Style and Mind in Lampman’s "Among the Timothy"

by Brian Trehearne


It has long been recognized that Archibald Lampman’s "Among the Timothy" has a kind of psychology at its core. The poem’s references to "moods," "brain," "thought," "dream," and "will" are frequent enough that no exegesis could stand for long that did not pay some attention to the dysfunction and repair of the creative imagination to which the poem’s persona alludes and through which, perhaps, he passes. The reading is not inescapable (early critics tended to see little more in the poem than effective nature description; they thought this best of Lampman’s poems inferior to "Heat"),1 but today’s reader, with a keen ear for self-fashioning and the construction of artistic authority, will probably find it so. Along these lines, the poem’s few explicators have tended to read "Among the Timothy" for an emphatically affirmative closure in which the persona "has his poetic inspiration restored to him" (Mezei 62). "In the final stanza," as L.R. Early puts it, the sun-soaked poet "stresses again that through this immersion in nature his visionary powers are renewed" (73). As the persona’s despondency at the poem’s inception is quite clear, this reading demands a well-marked "turning point" later on, usually in the poem’s fourth stanza (Mezei 63; Early 72). With such a stark distinction between the mood in which the poem opens and that in which it ends, a linear motion from one to the other becomes attractive: Anne Compton speaks of "the poet’s passage from dream-nostalgia to sharp attentiveness" (53), and Early calls the poem "a passage from bliss through privation to renovation and contentment" (69). Such remarks correctly identify the story of Lampman’s poem, but they are hasty, in my view, as regards its plot. By casting the poet’s experience into implicit polarities in which he is either creatively stifled (as he himself says) or spiritually and imaginatively renewed (about which he is far less explicit), the criticism not only implies a thin psychology of entirely separable and alternatable artistic "moods," but also imagines a reconstitution fully accomplished within the poem’s verbal bounds.

Without parting company entirely with such positivist readings, I want to moderate their definitiveness, because Lampman’s grasp of what we call "psychology" appears to me to have been more subtle than his critics have so far indicated. In a second departure, I will pay full attention to the poem’s stylistic, prosodic and rhetorical richness. Lampman’s superb style vivifies his dramatization of the process of artistic renewal, in part by showing an attentive reader that any convincing psychology will eschew polar distinctions of dysfunction and well-being, as well as emphatic claims of a final cure. Early offers a contrast of Lampman and the great Romantics in this regard that I think misled but revealing of a better view:

… in this submission of mind to nature, and to its own free energies, his spiritual recovery and the revival of his creative power begins. This differs from the course of events in the principal poems of dejection written by his precursors. Coleridge, for example, only partially eases his sense of imaginative desolation in "Dejection: An Ode"… [and] Wordsworth, in the "Immortality Ode," accepts as permanent the loss of an intuitive sense of glory in the natural world…but in "Among the Timothy" [Lampman] discovers that the very act of abandoning mental effort brings about a fresh communion with nature. (72-3)

Lampman’s "recovery" is to me as partial as those of his Romantic precursors in their own great poems of creative strife. In this reading, the creative renewal in nature that most take to occur within the closing "visions" of his poem is, instead, the "one far off divine event, / To which the whole creation moves,"2 defining its rhythms of observation and discourse but unattainable—while among the timothy—for its very idealism.

A number of fruitful considerations are released by this reorientation. Since the persona’s "wear[iness] of song"3 might not be corrected in the course of his meditation, we are free to pursue less linear articulations of the poem’s development, and to note the indirectness, even whimsy, of his mind’s and eyes’ motions. As well, the negative conditions rehearsed in the poem’s opening stanzas may well continue, perhaps in undertone, as its images unfold, or even as its climax is reached. Conversely, we gain a means of dealing with the poem’s fundamental paradox, unremarked by its commentators, that the stagnant poet who greets us in the opening stanzas is nevertheless expressing his crisis in line after line of brilliant poetry, a paradox that can only be faced if we are prepared to think some degree or kind of creative "renewal " active, right from the poem’s start.4 Most important, we can now read more delicately the poem’s enactment of a creative psychology that moves, not from negative to positive as on a thread, but haphazardly between those two extremes, never so approximating one condition that its contrary is lost to the record.


Lampman’s knowledge of the science of "psychology, " which in the course of the nineteenth century emerged from the traditions of philosophy and medicine and was in the 1880s increasingly separate from the companion science of physiology, appears to have been minimal. Although an At the Mermaid Inn contribution shows some interest in the "insanity" of Guy de Maupassant,5 and his father-in-law Edward Playter, editor of the Dominion Sanitary Journal, had occasion to publish articles on the treatment of insanity in New York and Ontario asylums,6 Lampman seems to have developed his notions of psychology largely through self-scrutiny, a method of "research" well-respected in the science’s development. In other words, apart from such Romantic psychology as he inherited from his poetic precursors, Lampman’s notion of psychology was intuitional and untheorized. This is not to say that it was without perceptiveness or texture, or incidental to his idea of the poetic nature. In a letter to Hamlin Garland on April 25, 1889, four years after the drafting of "Among the Timothy," Lampman underscored the poem’s depiction of consciousness:

I confess that my design for instance in writing "Among the Timothy" was not in the first place to describe a landscape, but to describe the effect of a few hours spent among the summer fields on a mind in a troubled or despondent condition. The description of the landscape was really an accessory to my plan.7

Moreover, his use of the secular term "mind," when the literary context (and his own upbringing) might have demanded "soul" or "spirit," reveals the interesting contemporaneity of his conceptions of inner life.

In From Soul to Mind: the Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James, Edward S. Reed ably identifies competing tendencies in the psychology of the nineteenth century. The "traditional metaphysicians," those philosophers interested in psychological inquiry only insofar as it grants the presence of a soul linking us to God, a soul that is pointedly "not a natural entity" (60), are by Lampman’s time a discredited orthodoxy. Such "traditional metaphysicians" as the Scottish physician Dugald Stewart (1753-1828) particularly resisted any attempt to describe the material processes of consciousness, believing that such researches implied that "the human being might be a kind of robot, an automaton merely responding to stimuli" (25). Lampman would of course be equally concerned to resist the automatization of the human mind—that is more or less why his persona flees the city in "Among the Timothy"—but he may nevertheless have been attracted, as were his Romantic precursors, to the associationist psychologies the traditional metaphysicians were especially concerned to suppress.

As Reed makes plain, there is no one theory of the association of ideas in the nineteenth century. As the traditional-metaphysical defences of the "soul" broke down by mid-century, to be replaced gradually by increasing attention to the secular "mind," competing associationist models struggled for the upper hand. Consequently, "more radical theories of the unconscious mind…began to emerge in the 1860s and 1870s" (131), since

It was widely understood that to formulate a coherent associationist account of perception without enlisting the notion of unconscious inferences was impossible. Thus, in a matter of two short decades, the idea of a logical unconscious went from being a radical innovation to being a bulwark of mainstream theorizing….8  (141)

It was in such a context that literary artists began to develop fantasies of the darkly "divided self"; Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1889) is Reed’s example.

Reed is laudably concerned to show such connections between the emergence of psychology and a broader, especially literary, culture. It remains difficult to estimate what portion of this rich fabric of ideas was "in the air"—that is, available in popular and ephemeral forms even to those who read few or none of the science’s results—and it would be incautious to historicize "Among the Timothy" in relation to any particular body of contemporary psychological thought. Lampman’s poem is nevertheless concerned with ways in which creativity may be stifled by a hyper-conscious "will," and intrigued by the prospect of a creative freedom that may emerge once will is suspended. He is alert to the different parcels of selfhood: "thought" and "dream" (much noticed by the poem’s critics),9 the "over-taskèd brain" of the Ottawa civil servant, the "moods" of the failed poet, the "quiet eyes" of the languid pastoralist, the "visions" of the healing artist, as well as the organizing consciousness that is separate from, because it perceives, all these. He shows powerful gifts of association, as well as some concern that the materiality of associationism may promote automatism and "lifeless[ness]" in the creative faculties. As loosely woven as these allusions are in the poem, they can enhance but can hardly ground a reading; that is part of their beauty in Lampman’s handling.

