry was something of an aberration. "Misguided or insufficiently informed," Anne Compton admits in a 1994 article that does not try to remedy the situation, "our estimate of Lampman’s socialism remains suspended. His best work, it is generally agreed, is his poetry of natural description" (33).
In attempting to define and evaluate Lampman’s socialism and its function in his poetry, I do not intend to challenge the importance of his "natural description." My main purpose is to make some suggestions as to how his socialist ideas and his love of nature can be seen as parts of a unified poetic vision. The unity between human perspectives on nature and society is an important element of socialist cultural thought, especially Marxist thought, which is the socialist ideology that has been most extensively applied to cultural analysis. The British Marxist critic Raymond Williams, for instance, has demonstrated in The Country and the City how creative writers in England have used the conventions of the classical pastoral tradition as a means of developing a critical perspective on industrial capitalism. In a similar vein, I want to show how Lampman’s idealization of nature interacts with his critique of nineteenth-century urban Canada and his vision of an ideal socialist society.
This task is complicated, however, not only because Lampman’s understanding of socialism cannot be reduced to a simple monolithic dogma, but also because the word "socialism" cannot be confined to a universally acceptable definition. Hostile interpretations have reduced it to "state capitalism," "government monopoly," and complaints of bureaucratic intrusion into economic and social life. More neutral definitions emphasize public control of the means of production and distribution, but such definitions often relate to a predominantly urban manufacturing and service economy, and neglect the agricultural basis of many socialist theories. Historians of the subject have identified different categories and sub-categories of socialist theory and practice, such as liberal democratic, utopian, and proletarian, to mention the familiar labels of only a few varieties. George Bernard Shaw, in the influential Fabian Essays (1889), tries to cut across the sectarian complexity of the subject by defining socialism with ingenious vagueness as the "desire that [the] capricious gifts of Nature might be intercepted by some agency having the power and the goodwill to distribute them justly according to the labour done by each in the collective search for them" (36).
Lampman may have been content with such a definition, especially if, as Carl Y. Connor suggests, he was associated with a Fabian society in Ottawa. There is no proof of such an association, however: his connections with Fabianism are apparently traceable only to the Ottawa Journal’s obituary of him (Early 94). In a brief untitled and unpublished essay on socialism written circa 1895, Lampman relates his socialist ideas not to any partisan or sectarian movement, but to a very general context of intellectual and social history.
Lampman’s essay on socialism was published by Barrie Davies in Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose (1975), and in a more textually accurate annotated version by D.M.R. Bentley in The Essays and Reviews of Archibald Lampman (1996). In his notes, Bentley makes some conjectures about the literary and philosophical texts that may have influenced Lampman’s conception of socialism. Bentley mentions especially the Fabian Essays, Progress and Poverty (1879) by the American economist Henry George, Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present (1843) and William Morris’s utopian romance News from Nowhere (1890). But the evidence concerning what Lampman read, and how that reading may have influenced his own thought, is limited. "Lampman was not a deep or wide reader," E.K. Brown concluded on the basis of his study of the poet’s published and unpublished writings (101). This conclusion probably applies to his understanding of the history and theory of socialism. Lampman’s familiarity with the more prominent British and American socialist writers of the late nineteenth century may have been based on very selective and partial reading, or sometimes only on discussions with like-minded Ottawa intellectuals. Like other people of predominantly literary reading tastes, he may have lacked the patience for sustained immersion in expository prose with a strong element of what by the 1890s was being called "social science"—that is, historical, sociological, political or economic writing that involves the marshalling of facts and statistics and the formulation of theories.
Lampman’s own writing reflects a greater debt to socialist-inspired literary works than to such scholarly work as the Fabian Essays. The influence of News from Nowhere, with its dream-like picture of the perfect socialist society of the future, has been demonstrated in detail (Bentley, "William Morris" 36-38). Another book of the same sort that could have influenced Lampman’s thinking while he was working on his untitled essay on socialism is the American novelist William Dean Howells’ A Traveler from Altruria (1894). Howells had helped launch Lampman’s literary career by favourably reviewing his first book of poems, Among the Millet (1888) in the Atlantic Monthly. It seems probable that Lampman would try to keep abreast of Howells’ prodigious output of novels, especially in the 1890s when Howells began to express his sympathies for socialism.
