Not of Things Only, but of Thought: Notes on A. J. M. Smith's Imagistic Poems

By D.M.R. Bentley

The poems which A.J.M. Smith gathered together in the second sections of both his Collected Poems (1962) and his Poems, New and Collected (1967) can, as George Woodcock quite correctly perceived in his review of the earlier volume, be broadly categorized as "Imagistic."1 In varying degrees and in different ways, most of these poems — there are eight in Collected Poems and ten in the newer volume — draw upon the theories and practices of the Imagists to present an external nature that is in several cases recognizably Canadian. Of Smith's familiarity with imagist poetry and poetics there is no doubt. In the so-called "Rejected Preface" to New Provinces (1936), he speaks of the attempts of the McGill poets and their associates to "get rid of the facile word, the stereotyped phrase and the mechanical rhythm..." and "to combine colloquialism and rhetoric...." "The imagist," says Smith, "seeks with perfect objectivity and impersonality to recreate a thing or arrest an experience as precisely and vividly and simply as possible."2 Consonant with these, fairly standard ideas of Imagism (though the fact that Smith allows "rhetoric" into the imagist fold should not go unnoticed), most of the Canadian poet's "imagistic" lyrics are brief, if not precisely laconic (only one, "The Lonely Land," extends beyond a short page in length); most are written in relatively free verse (the one conspicuous exception being the rhymed quatrains of "To Hold in a Poem," though end-rhymes and stanzaic forms appear elsewhere in the group); and most partake of the distrust of 'poetic' language, the determination to be colloquial, and the pretense of objectivity and impersonality that, at least since the 'twenties and 'thirties when several of them were written and published in The Dial, The Canadian Forum, and elsewhere have been considered the hallmarks of Imagism. This is not to say, however, that these poems are merely derivative of Imagism or, indeed, that they are successful, even in theoretical terms, as imagist poems. On the contrary, many of them violate imagist theory as expressed by Pound, Hulme, and others, adapting imagist ideas and practices in ways that are fascinating and significant especially when viewed in the light of what has elsewhere been called the ecology of Canadian poetry — the reciprocal relations between imported poetics and their Canadian environments and contents.3 An examination of Smith's "imagistic" poems as a group promises to reveal the complexity of his creative response to imagist ideas and the importance of such a poem as "The Lonely Land," which provides an illuminating instance of the adaptation of an imported poetic under the pressure of an imaginative response to Canadian landscape.

     It is inviting to start with "The Lonely Land" if only because it is the most anthologised and famous of Smith's imagistic poems. But in order to appreciate why "The Lonely Land" is a felicitous poem and a Canadian classic it is necessary first to examine the less successful and less well-known poems in the group. None of the poems of the imagistic group has worn worse than the opening one, "To Hold in a Poem," which, though given the status of a prelude in the Collected Poems and in Poems, New and Collected, was subsequently omitted by Smith from The Classic Shade (1978), his final selected poems. It is not difficult to understand either why "To Hold in a Poem" was assigned a prelusory role in the earlier collections or why it was omitted from the final selection, for it is a poem that makes an important aesthetic statement but does so in a mawkishly patriotic tone which was bound, sooner or later, to offend Smith's modern and cosmopolitan sensibilities. A balanced interpretation of "To Hold in a Poem" must seek to understand both its significance and its failure.

     The potential for failure in "To Hold in a Poem" begins fully to manifest itself in the third line, which speaks of "our snow" and "our birds."4 (The italics here and in subsequent quotations from Smith's poems are added.) The possessive patriotism of these parallel phrases is re-echoed in the "our ice" of the second stanza and refulgant in the final stanza where the avowed cosmopolitan who has allowed himself to write with an almost nationalistic fervour achieves the disaster that he has courted from the outset:

                 To hold in a verse as austere
                 As the spirit of prairie and river,
                 Lonely, unbuyable, dear,
                 The North, as a deed, and forever.

From the moment of announcing its intention in its self-consciously bardic opening line — "I would take words. . ." — "To Hold in a Poem" might seem bent on fusing portentous rhetoric with a cognate of the imagist ideal of an objective language of things — words "crisp and . . . white/As . . . snow  . . .," "clear and . . . cold/As . . . ice . . ." and so on. More apparent, however, is the poem's debt to the matter and manner of the last Romantics. When "To Hold in a Poem" was first collected in A Sort of Ecstasy (1954), Northrop Frye located it in "the Carman tradition..." and described it as "a summary of Canadian romantic themes."5 Certainly the poem's catalogue of Canada's emblematic attributes — "snow," "ice," "a jack pine," "a trillium," "mountains," "forests as pointed as grass" (Lampman, it may be recalled, has the "forest of the grass"6 in the final stanza of "Among the Timothy") — sounds as if the selection of its items was governed by the muse of Miss. Crotchet and her Pavlovian companions. In point of fact, early and very different versions of "To Hold in a Poem" were published in the literary supplements of the McGill Daily (in March, 1925) and the McGill News (in March, 1927)7 under the titles of "Prayer" and "For a Canadian Anthology" — facts which surely bear on the tone and content of the finished poem. What began as a self-conscious, patriotic exercise, to some extent remained such.