Lampman’s style is a more concrete matter, and its analysis need not lead us far from his psychological theme. In fact the relation of style to character was of peculiar interest to him:

Style I suppose might be defined as the habit or manner given to expression by the prevalence of a certain mental attitude peculiar to any individual or class of individuals or any age…. In its finest developement [sic] this style or manner as we call it is a revelation of character but often in those whose contact with the world has been too full, or has perhaps been attended with bitterness [,] it comes to be in part a concealment. ("Style," Essays 72)

The revealing remark may take too little account of the ways in which an atmosphere of self-revelation may help one to conceal other, more prized or disprized emotions; the poet’s style can help these to surface in the poem. It is self-evident for example that the persona of "Among the Timothy" suffers a high degree of alienation in the city and anticipates, because he thinks at first in a rather binary way, a more organic experience in his pastoral circle. In this mood he is candid about his sense of artistic failure. The posture is a transient and largely rhetorical one, however, under which lies a much less dramatic and less binary intuition of his poetry’s survival. And that latent meaning is made tangible in one of the poem’s most marked stylistic effects, its use of verbal echo,10 whose implication for psychology and metaphor will become apparent.

The repetition of symbolic diction and recurrence to key images are compulsive in the poem: the very first line contains two terms that will echo later, "hours" (see also 15, 71, 81, 85) and "blithe" (see also 42). The "beaded dew" of the second line is echoed by the "spider bathing in the dew" (38) towards the middle of the poem; the "gleaming scythe" that soon follows (3) is echoed more promptly by "swathes that gleam" (7) (note that these echoes are confirmed by alliteration, both "dews" close to a plosive [b], both "gleams" close to [s] and [d]). The threefold "weary" tolling in the latter half of the second stanza is the most obvious example of the technique, perhaps there to alert us to the pattern as a whole. Echo is not limited to such repetition, however; variations on the technique take us away from exact aural replication and toward an elaborate pattern of image-echo, or "visual rhyme." "To barren search and toil that beareth nought" (32) offers the slightest variation on the direct echo, the consonance between "barr-" and "bear-" certainly adding to the pattern (see also "borne" [13], "unbournèd" [34] and "borne" [39]). At the next level might be the semantic echo between the various instances of "blind" in the poem and such a seemingly chance metaphor as "the daisies…endowed / With stems so short they cannot see" (47-8). At a still further remove might be the purely conceptual reciprocity Barrie Davies touches on when he notes that the daisies (day’s-eyes) and the "innocent sweet eyes" of "children in a crowd" are closely linked, and that "soaked" in the final stanza "completes the circle begun in ‘athirst’ of the first stanza" (90). With these last examples we move toward theme, and the point may seem to diffuse.

Such conceptual "echoes" are nevertheless the most revealing in the poem. The three toiling insects11 that the persona hopes to imitate in the fourth stanza—ant, spider, and bee—are joined by three music-making insects in the seventh—the cricket, cicada and grasshopper—reminding us that much of the poem’s tension lies between "toil" and "song." The chief of these conceptual echoes is in the poem’s second half, where the motion of the "sleepy maenads" who "have crept / Out of the hidden covert, where they slept" (57-9) is mirrored—that is, reversed—in the "shadowy-footed care" that "Into some hidden corner creeps at last / To slumber" (74-6) in the penultimate stanza. Of course, "hidden covert" and "hidden corner" give us a more direct echo, "slept" and "slumber" another, and help to trigger our responses to the two passages’ parallels. With such deliberate framing, the pattern of echo in "Among the Timothy" can hardly be accidental.

Lampman acknowledges the mannerism by referring to "the echoing city towers" (see also "The City of the End of Things," with its "grim depths re-echoing"12), an identification that initially suggests the mindless repetition of urban labour. Still, the echoing continues through the poem’s affirmative closing lines, which most think a triumphant paean of renewal and I think a major step in renewal’s direction, and may also therefore indicate a gradually returning gift of metaphor. We need not choose between these symbolisms. Lampman's echoes suggest not a stark alternation of moods, but their reciprocity—not a passage from alienation to artistry, but a hint that those two conditions may be in dialogue, may even be compatible. As a matter of pure style, echo makes for a dense verbal surface, a poem that is always referring to itself, shoring up its coherence of form and completeness of thought. But in a lyric poem, the recurrence to telling diction and imagery is also a means of characterization: as much as the poet is choosing these words, the persona is "thinking" them on site, and they are as revealing of his psychology as any other mannerisms in his self-representation. In this light, the echoic pattern not only probes the core processes of Lampman’s metaphor-making but also suggests the fundamental associationism of his psychological idea.

The technique impresses with the kinds of connection the persona glimpses among his primary sensations: if two distinct objects otherwise unrelated ("streets" and "little breezes") are both "blind" (17, 42), for example, and we are alert to that echo, we naturally try to "associate" them around the common term. This critical response is actually allowing us to share a mental act with the persona, although not necessarily a conscious one: his "association" of the two tends to remain pre-conscious, while ours cannot. It is entirely natural then that the persona should call "the little breezes" "Soft-footed children of the gypsy wind" (42, 44) and then, only six lines later, compare the short-stemmed daisies to "children in a crowd" without ever remarking the repetition or the second-level metaphor of "wind" and "children" it implies. Had he taken the persona’s "unconscious" association and elaborated it, Lampman would have forced us outside of the immediate complex of the persona’s perceptions and left us sharing his conscious mind alone, a self-objectification that apparently does not interest the poet. Readings of "Among the Timothy" that take as their chief material the conscious claims made by the persona are thus lacking the means of approach to its suggestiveness and dense psychic texture.


The stanza Lampman adopted for "Among the Timothy" is one of his most elaborate. Its versification (ababc5c3dee5d3) is an important but largely undiscussed part of the reader’s experience. Forgetting the two trimeters for a moment, we might describe the "Timothy" stanza as an English quatrain and an Italian quatrain linked by a central rhyming couplet. This structure suggests both symmetry— two quatrains mirroring one another in the reflective surface of the interstitial couplet—and mild forward progress: in effect, the stanza’s first four lines present us with a pattern of choice between alternatives, and its last four a pattern of enclosure in which one alternative has come to frame and determine the other. The sixth- and tenth-line trimeters then nuance these formal implications. The couplet, already a natural pause, is given more force of closure in mid-stanza by the truncation of its second line. A tendency to a monosyllabic diction in the trimeters accentuates such effects, although the couplets’ tendency to link syntactically with one or the other quatrain softens the interruption. The final trimeter has a similar closural power, with the extra advantages of completing the Italian d rhyme, awaited for three lines, and echoing the earlier truncation: both effects help to bring each stanza to a dramatic end. The stanza’s effect is of a persistent segmenting of the flow of thought; its just-audible dualisms are the undertone to the persona’s shifting modes of perception and responsiveness in the poem.13

"Among the Timothy" opens not in description but in imagined retrospect. The persona arrives about noon to find a circle cut in the grasses around a tree-stump; there he begins the "act of attention"14 that is the poem. His first inclination is to re-create the image of the mower who cut the circle. Although Davies is probably right to remark that the mower is "a common symbol of death" (89) and Bentley that he is "an allegorical figure, a representation of Time itself" ("Watchful Dreams" 19), the persona prefers to "read" the mower as a symbol of rural labour: he is sure that the clover was cut early in the morning, before the dew had evaporated, and he deduces, perhaps by the evenness of the cut, that the mower "shear[ed] slowly"(4). It is deliberation and neatness in the mower’s work that seems important to him, as well as the apparently significant (but agriculturally odd) "circle" he has cut into the scene. The natural craftsmanship with which both of these invest the figure of the mower may point to a different reason for his appearance in "Among the Timothy."

The "mower" poems of Andrew Marvell were disparaged in the late nineteenth century and little reprinted,15 but it is possible that Lampman is remembering the articulate and melancholy speaker of "The Mower Against Gardens," who chides humankind for a hypercivilization that seeks to refine plants and flowers (and implicitly persons) to a beauty beyond nature:

‘Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
    While the sweet fields do lie forgot:
Where willing nature does to all dispense
    A wild and fragrant innocence:
And fauns and fairies do the meadows till
    More by their presence than their skill.16

Marvell’s implications are interesting for Lampman’s poem. Proposing an opposition like Lampman’s between the innocent "will" of nature and the decadent art of man, Marvell suggests that a true tilling of the field is achieved less by "skill" than by the simple "presence" of benign spirits. Lampman’s first act in "Among the Timothy" is to sketch such a benign spirit, and his persona will later spurn false "will" and his own "skill" in hopes of a truer cultivation of his art. The echoes are fortuitous, but they help to humanize Lampman’s mower and disburden him partially of the death-association. The careful parallelism of the opening independent clause—"a mower came…and swung…and…drew"(3-4)—contributes to an impression of the imaginative ease involved in the persona’s initial statements, while the rhythm of the lines, despite a liberal use of caesurae, is smoothly iambic, suggesting that the mower-symbol has done little to disturb the persona’s distinct control of the scenario so far.