A Traveler from Altruria adapts ideas from various sources, including the writings of Leo Tolstoy, Morris and the Fabians. A popular and very readable pastiche of current thinking on socialism, the novel is just the sort of work to appeal to a literary reader looking for a concise overview of the subject. In discussing specific American economic and social conditions, furthermore, Howells exposes evils characteristic of international capitalism in the nineteenth century, including the establishment of an oppressive class system in the name of equality of opportunity, the dehumanization of workers in the name of free-market economics, and—a subject that would especially interest Lampman—the destructive exploitation of nature in the name of progress and private property rights.
In condemning the American capitalistic appropriation of the land, Howells follows George’s Progress and Poverty, which reveals how American farmers are ruined by a taxation system that favours speculators and monopolistic syndicates, especially the railways. Throughout the 1890s Lampman carried on an amiable correspondence with the American realist fiction writer Hamlin Garland, who was an enthusiastic proselytizer for George’s "single tax" theories. George’s theories were too related to American frontier individualism to be socialistic: his concept of a taxation system that would prevent speculation in unimproved land and encourage industrial development was intended to reorganize capitalism, not abolish it. But his vision of a return to something like the medieval ideal of communal use of agricultural land influenced socialist theory, and through the second-hand sources of Howells’ novel and Garland’s arguments this vision may have made some appeal to Lampman’s literary imagination.
A great many books—including romances and expository social criticism like George’s—written from socialist and utopian perspectives were published in England, the United States and Canada in the late nineteenth century. Other works that Lampman might have dipped into, read reviews of, or known at least through discussions with like-minded people in Ottawa, include another best-selling American utopian romance, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888). If Bellamy’s ideal state proved too bureaucratic and regimented for the Canadian’s tastes, Lampman may have found more appealing a book by a Canadian friend of Bellamy, Phillips Thompson’s The Politics of Labor (1887). Thompson was more interested than other socialist intellectuals of the time in the elevation of the workers toward economic and political enlightenment through the trade union movement, but his insistence that political economy should be based on "the liberty and the brotherhood of man and the equal right of all to natural resources and opportunities" (55) gave his book a potentially broad appeal. His concern for the role of literary and other arts in the ideal society might especially have caught Lampman’s attention.
But Lampman’s hypothetical indebtedness to other writers cannot provide as conclusive evidence of the specific nature of his socialist beliefs as his own direct comments on the subject. His earliest published comments occur in At the Mermaid Inn, the column he wrote in collaboration with Duncan Campbell Scott and Wilfred Campbell in the Toronto Globe from February 1892 to July 1893. The fact that he was able to air his moderately radical opinions in a staunchly Liberal paper may reflect the self-assured tolerance of the Canadian bourgeoisie toward socialistic opinions in the early 1890s. Canadians were less affected than Americans by the extreme opposition to radicalism, recently enflamed by the arrests and executions of alleged "anarchists" following the Haymarket riots in Chicago in 1886-87. Politicians and newspapers in Canada began sounding more like their southern neighbours, however, during the economic depression that began in the United States in 1893 and quickly moved northward as a result of the Dominion’s dependent economy and the indecisive policies of the Conservative government. The economic downturn is a probable factor in the abrupt cancellation of At the Mermaid Inn in the summer of 1893. Perhaps under the excuse of saving the three dollars a week paid to each contributor (Davies, Introduction vii), the editor took the opportunity to suppress a column that sometimes seemed to be preaching controversial opinions at a time of potential political unrest.
