Buchanan's Letters


To Charles G.D. Roberts

B.B., FEBRUARY 10, 1908

     *     *     * but no, I stand by my opinion: the best lines you have written are “the gadding pumpkins run, With bursts of blaze . . . —globes of orange bold, Elate to mimic the unrisen sun.”1 In comparison, “Lest on too close sight I miss the darling illusion, Spy at their task even here the hands of chance and change”2 is just—forgive me—pompous flummery. Of course, dearest, you were young, and full of Wordsworth and worse, but do try to remember that a poem should not mean but be—fewer “darling illusions” and more “gadding pumpkins”! Real sheep and cows in real fields and barn-yards!3 Meat, not words—that’s what makes me vitals stir!
     As for your iceberg poem—you have made a good start, but would not “spawned” be better than “calved” given the polar location of the birth?4 And by writing as the iceberg—an absurd enough fancy in itself—are you not portioning yourself the task of describing your own death? That would be just too silly! “I breathed my last” but here I am telling the tale!5 Would you be Mr. Sludge the Poet?6
     I shall make no such mistake in my pig poem, but take an outside view of the beast and his merits. He shall be an object no less than the white chickens and the red wheelbarrow that I see in the rain from my kitchen window as I write this letter. But there will be no poem of wheelbarrows—you have seen to that.
     Walter calls, so I must swill the pig and *      *      *

  1. Buchanan is quoting the final lines of Robert’s “The Pumpkins in the Corn,” a sonnet in Songs of the Common Day (1893). [back]
  2. The final lines of Roberts’s “Tantramar Revisited,” In Divers Tones (1886). [back]
  3. Buchanan is probably alluding to “The Flocks of Spring,” “The Farmer’s Winter Morning,” and “In the Barn-Yard’s Southerly Corner” in Roberts’s Poems (1901). [back]
  4. As they appear in a manuscript “dated September-October, 1928,” the opening lines of “The Iceberg” read: “I was spawned from the glacier, / North beyond Cape Chidley / By a thousand miles” (Collected Poems, ed. Desmond Pacey [Wolfville, Nova Scotia: Wombat, 1985], p. 580). Despite the date of this manuscript, and Roberts’s own assertion, through Elsie Pomeroy, that he began “The Iceberg” in “February, 1931, as he was recovering” from nervous hypertension (Sir Charles G.D. Roberts: A Biography [Toronto: Ryerson, 1943], p. 332), it is evident that the poem had its genesis in the first trimester of 1908. In the published version of “The Iceberg” (1931 and f.), the opening lines read: “I was spawned from the glacier, / A thousand miles due north / Beyond Cape Chidley.” [back]
  5. The concluding verse paragraph of “The Iceberg” reads in part: “Last I became / A little glancing globe of cold . . . . And I breathed up my soul into the air / And merged forever in the all-solvent sea” (Collected Poems, p. 327). [back]
  6. Buchanan refers to the fraudulent spiritualist in Robert Browning’s “Mr. Sludge, the Medium.” [back]