In the balance of the stanza, however, the persona’s attention becomes perceptual more than imaginary, and the first tones of unease can be heard. The turn to an Italian rhyme-scheme is marked by the adverbial "And here," a mild volta with strong implications of newly immediate perception; by the reinforced [s] alliteration, prepared earlier but now vigorous; and by the slowly loosening rhythm. "Mixed with dead daisies" (8) is emphasized by trochaic substitution but, because of its medial position in a difficult syntax, ambiguous in modification: it officially modifies "the scented swathes," but a second implication of the phrase is that the persona himself finds it "sweet to lie" "Mixed with dead daisies," a for now insignificant morbidity that will perhaps ring clearer after the ensuing stanzas. I think it is in part because of these subtleties of prosody, allusion and modification in the stanza that its closing opposition of "thought" and "dream" seems insubstantial: the poem’s music will already have made their polarization by the persona an unsatisfactory summation.

It is meanwhile noteworthy that the poem has so far been retrospective and circumspective but not introspective: lacking a prominent "I," the persona’s self-representation has been abstract and interior. We have as yet no guarantee of self-revelation by the speaker, nor any sure sense of the readerly experience to prepare for. All this will change in the second stanza when the persona begins to narrate his situation, explaining how and why he arrived on the scene and in its last six lines giving vent to a dramatic and apparently profound analysis of his crisis. In keeping with his self-dramatization, he increases the figurativeness of his language and radically alters the iambic complacency with which he opened:

 /    _     _       /   _  _      _      / _        /
Ah! I was weary of the drifting hours,
         _  /    __       / _   /   _
    The echoing city towers,
     _     /        /        /          _  /    _  _       _       /
The blind grey streets, the jingle of the throng,
        /   _  _     /         _   \     _      /     _      /
    Weary of hope that like a shape of stone
  \     /    _     /        _    /     _      /    _      /
Sat near at hand without a smile or moan,
     _          /   _     /    _     /
    And weary most of song.

The personification of "blind…streets" was prepared for by earlier phrases, "the heat / Fell down," "restless feet" and "aching mood," and the figure is of course prominent in the poem as a whole.17 The most noticeable figure in the lines, however, is the synecdoche that allows Lampman to convey "city life" by "towers," "streets," and "throng." The synecdochic dissolution of the unhealthy whole into its noisy parts is ideally in keeping with the effect of urban existence on his being. At the same time, the poem’s imagery becomes dominantly auditory ("echoing," "jingle," "moan"), an effect of clangour that contrasts powerfully with the silent visuals of the first stanza. The sense of defeat is enforced by the sudden return of the prominent [s], held in abeyance briefly by the marked [f] alliteration of the stanza’s opening lines ("For," "Fell," "field," "feet"): its whispery return in a statement of creative impotence suggests how thin and hoarse his voice has become among the "echoing city towers" that permit no noise to escape. That this dramatic style emerges when the poet claims to be "weary most of song" suggests two conflicting interpretations: he is not as weary as he thinks he is, or elaborate figurative language is no sign of a true poetic inspiration. Even worse, both may be true.

The elaborate rhythms of the passage’s first three lines are susceptible to the same dilemma, of course. Their freedom is generated by two or three metrical substitutions that will soon become familiar. Many of these are common, like the initial trochees in the first and fourth lines above, while others are more idiosyncratic. Lampman’s use of pyrrhics in the irregular passages of the poem is marked, as in "weary of the drift-" and "jingle of the throng" above. He will also generate pyrrhics and anapests with rare diphthongs, as in "echoing" above, "burrowing" (37), "sinewy" (29) and "journeying" (85), or with partial elisions, like those in "glimmering (53), "silvery" (66) and "innumerable" (54). Such incidental pyrrhics create a triad of unstressed syllables with the first half of a following iamb, as in the latter half of the third line quoted, to give an impression of fluidity and hurry. We can also see Lampman’s prominent spondees, one of which weighs down the opening of the same third line and, heard with its prior iamb, briefly slows our audition with a triad of stresses. Taken together, the rhythms of that third line ideally capture the blend of stupor and pressure that characterize the persona’s view of city life.18

Despite the energy he achieves here, Lampman refuses to assign particular qualities of rhythm to particular points on the continuity between artistic failure and psychological rejuvenation. It would be convenient in the extreme had he, for instance, represented the poem’s negative forces—say, the city, the "high moods" (21) once they are "gone lifeless" (27), the "barren toil and search that beareth nought" (32)—in a highly regular iambic rhythm, suggesting, as the pounding tetrameters of "The City of the End of Things" do, a link between mechanistic degradation of the spirit and an automaton’s response to verbal rhythms. Such a pattern would conversely assign rhythmically irregular passages to the poem’s positive manifestations in order to suggest fluidity, spontaneity, freedom from orthodoxy and constraint. Lampman is careful to deny such mimetic force of rhythm—with its dualistic implication that "positive" and "negative" forces in this poem are hopelessly opposed— to his readers.

There is nevertheless a marked change in the middle of this second stanza that leads from the spontaneously irregular rhythms of the city to a bland iambic regularity as the persona tells in plain fashion of his creative disillusionment. It is the juxtaposition of these two rhythms, rather than their mimetic potential, that is telling. If the iambic plodding of the last three lines is designed to convince us of the persona’s failing gifts of "song," its purpose is defeated by the passionate, even conversational, rhythms with which his outburst began. In other words, he chooses the dull metrical regularity with which the stanza closes (since he can have it otherwise), and thus exposes the paradoxical deliberateness of his claims of creative helplessness. Rhythm is there to indicate intensity of experience, and although the persona hopes to reject the city utterly, he reveals here that it too can give rise to powerful rhythmic utterance.

Of course, this stanza and the one following are in the past tense: they describe the condition of the persona "when the noon was turning" and he arrived in the fields. That his present mood as he begins to "speak" is different from the mood of his arrival is made plain in the well-known fourth stanza, which resolves in future tense on a different course of mental action. In the third he is still in retrospect, struggling in unconvincing abstract language to capture and perhaps to justify the overwhelming negatives of his self-dramatization to this point. The flood of vague diction here is striking, and it suggests—as some of the earlier prosody suggested—a gap between what the persona wishes to claim about himself and what he actually demonstrates by action and speech in the poem:

And those high moods of mine that sometime made
    My heart a heaven, opening like a flower
A sweeter world where I in wonder strayed,
    Begirt with shapes of beauty and the power
    Of dreams that moved through that enchanted clime
       With changing breaths of rhyme,
Were all gone lifeless now.…

Certainly we get the gist of his complaint. But this litany of abstract conditions is a technique the later poem will reject, in favour of direct concrete imagery from the pastoral world.19 Its vagueness again suggests the force of self-dramatization in the poem’s opening gestures. I do not mean that the persona is entirely wrong in his estimation of his condition, but that he presents that estimation in dramatic terms the extremism of which we might wish to avoid in our own descriptions of the poem.

The poem’s tendency to echo is increasing, as the persona’s frame of mind is exposed in this way: the "dreams" he says are now "lifeless" faintly contradict the first stanza’s easy choice not to "think but only dream," and the "shapes of beauty" echo wishfully the "shape of stone." The "flower" his "high moods…made" of his "heart" is perhaps the most ominous echo in the passage, since the flowers of "clover," as we already know, have been cut down by the patient mower. The persona’s mind is moving, certainly, but in over-determined ways that lead to a stiffening of poetic diction and a sense of entropy, as if the range of words were already used up. The spiritual sublimity of the passage makes it easy to miss the fact that the city is the cause of this entropy only by a logic of juxtaposition: if we know he is "weary of…The echoing city towers" and then we hear that his "high moods" are "all gone lifeless," it is very natural for us—as for him—to assume a causal link, to assume that the city is to blame for his artistic lassitude. The poem never explicitly says so, and thus leaves open a more threatening interpretation: that his poetic failure is entirely of his own making, and worse, that the country cannot restore a silenced poet any more than the city could have silenced a genuinely inspired one.20

The stanza’s brilliant closing simile is the most elaborate so far: a comparison extending across four lines and itself containing subordinate metaphors and personification, suggesting the layers of comparison and likeness becoming available to the persona’s consciousness as he sits in the cut circle and bemoans himself. Fittingly, the echoing pattern grows stronger: the "white leaves" of his "high moods" are now "shivering dead [like the earlier ‘dead daisies’] and blind [like the ‘blind grey streets’]." Again, rhythm becomes complex and spontaneous at one of the poem’s official low points, while a strong alliteration of liquids ("lifeless…like…leaves"; "sinewy…wind…calls") increases the sense of fluidity with which the simile unfolds. The metaphoric invocation of "winter" in the middle of a harvest landscape suggests some willfulness in the comparison, and indeed the Decadent conventions of the passage—the withered leaves, the "dead and blind," the "vainly call[ing] wind" and so on—make a convenient frame for the young poet’s lamentation.