But Lampman was not expounding in the Globe the kind of fire-breathing radicalism that was currently frightening the Americans. He never even mentions the word "socialism": most of his comments consist of moderate attacks on materialism and the commercial ethic, in terms far less vehement than could be found, for instance, in the novels of Charles Dickens or George Gissing. In his column of April 2, 1892, Lampman begins with a contrast between the poet and the "man of affairs." Contradicting the popular wisdom on the subject, Lampman insists that the poet is the person of practical common sense, while the businessman is the dreamer. The businessman "spends his whole life in the pursuit of a dream, which in the end is the most empty and futile imaginable," while the poet "endeavours to see life simply as it is, and to estimate everything at its true value in relation to the universal and the infinite" (44-45).
This reversal of the conventional contrast between the poet and the businessman recalls various nineteenth-century literary attempts to heroicize the poet, including those of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Thomas Carlyle, as well as Carlyle’s American friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson, like Carlyle, was of course no socialist: his concept of the poet as "seer" was the centrepiece of a theologically-based and thoroughly Americanized individualism. In fact, in the history of political thought Emersonian idealism is related to an extreme kind of individualism classifiable under the rubric of anarchism. Emersonian individualism is anarchistic in the sense that it always prefers the moral instincts or cogitations of the individual— in theory, at least—over the actions of a collective political entity. In most forms of socialism, on the other hand, as Sidney Webb emphasizes in the Fabian Essays, the life of the community "transcends that of any of its members" (89). And yet, as the editors of a modern history of socialist thought have pointed out, "anarchism and socialism, so apparently incompatible when considered rationally, have persisted in appearing side by side in the ideologies of various groups and individuals" (Fried and Sanders 15). Some brands of socialism are so insistent on the rights, responsibilities and general integrity of the individual within the cooperative society that the extreme extensions of many of their propositions converge with those of anarchism.
Such an anarchistic socialism is expounded in an essay that Lampman might have read, Oscar Wilde’s "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," published in the February 1891 number of Fortnightly Review. Influenced by Emerson, whose essay "Self-Reliance" he alludes to in "The Soul of Man," Wilde presents socialism not in terms of political ideology but in terms of consequences: socialism will release human beings from the customs and institutions that prevent them from realizing their full individuality. Wilde makes no conjectures regarding what form socialism will take or how it will come about. "Socialism itself will be of value," he declares, "simply because it will lead to Individualism" (20). And the full realization of individualism is the essence of freedom. In Wilde’s scheme, Emerson’s dictum "He who would be a man must be a non-conformist" becomes "He who would be free must not conform" (31).
Lampman’s socialism, like Wilde’s, and like Emerson’s self-reliance, is based on belief in the ideal of a society of perfectly free and creative human beings. Like Wilde and Emerson, Lampman recognizes that most human beings think and act in opposition to this ideal. Emerson’s contrast between the poet and the "sensual man" articulates the basic dichotomy that Lampman identifies in At the Mermaid Inn. "The sensual man conforms thoughts to things," says Emerson in his 1836 essay "Nature," while "the poet conforms things to his thoughts" (29). Lampman’s businessman is the epitome of the Lockean being for whom life is a matter of adjusting one’s mind to a materialistic world for the purpose of achieving a selfish control over that world. Lampman’s poet is the seer and creator who penetrates beyond the material and reshapes the world according to his own vision of eternal truth. In At the Mermaid Inn of July 2, 1892, Lampman uses this exaltation of the poet to attack the principal shibboleth of nineteenth-century capitalism, the concept of private property. Complaining of the "No Trespassing" signs he has encountered in his rambles through the fields, he echoes the beliefs of Emerson and his disciple Henry Thoreau by suggesting that "to the scientist, the artist, and the poet, this earth belongs to no man in particular" (104).
In his column of September 24, 1892, Lampman places the cultivation of poetry among the higher human activities, along with the pursuit of knowledge and the "prosecution of political or social reform." "The pursuit of wealth," on the other hand, is "a purely brute instinct" (157). Similarly, he challenges the idealization of hard work in capitalist society (March 25, 1893). In place of the old work ethic, which industrialists have perennially used as a means of ensuring the submission of their employees to exploitation, Lampman refers to the theories of modern socialist reformers. "The new idea is that every man shall work, that the work done shall be no more than necessary, and that in consequence the whole may be divided up into very moderate apportionments for each citizen" (281). Envisioning a time when workers will be employed for no more than three hours a day and will have ample time to "get knowledge and think," Lampman imagines "a race of philosophers and kings" (282).
The abbreviated working day, the philosopher-workers, and the suggestion that the gradual disappearance of the servant class in modern society may presage the advent of universal equality (June 3, 1893) all recall the socialism of Morris’s News from Nowhere. But Lampman’s ideas were not exclusively derived from literary sources such as utopian romance and Emersonian essays. In At the Mermaid Inn, in fact, he makes no explicit reference to literary sources for his ideas, but he does provide one source from the real world. In his column of April 1, 1893, he suggests that the social ideal he advocates has already begun to materialize in history. "New Zealand appears to be the paradise of the philosopher and the poor man. It is said that there are no rich men there, and no poor, and the labouring man is king" (285).
Lampman’s sketch of conditions in New Zealand under the government of John Ballance is based on current news reports from that country, which was attempting a remarkable experiment in social democracy. Elected in 1891, the Ballance government was nominally Liberal, but represented a Liberalism far different from the political movements known by that name in Britain and Canada. The New Zealand party was the political vanguard of socialist and pro-labour organizations which hoped to create in the antipodes a society that would avoid the problems of the unrestrained finance capitalism of England and the United States. Land reform, government ownership of essential industry, the liberation of labour from arbitrary corporate power, and a revised and perfected version of capitalism based on mutual benefit rather than selfish individualism were the primary aims of the Liberal government’s experiments. The success of these experiments, as Lampman could see if he continued to follow newspaper reports throughout the decade, was extremely limited. But as a New Zealand historian has written, "[t]he New Zealand Liberals were among the first to step on a political road…towards the Welfare State" (Sinclair 170). Seen from the perspective of Ottawa, Canada in the 1890s, the New Zealand example must have appeared to offer exciting new possibilities for the realization of socialist ambitions.
With the New Zealand reality in mind, Lampman presents socialism in his untitled essay of circa 1895 as a practical plan of historical action. Here again, as in his Mermaid Inn columns, he does not invoke as his authorities the currently popular authors of utopian romances or socialist theory. Apart from a vague reference to "the men who are leading the Socialist movement in England to-day," he relates socialism to people of earlier generations and centuries who "have inspired and guided the best efforts of mankind in every age both spiritually and materially" (188). The people of this sort that Lampman mentions include Christopher Columbus, the inventors James Watt and Richard Arkwright, and the poets Milton and Wordsworth. Lampman conceives socialism as neither an impersonal theory in political economics nor a spontaneous movement of working-class masses. Although some of his poems express sympathy with the masses, the influence of the historical theories of Emerson and Carlyle lead him to conceive the socialist movement as emanating primarily from the heroic characters and actions of "great men."
By including among his heroes people like Watt and Arkwright associated with the entrepreneurial side of the industrial revolution, Lampman suggests that capitalism was not a degenerate historical development, but a valid expression of the human imagination. The founders of industrial capitalism were, like the great poets and philosophers of the past, not men who lived for material gain, but men inspired by an idea. Unfortunately, that idea has been corrupted by selfish and unimaginative people—politicians and "businessmen"—who have appropriated industrialism to their own ends and created the ruthless competitive system that prevails in the late nineteenth century.