The self-dramatization of these first three stanzas imposes a little distance between Lampman and the poem’s persona and suggests that the persona’s dramatic representation of his condition may be among the poet’s many psychological interests. Although most other readings have to this point explicated the persona’s own claims regarding his condition, those claims are in evident tension with the stylistic ability and fluctuations of these opening stanzas. Like any good dramatic monologue, "Among the Timothy" is as revealing of a character’s unspoken interests as it is of his conscious claims to our interest and attention; and as the poem proceeds, the narrowing of the gap between these two portions of his being is one sign of the persona’s forward progress from the initial point he has now defined.

Indeed, the bardic "Ah!" that follows the elaborate simile closing the third stanza may partly arise because of the brilliance of that very figure of speech. As if recognizing that his poetic ability is not quite dead, the persona proposes a new attitude to his creativity, instead of its abandonment:

Ah! I will set no more mine overtaskèd brain
    To barren search and toil that beareth nought,
For ever following with sore-footed pain
    The crossing pathways of unbournèd thought;
    But let it go, as one that hath no skill,
       To take what shape it will….

All the poem’s commentators have recognized in this moment a crucial shift in the poem’s trajectory, so I will dwell instead on some of the passage’s rhetorical difficulties. Once again modification is ambiguous: while it has seemed self-evident that the "toil that beareth nought" is the toil of poetry, Lampman is careful not to say so, and the persona’s "overtaskèd brain" might just as well be the brain of an unhappy city-dweller (in which case the passage merely reaffirms a point largely established in the second stanza). Of course, following as this does on the lamentation for his "high moods" in the previous stanza, we naturally presume that the "toil" set aside here is the toil that those "high moods" called for (though nothing in the third stanza suggested, again, the production of actual writing: the language is all of inner life). In a similar ambiguity, the "one that hath no skill" has three potential antecedents: the phrase may refer to the speaker, who "let[s his brain] go" in this manner, or to the brain itself (modifying "it" in the previous clause), or it may refer adverbially to the way in which he should "let it go"—as a skill-less artisan might, indifferent to the outcome of his decision. The uncertainty suggests the speaker’s unwillingness, finally, to admit a lack of skill, however rhetorically attractive the posture is in this moment of his depression.

A further ambiguity lies in the tension between will and will-lessness in the passage. Dick Harrison remarks straightforwardly that "the surrender of will seems to be a way of admitting the restorative power of nature" (69), and clearly that is what the speaker hopes. Psychologically, though, his plan is incoherent. Although he proposes to "let [his brain] go" "To take what shape it will," his very statement indicates an act of volition that already circumscribes the brain’s proposed freedom of direction. "I will set no more mine overtaskèd brain," he says, and in so doing casts himself in the paradox of all those who would will will-lessness. In this case, though, the persona seems more alert to the gap between his rhetoric and his actual situation. If he observes that "unbournèd thought" has been a cause of his prior exhaustion, it is partly so as to distinguish such an image of limitless mental activity from what he actually proposes to himself at this moment, a new ease of consciousness that will have clear boundaries and thus cannot "overtask" the brain. Indeed, the importance of boundedness to this new form of speculation may help to explain why he chose to rest in a circle cleared in the long grass in the first place: with a centre (the stump) and a well marked perimeter, his resting place is an attractive image of the psychological wholeness he hopes to recover.21

The speaker’s thoughts are also arising, with increasing acuity, from the rural setting he has chosen for his interior monologue. The three insects that occur to him as ideal "shapes" for his "brain" to emulate rise easily from the pastoral scene, and, although he cannot literally see the "ant slow burrowing in the earthy gloom" or a "spider…at morn" (since it is now well past noon), his lighting upon them as vehicles of self-renewal is natural and immediate, especially in comparison with his earlier invention of the mower’s actions, his synecdoches of the city, and his vague lament for "a sweeter world." The element in which he imagines each insect shows the increasing comprehensiveness of this understanding: the ant moves in "earth," the spider in "dew," or water, and the bee in air, leaving the fourth classical element, fire—embodied in the heat of the sun—to be claimed by the poet at the end of the poem. That the three are also symbolic toilers is another indication of the increasing sophistication with which the speaker judges his circumstance. He may be rejecting "toil that beareth nought," but he is, apparently, welcoming a different kind of toil, one that may be "slow" like the ant’s, constructive like the spider’s, "fanc[iful]" like the bee’s drifting "From hidden bloom to bloom."

In this sense, the stanza’s closing lines indicate a new suspicion of polarization in the speaker. He still rejects a stifling kind of toil and hopes to avoid it in nature, but he has no illusions that nature is a place where he need not toil at all. When in a later line "a murmur steals / Into [his] ears of toil that moves alway" (67-8), the realization is gentle and unsurprising; the extremes of his early reactions are easing, and the opposition of city and country life is no longer convincing to him. In keeping with this new complexity of understanding, the irregular rhythms thus far associated with the poem’s negative poles (the city, the "white leaves") now emerge in a positive context: the "ant slow-burrowing" and "brown bee" are dignified with spondees, while pyrrhics ("burrowing in the earthy" and "bathing in the dew") suggest the ease and lightness of their progress. The thickly-sown plosive [b] in the passage may be overdone, but it is delightfully corrective of the "brain," "barren search" and "beareth nought" with which the stanza opened: as the ear follows the pattern it too is drawn from abstract psychological claims to the immediacy of natural sensations. The transition is a genuine one, partly because it is so unassuming.


The detailed rural observations of the next three stanzas seem exemplary of the new freedom of the speaker’s mind, but the implication is as usual grasped by the reader, not by the speaker himself. We noted that Lampman’s stanza promotes a segmenting of the "argument"; in this instance, however, a new kind of stanzaic linkage emerges, obedient to the pattern of echo that is steadily becoming more prominent:

    …Or a brown bee in wayward fancy borne
        From hidden bloom to bloom.

Hither and thither o’er the rocking grass
   The little breezes, blithe as they are blind,
Teasing the slender blossoms pass and pass.…

The motions of "bee" and "breezes" among "blooms" and "blossoms" are visually identical. The speaker does not seem conscious of the association, which suggests that Lampman is indeed interested in the notion of an unconscious that draws disparate sensations together by revealing their hidden similarities. That he thinks such an "unconscious" more or less helpful—"logical," as it was beginning to be called at the time—seems signaled by the persona’s earlier decision to reject conscious intellection in favour of a more "wayward" inner life. At any rate, from this point on the echoic pattern of diction in "Among the Timothy" is marked,22 and it adds to the impression that the persona is beginning to find significance and wholeness again as he opens himself to the details of the land around him. Perhaps even more remarkable, the three stanzas offering such detail are lacking in explicit personation, as Early notes (73): in an objectivizing gesture the speaker steps out of the poem’s representations, a turn that may suggest the greater ease of perception and understanding he now experiences (the urgency of I-ness now less keenly felt).

To an extent, the new method of these stanzas is impressionistic, as Compton has suggested. She notes that "Landscape for Archibald Lampman is really an account of light, and the changeful effects of light are cognate with the transforming power of the sun" (53), and certainly in the sixth stanza he shows an Impressionist’s multifaceted gaze: the "glimmering leaves" of the "pale poplar" are shown as the persona perceives them both "when the wind comes" and "with the calm." The underlying anxiety of Impressionist theory—that any fixed representation is a failed representation, embodying only a single appearance of a manifold and changing object—is also evident in Lampman’s poem, in language that suggests his debt to the great theorist of Impressionism in England, Walter Pater. The pathetic fallacy with which he treats the "little breezes" reveals the influence: they "teas[e] the slender blossoms" in order "To taste of every purple-fringèd head / Before the bloom is dead…" (45-6). The line conveys Pater’s yearning for a comprehensive "tasting" of life’s infinite particulars as well as his early criticism’s emphasis on the ephemerality of all sensations.23 It is in this Impressionistic context that the three stanzas of observation now opening need to be read, because it will help us keep in mind that, despite their momentary objectivism, the ground of these descriptions is the speaker’s idiosyncratic consciousness, that "mind in a troubled or despondent condition" he hoped to portray.