Lampman also uses history to confront the frequently voiced objection that socialism is an impossibility. The great movements of history, says Lampman, are those that achieve what was believed to be impossible—like the spread of Mohammedanism in Arabia or the unification of Germany in 1871. Lampman is not necessarily suggesting by these examples that socialism will be brought about by militant methods. Towards the end of the essay he acknowledges that the conflict between capital and labour may lead to "scenes of revolt and turbulence," but he also expresses his faith that "the world has grown cooler headed since [the French Revolution]," and the change to socialism "will work itself out gradually and intelligently from possibility to possibility" (189-90). But like Wilde, he is not primarily interested in the means by which socialism is to be achieved. Details on this subject may be a legitimate matter of conjecture, but the important point is that history gives ample evidence of the human capacity to overcome difficulties and to bring about fundamental changes in belief, conduct and institutions. Socialism, then, is not a fanciful dream as the capitalistic pursuit of money is, but a natural and practical vision of human life as it can and ought to be. All of Lampman’s poetry, like his essay on socialism, is informed by this belief.
This ideological unity can be concisely demonstrated by reference to the selection of Lampman’s poems that Margaret Fairley included in a 40-page anthology of nineteenth-century "people’s poets," The Stone, the Axe, the Sword and Other Canadian Poems (1955). As a Marxist active since the 1930s first in the Communist Party of her native England and subsequently in the Canadian party, Fairley took a partisan interest in presenting Lampman and other pre-modern authors as socialists. Like other Marxists, she was eager to establish a continuity between evolutionary socialism and the revolutionary scientific socialism of Marx. But she was not simply a literary amateur with a political axe to grind. Her career as a literary scholar began long before she became a Marxist. As a fellow of St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, she edited for the Clarendon Press under her birth name Margaret Keeling a volume of selected work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge entitled Poems of Nature and Romance (1910) (see Doyle 78-79). In her Introduction to this volume, Keeling emphasizes Coleridge’s commitment to the ideals of the French Revolution, as well as the consistency between the Romantic conception of nature and the revolutionary theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Godwin and Thomas Paine. In Coleridge’s poetry, Keeling suggests, the love of nature and the desire for political reform are unifiable parts of the same vision. One of the primary aims of the romantic movement was to represent nature in more realistic terms than the eighteenth century had done. This aim was part of a wider movement of commitment to social responsibility and reaction against intellectual escapism. This movement, says Keeling, not only produced the poetry of Coleridge and Wordsworth; it produced "societies active in the education of poor children, the protection of dumb animals, the abolition of the slave trade" (36). The advocacy of artistic realism and social responsibility, furthermore, was part of a philosophical fascination with moral and metaphysical unity. The romantic writers became obsessed with the search for "the universal principle beneath and beyond all the details" of both human experience and external nature (37). As Fairley’s political views evolved over the next twenty years from Fabian socialist to Marxist, she adapted the emphasis on the unity between politics and nature to her conception of Canadian literature, including her conception of the poetry of Lampman.
In The Stone, the Axe, the Sword she includes only four of Lampman’s poems. The well-known nature lyric "April in the Hills" is followed by the very personal work inspired by the birth of the poet’s son, "Paternity." The explicitly anti-capitalist "To a Millionaire" is next, and the collection concludes with a criticism of industrialism, "The Railway Station." But this selection, brief as it is, gives an effective overview of Lampman’s achievement as the nature-loving and humanistic poet who, in Fairley’s words quoted earlier, "craved a human life which he could enjoy as he enjoyed the hills and rivers."
"April in the Hills" is typical of the many poems in which Lampman expresses the poet’s enjoyment of nature. The first three of its five stanzas, recalling Emerson’s enumeration of beauty as one of the primary "ends" of nature, provide a lyrical catalogue of impressions of a rural landscape on a sunny spring day. The language calls attention to light and movement, especially the movement of water in the spring run-off as an image of regeneration. The prominence of visual elements recalls the Emersonian emphasis on seeing. As in Thoreau’s nature writing, sight is supplemented by sound: the birds sing or call raucously; even the trees "roar" in the wind (Poems 128). In the last two stanzas, the invocation of the near-perfect beauty of nature is extended to the poet’s subjective experience of this beauty. "I break the spirit’s cloudy bands," declares Lampman—that is, he breaks through the clouds that usually hang over the human spirit in modern society into the light and life of nature. In the countryside, the poet becomes "a wanderer in enchanted lands," like the travellers in Morris’s News from Nowhere and Lampman’s own "Land of Pallas." In the final stanza the poetic conventionalities—"new birth," "wakening earth"—of a spring lyric merge with the suggestions of a new historical era based on the shared perfectibility of human and natural elements. In the conclusion, this perfectibility is absorbed into a Coleridgean (and Emersonian) unity between the poetic self and external nature.
"April in the Hills" is thus consistent with Lampman’s untitled essay on socialism in its expression of the craving for an ideal human life and its faith in the reality of this ideal. The ideal in the poem is individualistic rather than communal; but in accordance with the Emersonian anarchistic basis of Lampman’s socialism, human perfectibility begins within the individual. In a sense analogous to Emerson’s declaration in "Self-Reliance" that "an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man" (154), the perfect socialist society is an extension of the individual who is in harmony with the world around him.
Fairley is too committed to Marxism to overemphasize the anarchistic individualism of Lampman’s poetic vision. She supplements this aspect of the poet’s thought, however, not with a poem concerning society en masse, but with the very personal and seemingly non-political "Paternity." "April in the Hills" focuses on the poet’s mystical identification with nature; "Paternity," celebrating the birth of the poet’s son, reveals a more domestic human being. Marxists are sometimes depicted as opposed to the idea of the family: Frederick Engels, for instance, in his Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) uses anthropological theory to trace the origins of capitalism partly to the rise of patriarchal society and the priority of the family over larger social units. But Marx and Engels make clear in the Communist Manifesto that they object not to the family per se, but to the bourgeois concept of the family which, like all institutions under capitalism, is perverted into an instrument of the political-economic power structure. Margaret Fairley, partner in a successful marriage and the mother of five children, readily found in Lampman’s "Paternity" a lyrical vision of a domestic ideal that mirrors the hope of a perfect society. The second stanza of Lampman’s brief poem moves beyond the poet’s personal emotion in the direction of a discovery of his affinity with wider humanity that he can imagine sharing in his own paternal feelings of love:
For thy sake nobler visions are
But as Fairley goes on to demonstrate in the last two poems chosen for her anthology, like most socialist writers Lampman is also prepared to express his socialism more negatively, in the pugnacious language of the angry social critic. In contrast to the personal and affectionate language of his poetic tributes to spring and to his infant son, "To a Millionaire" presents a satirical generic portrait of the "creature of that old distorted dream" (Poems 276)—the same creature contrasted in At the Mermaid Inn to the more practical and realistic poet. Dominated by his solipsistic obsession with wealth and power, the millionaire is alienated from both nature and humanity, unable to see either the splendour of the external world or the human suffering caused by his own greed. By promoting a social system based on selfishness and exploitation, the millionaire has replaced the ideal harmony between nature and spirit with a perverted balance between the sufferings of the toiling masses and his "one grim misgotten pile" of money.
"The Railway Station" extends the evil of industrial capitalism beyond even the degenerate moral status of the dreamer of the distorted dream toward the impersonal, mechanistic horrors of modern industrialism. Like other nineteenth-century artistic critics of industrialism from Dickens through Thoreau and the American painter George Inness, Lampman uses the railway as a symbol of the new forces that destroy nature and oppress humanity. In Emersonian fashion Lampman emphasizes throughout the poem the origins of the poetic consciousness in the visual element: the words "I see," or variants, govern most of the catalogue of images through which industrialism is portrayed (Poems 116). The poet tries to achieve sympathetic contact with the victims of industrialism, the "hurrying crowds" in the station, and especially with their "eyes that are dim with pain." But this attempt at unity fails, for the poet is "blinded" by the lights, steam and noise. His eyes are as dim as those of the people he reaches out to, and he cannnot imagine their "unknown thoughts" and "various agonies."