One of the marked influences of personality on these seemingly objective details is the persona’s tendency to relate the particulars of the rural world in images that evoke urban life, even in its more negative impact. The "children in a crowd" that appear at the end of the fifth stanza are the first indication that the persona can now think of "the jingle of the throng" without interpreting its damage solely in relation to himself. The emotions here remain distinctly negative: the daisies "cannot see," their "innocent sweet eyes [are] distressed," and these qualities make them like the urban "children." In that collocation one glimpses perhaps the later socialist Lampman. Still, the persona can pass by these troubling resonances easily enough: his mind wanders off to a "pale poplar" in the field beyond, and his Impressionist treatment of it unfolds. Among his rich similes, however, as if the association with "children" in "distress" is too strong to remain beyond his ken, is the "innumerable small hands" to which he compares the "glimmering leaves that…beat" in the wind—the image suggesting children clapping (or beating their fists?) at some urban spectacle.24 The other telling reminder in the stanzas of the inescapability of conditions he thought purely urban is the "toil that moves alway" around him. Is it possible that these two echoes, taken together, suggest a specific alertness on Lampman’s part to the problem of child labour? Or is that merely another chance "association" of the speaker’s mind, whose vagaries we are increasingly permitted to share?25

The closing of stanzas five and seven on images that disturb the persona’s preliminary recovery is a significant feature of these impressionistic stanzas. The stanzas alternate between moments of the persona’s attentiveness (the sestets), and their interruption (the subsequent quatrains), and the alternation is marked by metre and by shifts in alliterative patterning. In the seventh stanza, for example, he listens closely to the noise of three more insects, whose sounds are rendered musical by his response to them and perhaps urge his own song-making:

     _     /   _        /      _           /           _    /      \       /
The crickets creak, and through the noonday glow,
         _      /  _   /     _   _       _    /    \      /
    That crazy fiddler of the hot mid-year,
     _      /  _  /  _     /     _      / _    /
The dry cicada plies his wiry bow
    _     /          /     /  _            /  _         /   _    /
    In long-spun cadence, thin and dusty sere;
        _         _     /         /        _      /       /     /     _        /
    From the green grass the small grasshoppers’ din
             \         /   _        /  _         /
       Spreads soft and silvery thin.…

The rhythmic irregularity here, with its now familiar spondees giving special prominence to "green grass" and "small grasshoppers," is complicated by the passage’s reliance on compound words that also increase emphasis with frequent half-stresses: "noonday," "mid-year" and "long-spun"; as well as by his near-alternation of relatively regular (61, 63, 66) with quite irregular lines (62, 64, 65). A prominent [k] alliteration, unique in the poem, marks the passage off from the subsequent quatrain, whose nasal consonants help to suggest the hum of "toil’s" eternal movement:

And ever and anon a murmur steals
    Into mine ears of toil that moves alway,
    The crackling rustle of the pitch-forked hay
       And lazy jerk of wheels.

The quatrain also recurs to a much more regular iambic rhythm, the compound "pitch-forked" its only marked substitution, and the faint return of the [k] in the last two lines gives the stanza an impressive closure. Thus the brief ruffling of the persona’s attention is accentuated subtly but firmly by the poem’s aural patterning. Lampman clearly underlines the significance of these transitions in the persona’s process of perception and meditation.

For the speaker who first greeted us in "Among the Timothy," the sounds of toil would be a frustration of his expectations of rural peace; for the speaker at this moment, they are manageable, if distracting. In the sixth stanza, however, the interruptive closure is more marked, and potentially far more disturbing of the persona’s hopes of creative renewal. I refer to the quasi-epic simile of the "sleepy maenads," one of the poem’s oddest and most splendid passages. The persona’s mind is still working out his transient impressions of the leaves of the pale poplar, and is briefly satisfied to remark that "with the calm, as in vague dreams astray, / [They] hang wan and silver-grey" (55-56), but the quatrain carries the metaphor forward in an almost inexplicable comparison:

Like sleepy maenads, who in pale surprise,
    Half-wakened by a prowling beast, have crept
    Out of the hidden covert, where they slept,
       At noon with languid eyes.

"Pale" echoes the "pale poplar" that has given the image rise, and "noon" returns us to the time of the persona’s arrival on the scene, and "eyes" are like the "innocent sweet eyes" of the daisies. Otherwise the diction and imagery of the passage are unprepared for, except insofar as they further the neo-classical framework of Lampman’s pastoralism. What seems most striking in the passage is its counter-intuitive rendition of the leaves as they appear in "the calm": to put it bluntly, I simply cannot make visual sense of Lampman’s simile. It is probably for this reason that Mezei finds the simile "overwrought" (62); but in a poem in which freedom from the "overtaskèd brain," spontaneity of creative imagination and unconscious association are valued, the simile’s dubious applicability may be its virtue, our first real sign that the persona’s process of observation and reflection is leading somewhere. Stunning as a set-piece of pure poetry, the passage also implies a poetic mind moving with real freedom.

In that sense, the passage indicates a brief moment of self-loss of the kind desired by the persona in the fourth stanza ("But let it go, as one that hath no skill"—a decision that ironically proves his breathtaking skill as an image-maker). To that extent its interruption of his observation is welcome. But there is a distinct threat here as well: the "prowling beast" that has wakened the maenads would be a menace to any mortal slumberer, and the maenads are in turn dangerous to the beast. What bacchanalian feast were they sleeping off when they were disturbed? In this poem about creative dissolution, the Maenads’ most famous kill, Orpheus, is surely one cause of their "languid" surfacing in the persona’s mind. Our persona is also a poet, and his image reminds us of self-loss of a different and more permanent kind: his possible dismemberment in ecstasy by the deeply erotic worshippers of Dionysus. The death is obviously feared—his simile is distinctly concerned to keep the women at a lull of energy—but it is also inescapably desirable to compare himself with Orpheus in this way. Given earlier references in the poem suggesting the persona’s symbolic longing for the ease of death, we have to admit the libidinal attraction of these maenads and what they may offer the artistic wanderer.

Their "interruption" of the persona’s attention to rural detail is thus far more forceful. Though he moves on easily after the simile is complete, its kinetic imagery returns in the penultimate stanza when he banishes "shadowy-footed care / Into some hidden corner… / To slumber deep and fast" (74-76). Layered with such interruptions and echoes, these middle stanzas register strikingly the multiplicity of consciousness, its confusion of subject and objects, and undercurrents of fear and longing. The setting is clearly soaking in, and the persona’s beautiful impressions of it hint that the rural landscape has his creative inspiration on the mend. At the same time, prolonged avoidance of the lyric "I" suggests that self-denial will be vital to his further progress. In general, he seems content with the successful description he earns by banishing his hyperactive creative will. Still, the stanzas close in ways that remind him of the inescapability of "distress" and "toil" and that in extreme form suggest that a kind of death lies "hidden" in the objective method. That these implications are more or less opaque to the persona only enriches the poem’s rendition of psychological process: represented so deftly, he need not perceive in himself all that is made plain to us by Lampman’s genius.

The return of lyric in the penultimate stanzas does, granted, imply a better grasp of his own condition. The persona now begins to respond to and mollify his earlier presumptions of disease:

As so I lie and feel the soft hours wane,
    To wind and sun and peaceful sound laid bare,
That aching dim discomfort of the brain
    Fades off unseen.…

A substantial change in self-perception is indicated by his correction (through echo, of which he has become more conscious) of his earlier complaints of "an aching mood" (14) and an "overtaskèd brain" (31). This is the first instance in which he refers frankly to an earlier self-image and corrects it, an indication that the process of echoing and association is bearing fruit (an anticipation of his punning decision "to brood" a few lines later). At the same time, a new passivity in the poem’s predication is noteworthy: he is "laid bare," and later "fashioned to forget" (77). This verbal passivity seems the correlative of his earlier decision to "let [his brain] go… / To take what shape it will," and it effectively limits his new rhetorical control. His fourth reference to feet ("shadowy-footed": see also 13, 33, 44) still goes unnoticed, evidence that the process of association and conjunction is continuing on an unconscious—though now unquestionably productive—plane. Lampman now wants to underscore the brain’s unconscious workings: "discomfort," for instance, is "dim" and "Fades off unseen," while "care" is "shadowy-footed" and "creeps" "Into some hidden corner" (emphasis added). That the persona has some sense of these invisible psychic processes does not render them all conscious. Rather it is a sign of his improved purchase on his own mental life, one of the subordinate chords of the implication of healing as the poem draws to a close.