The consequences of industrialism, according to this poem, include the poet’s alienation from both his fellow human beings and nature. But the poet’s alienation is quite unlike that of the millionaire, for the poet is the resisting victim of the millionaire’s commitment to perverted techniques and materialistic goals. The ultimate outcome of such a commitment is the main theme of Lampman’s "The City of the End of Things." Like Samuel Butler’s novel Erewhon (1872), to which it bears incidental resemblances, Lampman’s poem is an anti-Utopia, a satirical revelation of the results of the application of a materialistic rationalism to the search for social perfection. In Butler’s novel, the dependence on reason leads to a society based on intellectual and moral perversions, including the will to suppress technology completely. In the essay on socialism, Lampman does not reject technology and the individual ingenuity behind it; he recognizes industrialism as an admirable expression of the human intellect and imagination, but ac- knowledges how easily industrial processes can be appropriated to selfish ends. In "The Railway Station," the crowds of people look out with eyes that are "dim with pain," while the poet’s eyes "grow fixed" with bemused contemplation (Poems 116), but at least the gazes of both poet and crowds suggest that human vision and consciousness, however dimmed, are still vital. In "The City of the End of Things" an inflexible rationalism leads to a dehumanized society of machines propelled by their own self-perpetuating force and presided over by a "deathless and eternal" effigy that symbolizes the complete absence of vision and consciousness (Poems 182).
Lampman’s poem is one of many nineteenth-century poetic attacks, including Wordsworth’s Excursion and James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, on the nightmare consequences of the industrial revolution (Bentley, "A Thread of Memory" 87-91). But Lampman obviously did not intend the poem to represent a final, pessimistic judgement on modern society. He included the poem in the volume he had ready for the press at his death, Alcyone, which is made up for the most part of fairly optimistic poems about the human interaction with nature and about hopes for the fulfilment of individual and social ideals. In manuscript, furthermore, Lampman deliberately paired "The City of the End of Things," bearing the significant subtitle "The Issue of the Things that Are," with his poetic version of the utopian romance, "The Land of Pallas," which was subtitled "The Country of the Ought to Be" (Bentley, Gay]Grey Moose 195). In contrast to the horrific vision of the city, "The Land of Pallas" mostly takes place in a rural setting. Instead of the intense and grotesque oppressiveness of the noisy, inferno-like city of machines and robots, in "The Land of Pallas" cities are seen in the distance as glittering and attractive vistas absorbed into and subordinated to the pastoral landscape. The Land of Pallas is a poetic exaggeration, of course. In its insistent perfection it is reminiscent of Gonzalo’s commonwealth in Shakespeare’s Tempest. In the Land of Pallas there is complete harmony between human beings and nature. There are no prisons, no courts, almost no social institutions at all—indeed, the social constitution of Pallas, like that of Gonzalo’s commonwealth, is a series of negatives that function as ironic reminders of the meaning of the word "Utopia." The Land of Pallas is overdone and simplistic in its perfection—an easy object of ridicule, just as Gonzalo’s commonwealth with its logical contradictions is the target of the cynical comments of Antonio and Sebastian. But even in its simple-minded inconsistencies, Gonzalo’s ideal is morally preferable to the corrupt realpolitik that Antonio and Sebastian represent. Similarly, the visionary Land of Pallas, as that country’s name emphasizes, is the divine opposite of the infernal rationality of the City of the End of Things.
Like Gonzalo, the narrator of "The Land of Pallas" tries unsuccessfully to teach the lesson of wisdom and love to "baser men." The end of his experience is not despair, however, but a Gonzalo-like faith, which the cynical materialistic world may regard as naive and foolish, but which is preferable to the rationalistic idiocy that presides over the City of the End of Things.
And still I preached, and wrought,
and still I bore my message,
In Lampman’s poems as a whole, the "end of human life" is variously defined by such words as peace, wisdom, truth and freedom, words which are interrelated and even used almost interchangeably. The evangelist of this gospel of peace/wisdom/truth/freedom is always the poet, the same practical Emersonian figure that Lampman contrasts to materialistic dreamers like the millionaire. Like Emerson’s poet—indeed, like Coleridge and the whole nineteenth-century romantic movement—Lampman’s poet pursues a realistic vision based on the harmonization of nature, society and the poetic imagination.