The even-handedness of Lampman’s style in this penultimate stanza is noteworthy and, perhaps, a little surprising. As "Among the Timothy" unfolds, markedly irregular rhythm moves from an association with the poem’s negative pole (the city, "white leaves" that are "dead and blind" and so on) to kinship with its more affirmative expressions (the toiling insects, the leaves of the "pale poplar" "when the wind comes"), so we might naturally expect these strongly affirmative lines to move more freely than they do. The minimal metrical uncertainty created by "shadowy" is easily glossed over, and the sestet of the stanza closes in emphatic iambic measures. Two effects seem desired: first, a suggestion that a new, third stage has been reached in the persona’s process of consciousness, in which the successfully disordered urban mind finds alternate grounding and calm in the fields; and second, a particular emphasis on the quatrain’s one highly irregular line:

 _          / _       /       \     /   _            _   _    /
And gliding on, quite fashioned to forget,
        _         /        _     /       _  /       _     / _    /
    From dream to dream I bid my spirit pass
     /     _    _     _    /        /    /  _        /  _         /
    Out into the pale green ever-swaying grass
          _      /        _      /    _        /
        To brood, but no more fret.

Bentley has rightly emphasized the importance of "bidding" in this passage, "suggesting as it does an act of conscious volition which recalls and corrects the poet’s earlier decision merely to ‘let [his thoughts] go’" ("Watchful Dreams" 22). Rhythmically, however, the passage demands particular attention to the second-last line, whose irregularity leaps up from the otherwise dutiful stanza. "Out" receives initial emphasis and marks an important transition: the poet who earlier moved "out" into the fields at the expense of personal reflection now seems to shift easily between introspection and description—practically a predicate of his Romantic aesthetics. That such an exchange yields not final but poetic truth is made clear in the absolute phrases that follow: grass—as the poem made apparent with its opening images of the "mower"—is not "ever-swaying" and, for that matter, the sun is not "ever-journeying," as he will claim in the final stanza, for all his metaphorical efforts to sustain the "noon" (see 11, 60, 61). (Note, moreover, that his claim about the grass is subjectively but not objectively true, whereas that of the sun is objectively but not subjectively true: the poem shows the inseparability of these modes in the attuned mind.) In this faintly ironic context, his resolution "To brood, but no more fret" may not be much different from his initial plan not to "think but only dream": he still imagines a greater choice among his evanescent "moods" than the poem’s free motion suggests is attainable.

Another sign of greater ease in the persona’s self-conception is the stanza’s refusal to allow a particular alliterative pattern dominance: the pairing sounds in "dim discomfort," "Fades" and "footed," "corner creeps" and "green…grass" dominate their lines but also mark them off from the stanza as a whole. The sudden reduction in the poem’s "poeticality" helps to underscore the sense of ease and potential for renewal in these last stanzas (alliteration, after all, is more like "toil" than are other aspects of poetic composition). It may equally suggest, however, that the persona’s imaginative condition late in the poem and his potential creation of euphonious poetry are two distinct things; that is, that the sense of "renewal" here is more psychological than it is creative.

The final stanza is, after all, explicitly unconcerned with the actual writing of poems. Whereas the opening complaint noted a weariness of "song" and the loss of "high moods" and "changing breaths of rhyme," the poem closes—its affirmative grasp obvious—by emphasizing the persona’s close new relationship with, his practical melting into, the natural scene:

And hour by hour among all shapes that grow
    Of purple mints and daisies gemmed with gold
In sweet unrest my visions come and go;
    I feel and hear and with quiet eyes behold;
    And hour by hour, the ever-journeying sun,
       In gold and shadow spun,
Into mine eyes and blood, and through the dim
    Green glimmering forest of the grass shines down,
    Till flower and blade, and every cranny brown,
       And I are soaked with him.

Only three cryptic allusions suggest that this is a specifically creative renewal: his "visions," which may be like the lost "dreams" of "that enchanted clime" where he strayed in his "high moods"; his borrowing from Keats, the "sweet unrest"26 of the "Bright star" sonnet (Bentley, "Watchful Dreams" 24); and his echoic fusion of the once-polarized "shape of stone" (18) and "shapes of beauty" (24) into "all shapes that grow." None of these convinces me of the likelihood of new inspiration. Nor of its impossibility; the stanza simply places its real attention elsewhere.

The stanza’s syntax falls into a quatrain-sestet arrangement, and each of these units opens with "And hour by hour," a last major echo that underscores the persona’s rhetorical acceptance of the passing of time (as noted, he still hopes for an "ever-journeying sun"). Whereas it was once "sweet to lie" "Mixed with dead daisies" (8), it is better now to be "among all shapes that grow," an indication that a perception of growth in his own nature is more important in this final bliss than the achievement of particular forms. The echoes of "purple" and "gold" noted earlier suggest that the condition is quasi-regal, but it can be summed up with the utmost simplicity: "I feel and hear and…behold." The difference between this sensory receptiveness and his earlier attention to detail is not easy to grasp—Lampman has used tactile, auditory and visual imagery throughout—although one implication is that feeling, hearing and seeing are in and of themselves enough to give a sense of value to the passing "hours." Is this in turn a self-surrender as poet? The verbal passivity that emerged in the second-last stanza might well suggest so, and it returns for the magnificent closing line, the enjambement of which heightens the passive mood by yoking singular and plural: "And I are soaked with him." What might be thought an infelicity serves in fact to drive home how acted upon the persona is at this ultimate moment of his being; it says nothing of any further action he might take.

The stanza is particularly alert to reciprocity, however, a quality that underlines how far the persona is nonetheless from the polarities in which he felt trapped as he left the city. Just as "all shapes that grow" gathers up an earlier opposition between despair and creativity, so now "unrest" may be "sweet," the sun caught up in "gold and shadow," the grass may be both "green" and "brown." Visions may "come and go" without producing anxiety: they may represent things unseen ("[my] blood") as easily as things scrutinized ("every cranny brown"). A last pun shows how far this mood of reconciliation can go: "flower and blade" (literally, of course, a blade of grass) are no longer antagonists, as they are when the mower’s scythe is in action. All are "soaked" equally by the force of the sun, and the persona is as deep in the scene as any of these well-established symbols of his imaginative life.

As the sun penetrates "every cranny brown" in the grass it is surely entering the "unseen," "shadowy," "hidden" portions of his consciousness as well, and the sensuousness "Among the Timothy" offers in its closing images is related to the persona’s sense that all of his "self" is now exposed, dissolving as it were, to the renewal of natural light. The only other "brown" thing in the landscape has been the "bee in wayward fancy borne," so the cranny’s connection to the "fancy" is reasonable. It is remarkable that a poem so concerned with leaves and grass at a time of harvest should emphasize "white" and "silver" effects and suppress the most obvious colouration, as if "brown" were reserved for this last image of the unconscious. "Cranny" is a startling term, echoing nothing and so broad in symbolic value that its evocation of the recesses of the mind seems plausible, but indefinite. The persona is not consciously engaged in therapy, though what he notices continues to reveal the process through which he is passing.

The superb rhythms of Lampman’s last sestet guarantee that we connot leave "Among the Timothy" without a resounding experience of closure:

/   _     _      /      _          /      _            /           _   /
Into mine eyes and blood, and through the dim
         /       /       _          / _     _      _      /       /         /
    Green glimmering forest of the grass shines down….

The stark enjambement helps to create two triads of stressed syllables, "dim / Green glim-" and "grass shines down, " and the brief re-establishment of powerful alliteration adds to the force of peroration. In the face of such mastery it is difficult not to assume a profound rejuvenation in the poet-persona. It may be there, but its profundity depends, in my view, on how complex we are willing to consider the poem’s representation of the artistic mind, and not on any certainty that he will write poetry again. Lampman did: of his specialized genius we can rest assured as "Among the Timothy" closes. And it is perfectly fair to hope, perhaps even to expect, that the persona will rise, return to Ottawa, take up his pen. But Lampman does not represent, nor predict nor even foreshadow, such an event: it is beyond his poem’s plot, which seems designed to keep our attention riveted not so much on the output of a young poet as on the psychological conditions of his creativity. Indeed, it may be part of his lesson in the fields that a conscious concern with Poetry and a genuine susceptibility to poetic experience are not necessarily the same. I would credit him with the latter as the poem comes to an end.


Is the dream of art truly redemptive, and more than a source of strength and comfort, a solution to the problem of our divided lives? Ultimately, even "Among the Timothy" does not fully integrate the poet’s knowledge of life and nature. The prolonged flood of sunshine at the poem’s end only temporarily disperses the shadow that darkens many of his landscapes: his consciousness of himself and of other human lives.                                                                                  (Early 75)

Early sounds this cautionary note after completing his substantially affirmative and unironic reading of "Among the Timothy"; clearly he does not think that Lampman (at that stage of his career, at least) gave adequate consideration to such troubling nuances of the themes with which he joined. Bentley, on the other hand, sees precisely this awareness dawning on the persona in the fifth stanza, which "reveals the poet, unlike the capricious breezes, imaginatively observing external nature in a sympathetic manner which discovers resemblances with the human world, which heeds the less-gifted but dignified ‘daisies’ and sees in them a reflection of the world of the city. External nature, when properly seen and correctly interpreted, does not take the poet away from human considerations but back to them" ("Watchful Dreams" 21). In my own view, Lampman is indeed aware of the social dimension lacking in his persona’s experience even at the brimful, and renders his poem’s closure partial and mutedly ironic as a consequence. What the persona grasps in rhetoricizing his experience, and what Lampman wishes to represent of his deeper being, are not exactly the same.

Agnes Maule Machar, writing as "Fidelis" in The Week in 1889, did not recognize the subtlety of Lampman’s treatment. She worried that in poems like "Among the Timothy,"

while there is true and delicate description, we miss something more…. It strikes us like a noble portico which leads nowhither, or like an exquisitely carven frame which enshrines no picture. It is indeed a common tendency among some of the most popular poets of our day to fall into the old Greek habit of resting in "Nature," instead of fulfilling the nobler function of interpreter, without which Poetry is "divine poesy" no longer.27

In a sense Machar is reacting to Lampman’s daring impersonality, his refusal at poem’s end to interpret the persona’s experience in clear and abstract terms that would seal up and close off the ambiguous moment. At the same time, she has hit cunningly on the hollow quality of the poem’s second and third stanzas, which I too characterize as grander than they need be, although in my view Lampman represents there the rhetorical grandeur of the persona’s self-perceptions: he does not entirely endorse the big claims of poetic failure with which the persona justifies his indolence in the fields. That is the matter of the poem as I see it: the process by which a mental state of abstraction and self-objectification "lead[ing] nowhither" may, in a prolonged contact with nature and rural life, give way to a more reciprocal and complex sense of self-in-place, the psychological implications of which are vivified in the poem. In this sense, Lampman is greatly an "interpreter" of mind no less than of "Nature." Perhaps "Fidelis" simply could not recognize the kind of portrait the poet was framing.

Once Lampman’s method is clear, so too is the spontaneity with which his poem moves, as well as the real nature of its coherence. His persona must learn to "read" his own life in a less linear way. By the end of the poem, as he dissolves genially under the influence of the sun, his claims about his own psychic narrative are much reduced, and his well-being is palpable. We know that Lampman would produce a substantial body of strong poetry for the next dozen years, and it has been tempting to read that development into the conclusion of "Among the Timothy." Lampman himself had no such assurance of future accomplishment, and he took comfort for his persona where it was more tangible, in the recurrent country walks of those Ottawa afternoons. He risks more, though, in his poem’s attention to the nuances of mental life, a content that was only just being articulated in contemporary science. The gap between Lampman and his persona is the poet’s alertness to the complexity of human psychology; the persona’s mind is fixed on himself to a different end. The poem is starkly individual—so penetratingly so, that its value to a broader social well-being is equally clear.




I am grateful to David Bentley for vital contributions to my grasp of "Among the Timothy" and its context, and to Kevin Flynn for an exhaustive history of the poem's criticism.

  1. See, for example, Brown (102), Pacey (137), Stringer (547) and Machar (252). For more on Machar’s response, see below, pp. 27. [back]

  2. Tennyson, Poems and Plays, 266 ("In Memoriam A.H.H.," closing lines). [back]

  3. "Among the Timothy," Poems, 13-16. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text, by line number. [back]

  4. A sharp distinction between the brilliantly-composing poet Lampman and the stifled poet-persona is helpful here, of course, though not entirely satisfying as an account of the reader’s experience of doubleness and irony at such paradoxical moments. The doubled stance is also a sign of Lampman’s glancing relation to Decadence, fine poems of creative failure being a stock in trade in the fin-de-siècle: see, for example, Ernest Dowson’s "Dregs" and "A Last Word," Poems, 148, 166. [back]

  5. Davies, ed., At the Mermaid Inn, 247-8 (28 Jan. 1893). [back]

  6. See "Insanity—Its Prevention" (1883), and "Insanity—its increase" (1884). Both articles show some interest in the link between underprivileged urban life and a recent increase in commitments for insanity. One Dr. Nathan Allen is quoted in the earlier piece as to the causes of mental illness: "The leading factors are ‘dissipation in its various forms, overwork, meager fare, lack of ventilation, and neglect of moral culture’." My thanks to David Bentley for pointing out Playter’s editorship to me. [back]

  7. Quoted by Doyle, "Lampman and Garland," 40. [back]

  8. That such an "unconscious" had to be "logical" seemed obvious to theorists of the mid-century: the alternative, a portion of our beings that was both invisible and irrational, was intolerable. Nevertheless, that alternative began to be articulated in the 1860s: "Anticipating Nietzsche, Eneas S. Dallas in The Gay Science (1866) offered the first theory of art and literature to make systematic appeal to the powers of such an irrational unconscious mind, arguing that a kind of hidden self often guided artistic creation" (Reed 142-3). The persona's desire in "Among the Timothy" to release his creativity from the burden of conscious will may well reflect such contemporary ideas. See Reed‘s summary of contemporary disagreements over the nature and content of the "unconscious," 119-20. [back]

  9. See Davies (89), Bentley ("Watchful Dreams" 19-20), and Early (70). [back]

  10. Examples of the poem’s echoic pattern have been noticed in isolation and in other contexts: Bentley has remarked, for instance, that the "circle" (6) cut by the mower out of the timothy and the "streets" (17) of the city are both "grey" ("Watchful Dreams" 19), and that at poem’s end the "purple mints and daisies" (82) call to mind both the "purple-fringèd head[s]" of clover (45) and the "dead daisies" (8) of earlier descriptions. Bentley isolates these echoes in support of thematic claims: in the latter case, for example, he wishes to argue that the closing stanzas incorporate "the poet’s direct and indirect musings on the world of men earlier in the poem" (23). [back]

  11. I hope the reader will bear with my handling an arachnid as an insect in order to make the significance of the triad explicit; I do not believe the distinction to have been prominent in Lampman’s mind in these lines. [back]

  12. In Poems, 179-82. [back]

  13. Lampman’s debt to the stanza Matthew Arnold developed for his own elegiac pastoral poems, "The Scholar Gypsy" and "Thyrsis," is fairly plain, although his variations to the admired form are at least as interesting as his indebtedness. Like Lampman, Arnold holds his sixth line to a trimeter; unlike him, he closes the stanza with a final pentameter, promoting a more discursive and reflective conclusion to each stanza and a less segmented flow of meditation in the poem as a whole. Lampman is apparently more interested in marking the separateness of his stanzas, each one proposing a partial conclusion we may wish to pause over and test, if only for its seeming straightforwardness. But the greater disjunction between the two poets’ stanzas is in the rhyme scheme. Whereas Lampman opens his stanza with the familiar formal logic of the English quatrain, Arnold more daringly knits his first six lines as abcbc5a3, burying as it were his own English quatrain between two lines whose rhyme, held back until the trimeter, is both satisfying of expectation and attenuated by long delay. His stanza thus divides consistently into a sestet and a quatrain, losing Lampman’s mirroring effect, and some of his intermittent abruptness, but gaining in formal integrity and sonority. Lampman had attended Arnold’s Ottawa lecture in February 1884; he later wrote of him as "the most modern of poets, and to men of our generation more interesting than any other." Perhaps the "Thyrsis" stanza initially attracted him for "Among the Timothy" because, in his view, "Over [Arnold’s] soul there hung a vast and sceptical melancholy which lends to his utterance a turn and modulation strangely touching" ("Style" 87), a not inapt characterization of the poem he had in contemplation. For more on Arnold’s place in Lampman’s thought, see Bentley’s introduction to Lampman, Essays, xviii-xix. [back]

  14. Part of Charles Hartman’s compelling definition of a "poem"; see Free Verse, 12. [back]

  15. Goldwin Smith wrote the introductory essay to Marvell’s poetry in T.H. Ward’s The English Poets. Lampman knew the Ward anthology, as Bentley has shown (Lampman, Essays 246). The anthology contains none of the mower poems, however, an exclusion explained by Smith’s remark that Marvell’s "pastorals are in the false classical style, and of little value" (2: 383). Marvell was usually, but slightly, represented in Victorian anthologies: his appearance in Specimens with Memoirs of the Less Known British Poets, ed. Rev. George Gilfillan (1860), reveals his canonical situation at the time. "The Mower Against Gardens" makes a rare appearance in Golden Leaves from the Works of the Poets and Painters, ed. Robert Bell (1863), 124-5. [back]