Alcyone includes two poems which in quite different ways dramatize this pursuit. "The Poet’s Song" mythologizes the social and natural worlds and the poet’s relationship to both. "To the Prophetic Soul" presents the poet from a much more personal and subjective, perhaps even autobiographical, perspective. "The Poet’s Song" is a reworking of wasteland mythology, involving a country devastated by some nameless curse of sterility, presided over by a king who is powerless to lift the curse. The king appeals to the poet, not to restore the land, a power which he has no reason to believe the poet possesses, but to act as a kind of court entertainer, providing relief to the royal anguish. The poet declines because, as he points out, his imaginative powers are not exempt from the sterility that encompasses the world. While "the tree is perished to its root" and the fountain is dry, he is unable to sing (Poems 213). But when the curse is lifted, he still does not become the king’s minstrel. In a world where freedom and life are available the poet, like everyone else, is free to dispose of his life as he sees fit. He leaves the city to seek a retreat in nature, not as a means of escape from society, but as a self-willed act of personal fulfilment.
Unlike "The Land of Pallas," in which the speaker goes about resolutely and in spite of discouragement preaching to "baser men," "The Poet’s Song" does not document the poet’s role in bringing about the new world. The main subject of the poem is the situation of the poet before and after the great change occurs. "To the Prophetic Soul," by contrast, focuses on the poet’s initiatives in escaping the limitations of an imperfect society. Here the poet’s achievement of freedom, seen from a subjective point of view, appears dependent not on the prior transformation of society but on his own inner strength—his self-reliance. For Lampman, as for Wilde, socialism is the triumph of self-reliance. Like Wilde, Lampman sees the many impediments that stand between the artist and this triumph, impediments that derive especially from the urge to conformity that prevails in modern society. Just as Walt Whitman in "Song of Myself" finds himself surrounded by "trippers and askers" who stand in the way of his quest for his genuine self, Lampman’s "prophetic soul" must escape the "gropers between right and wrong / That seek an unknown goal" and set out in search of the "vision of the large and true" (Poems 200-01). Like Whitman’s journey, too, Lampman’s pursuit of genuine individualism must be a lonely task, and the prophetic soul must be encouraged to face the loneliness willingly:
Be strong, therefore, resume thy
There would seem to be even less explicit socialism in "To the Prophetic Soul" than in most of Lampman’s poems. But it is surely neither accident nor incomprehension that led Fairley to select this one poem by which to represent Lampman’s work in an anthology of Canadian liberal, socialist, and Communist historical and literary writing she edited at the end of the Second World War, Spirit of Canadian Democracy (1945). For Lampman, as for Fairley, individual freedom is the essence of socialism. This idea is particularly congenial to Marxist socialists like Fairley, for contrary to popular misconception, Marxism is not based on historical determinism. Marxism holds that history, like the natural and physical sciences, is governed by laws which can be understood and brought under control for human benefit. Non-Marxist socialists are not so committed to the scientific paradigm, but all socialists believe in the human ability to intervene in history, and that the purpose of such intervention is the achievement of freedom.
All of Lampman’s poetry is inspired by his sincerely held if somewhat eclectic and idiosyncratic socialist beliefs. Sympathy with these beliefs is of course not essential to the understanding and appreciation of his poetry. Readers who dislike socialism—and they are many, and they appear to be on the increase a century after Lampman’s death—will continue to ignore Lampman’s socio-political beliefs and still discover satisfying meanings in his poetry. But they will thereby be neglecting an important element in the poetry. Lampman is both a nature poet and a political poet. The desire for a better society and for union with nature, and the belief in the capacity of humanity to achieve both, are for Lampman parts of the same imaginative whole that inspires humanity with faith and can endow humanity with freedom.
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