  16. Marvell, Complete Poems, 105. [back]

  17. There is even an inverse form of personification active here: we would naturally expect a "shape of stone" to be "without a smile or moan"—that is, lacking human expression—but the persona’s noting the fact implies his surprise, as if the "shape of stone" were so anthropomorphic in his mind that its expressionlessness were worth remarking. [back]

  18. My scansion of these lines is particular to my own ear. Other readers may be more inclined to enforce the iambic rhythm by, say, promoting "of" and/or demoting "grey" in the third line. There being no such thing as an "objective" scansion, such differences are hardly disturbing, since there is no way to speak about poetic rhythm at all without risking them. Derek Attridge’s reconfiguration of poetic rhythm into "beats" and "offbeats" in The Rhythms of English Poetry and Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction has obviously not yet persuaded me, but I particularly appreciate his recognition and theoretical incorporation of the multiplicity of possible scansions that each poem invites from its various readers. [back]

  19. Obviously I disagree with Early’s view that "This third stanza is the richest in the poem, and perhaps in all of Lampman’s poetry" (71). [back]

  20. This pessimistic view is in contrast to the contemporary "mind-cure movement" that Bentley has shown to be particularly pertinent to Bliss Carman, and its founding conviction that periods of leisure and vigour in the countryside are vital to the restoration of the faculties in a period of rapid and despiritualizing urbanization (see "Carman and Mind Cure," esp. pp. 102-03 concerning Lampman). The "mind-cure movement" may well gloss the persona’s retreat to the pastoral scene, and its assumption of the sanative effects of nature is surely intact at poem’s end, although Lampman seems, again, more interested in the transitions of mood and perception towards restoration than in the telos of an accomplished "cure." [back]

  21. Bentley remarks the ominous "mower" and the "dead daisies" he leaves behind and therefore reads the cut circle as "a locale whose attributes are those of [the speaker’s] own dead and uncreative condition" ("Watchful Dreams" 19). I would not deny this level of the circle’s symbolism, but I think it powerfully offset by the circle’s attractiveness to a mind so keenly in search of well-defined limits on its own activity. Still, the word "bourne" surely came to Lampman from William Shakespeare’s famous monologue in Hamlet, where its link to death, "The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn / No traveller returns…" (III, i, 79-80), is obvious. [back]

  22. As we read the fifth stanza we both experience echoes of earlier language ("grass," "blithe," "blind," "-footed," "bloom," "dead," "daisies") and hear other diction that will be echoed in turn ("children," "purple-," "sweet"). The intensity of the aural experience here suggests that the persona is on the right creative track again, that his mind is working as it should to establish likeness among the particulars of the perceived scene. [back]

  23. A remark from Lampman’s At the Mermaid Inn days closely echoes the language of Pater’s "Conclusion" to the first edition of The Renaissance:

    For him [the happiest man] life is full of variety; every moment comes to him laden with some unique enjoyment, every hour is crowded with a multitude of fleeting but exquisite impressions….(Davies, ed. 94, 18 June 1892; qtd. in Early 71)

    Compare Pater:

    …to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines itself down…Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly attractive and real to us,—for that moment only. (188)

    Bentley has indicated Lampman’s tendency to borrow the ideas and some of the phrasings of others (Lampman, Essays xvi-xvii); the lines from "Among the Timothy" show a far more intelligent response to Pater’s Impressionism. [back]

  24. Bentley remarks that Lampman’s poplar "demands to be seen in a manner akin to Coleridge’s Aeolian harp as emblematic of a poetic imagination activated by the energies, in this instance the ‘heat’ and the ‘wind,’ of external nature" ("Watchful Dreams" 21). Early later observes the same symbolism in the lines, and finds its negative anticipation in the "dead and blind" leaves of the poet’s imagination in the third stanza (71). The allusion seems clear in the recurrent imagery of leaves in the wind. Still, at this point in the poem we are suspended somewhere between the "calm" and the "wind," and it seems too much to claim, as Early does (73), that the symbol here indicates the renewal of poetic imagination in the persona. [back]

  25. William Blake’s "Holy Thursday" may inspire some of Lampman’s images:

    O what a multitude they seem’d, these flowers of London town!
    Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own.
    The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
    Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands.
                                                                        (Songs of Innocence, 9, 39)

    The poems share the pastoral contrast of urban and rural life, as well as—at this point in Lampman’s poem—a distinct ambiguity about the moral value of either. Interestingly, Lampman owned a volume of Blake’s selected poems. [back]

  26. Complete Poems, 452. [back]

  27. "Some Recent Canadian Poets," 252. [back]

Works Cited

Anonymous. "Insanity—its increase." Dominion Sanitary Journal 6.8 (15 May 1884): 217-20.

——. "Insanity—Its Prevention." Dominion Sanitary Journal 6.1 (15 Oct. 1883): 12.

Arnold, Matthew. Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin (Riverside Editions), 1961.

Attridge, Derek. The Rhythms of English Poetry. London: Longman, 1982.

——. Poetic Rhythm: an Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

Bell, Robert, ed. Golden Leaves from the Works of the Poets and Painters. London: Griffin, Bohn and Co., 1863.

Bentley, D.M.R. "Carman and Mind Cure: Theory and Technique." Bliss Carman: A Reappraisal. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers. Ed. Gerald Lynch. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1990. 85-110.

——. "Watchful Dreams and Sweet Unrest: an Essay on the Visions of Archibald Lampman." Studies in Canadian Literature 6.2 (1981): 188-210; 7.1 (1982): 5-26.

Blake, William. Songs of Innocence. New York: Dover, 1971.

Brown, E.K. On Canadian Poetry. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1943.

Compton, Anne. "The Poet-Impressionist: Some Landscapes by Archibald Lampman." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 34 (Spring / Summer 1994): 33-56.

Davies, Barrie. "The Forms of Nature: Some of the Philosophical and Aesthetic Bases of Lampman’s Nature Poetry." The Lampman Symposium. Ed. Lorraine McMullen. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1976. 75-97.

——, ed. At the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell, Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott in The Globe 1892-3. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1979.

Dowson, Ernest. Poems of Ernest Dowson. London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1915.

Doyle, James. "Archibald Lampman and Hamlin Garland." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 16 (Spring / Summer 1983): 38-46.

Early, L.R. Archibald Lampman. Twayne World Authors Series 770. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

——. "A Chronology of Lampman’s Poems." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 14 (Spring / Summer 1984): 75-87.

Gilfillan, Rev. George, ed. Specimens with Memoirs of the Less Known British Poets. Edinburgh: James Nicholl, 1860.

Harrison, Dick. "‘So Deathly Silent’: the Resolution of Pain and Fear in the Poetry of Lampman and D.C. Scott." The Lampman Symposium. Ed. Lorraine McMullen. Reappraisals: Canadian Writers. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1976. 63-74.

Hartman, Charles O. Free Verse: an Essay on Prosody. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1980.

Keats, John. Complete Poems. Ed. John Barnard. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979.

Lampman, Archibald. The Essays and Reviews of Archibald Lampman. Ed. D.M.R. Bentley. London: Canadian Poetry, 1996.

——. Poems (including At the Long Sault). Ed. Margaret Coulby Whitridge. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974.

Machar, Agnes Maule ["Fidelis"]. "Some Recent Canadian Poets." The Week 22 March 1889. 251-52.

Marvell, Andrew. Complete Poems. Ed. Elizabeth Story Donno. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976.

Mezei, Kathy. "Lampman Among the Timothy." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 5 (Fall / Winter 1979): 57-72.

Pacey, Desmond. "Archibald Lampman." Ten Canadian Poets: A Group of Biographical and Critical Essays. Toronto: Ryerson, 1958. 114-40.

Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (The 1893 Text). Ed. Donald L. Hill. Berkley: U of California P, 1980.

Reed, Edward S. From Soul to Mind: the Emergence of Psychology from Erasmus Darwin to William James. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1997.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1963.

Stringer, Arthur. "A Glance at Lampman." Canadian Magazine 2.6 (April 1894): 545-48.

Tennyson, Alfred. Poems and Plays. London: Oxford, 1965.

Ward, Thomas Humphry, ed. The English Poets: A Selection. 4 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1881.