     The lines "As young as a trillium, and old/As Laurentia's long undulant line..." in the final version of "To Hold in a Poem" are particularly disappointing because, though doubtless emotionally affective for certain inhabitants of Ontario and Quebec, they are conceptually and linguistically feeble; indeed, the word "Laurentia" is a poeticism reminiscent of the "Canadia" of Canada's earliest poets for whom scansion, in R.E. Rashley's words, was more important than "the mere name of the country...."8 The following stanza is only better because, in its final two lines, it almost replaces saccharin with something more genuine; the subject is still words:

               Sweet-smelling and bright
               As new rain; as hard
               And as smooth and as white
               As a brook pebble cold and unmarred....

These and other lines in "To Hold in a Poem" are perhaps best glossed by Smith's own comments on "romantic" Canadian verse in "A Rejected Preface": "there would be less objection . . . if the observation were accurate and its expression vivid, or if we could feel that the emotion was a genuine and intense one.... But, with a negligible number of exceptions, the observation is general and the descriptions are vague."9

     Outside the Canadian continuity, "To Hold in a Poem" recalls the middle Yeats of such poems as "The Dawn" (which begins "I would be ignorant. . .") and "The Fisherman" (which ends with the poet's desire to write "one/Poem maybe as cold/And passionate as the dawn' "10). Significantly, this is the Yeats whose "hard, precise, and clear..."11 imagery and relatively 'homely,' 'fresh,' and colloquial diction Smith recognized and admired. The fact that "To Hold in a Poem" is divided into quatrains, should not blind us to the possibility that its rhyme scheme (abab) and strong-stress meter may derive, not inappropriately, from such patriotic, short-line poems as "Easter, 1916" and "The Fisherman." It may even be that in "To Hold in a Poem" Smith was attempting a patriation of the Yeatsian ideal of a national poetry which, in the Canadian poet's own description, would "mean something to vigorous, simple men...."12 A presumed audience so constituted would go someway towards explaining, if not pardoning, the affective nature of the poem. The key to the significance that "To Hold in a Poem," must have held for Smith himself, however, surely resides in the fact that it idealizes about a language that would correspond to the supposed reality of Canada and, in its final two stanzas, articulates the formalistic and linguistic aesthetic that underlines his poems in the imagist manner. The poem's title directs attention to these very stanzas:

                 To hold in a poem of words
                 Like water in colourless glass
                 The spirit of mountains like birds,
                 Of forests as pointed as grass;

                 To hold in a verse as austere
                 As the spirit of prairie and river,
                 Lonely, unbuyable, dear,
                 The North, as a deed, and forever.

Setting aside, in addition to the sentimentality, such weaknesses as the tautology of "words" (which is clearly present in the first line of this quotation to rhyme with "birds") and the imprecision of another rhyme word, "dear"13 (which only avoids contradicting "unbuyable" if it merely means beloved and not expensive), these two stanzas are remarkable for their concise articulation of the imagistic doctrine of the transparency of language and form. As a statement of the relation between content and form "water in a colourless glass" implies, not only an objective and limpid style, but also, outside the poem, the existence of a formlessness which the poet wishes to contain ("hold") using an unadorned ("austere") and virtually imperceptible form ("colourless glass") such as would not impede the direct apprehension of the "spiritual essence"14 of Canada. The implied function of the poet is to discover and distill the genius of Canada, and to convey in writing that spirit of place for his presumed readers. Quite clearly, this is the raison d'etre of that portion of Smith's imagistic verse — most notably the first section of "The Lonely Land" — which attempts to present, in an apparently unmediated manner, spiritually significant details of the Canadian environment.

     If it is now clear why "To Hold in a Poem" serves as a prelude to Smith's imagistic poems, it may also have become apparent that the poem itself, with its noticeably delineated stanzas and rhetorical techniques seems to fall short of the formalistic ideal represented by "austere" and "colourless glass." This, surely, is stained glass rather than crystal. Formalistically "To Hold in a Poem" should not be hastily dismissed, however; its delineated stanzas do fulfil the function of placing on view the images that they contain while at the same time informing their contents and the reader by means of an ordering process. Furthermore, each stanza until the last ends with a semi-colon, and the continuity thus achieved encourages the reader, not only to move forward through the syntactically unified poem as across distinct — yet inter-connected — landscapes, but also to notice the flowing and unifying progression from "snow" and "ice" in stanzas one and two, through "rain" in stanza three, to "water" and "river" in stanzas four and five. Just as the emphasis on the elemental fact of water, as well as on the water course ("river") in the final stanza, is appropriate in a self-consciously Canadian poem, so the "interstanzaic fluidity"15 and catalogic structure of "To Hold in a Poem" are, in turn, ecologically appropriate to its enormous subject — the spirit of a land so vast as to defy containment in one stanza or in one image. It is a measure of Smith's ecological intelligence that he never attempted to treat of the "Lonely . . . North" in a brief imagistic poem, for as Michael Ondaatje, referring to T.E. Hulme's Northern journey of 1906-7 (of which more later) astutely remarks: "Canada supposedly sparked the idea for Imagism but it is really not the country for the haiku. After the perfect lines about the frog or cricket or eclipse we turn around and have to come to terms with the vastness of our place or our vast unspoken history."16 The point may be made now that in "The Lonely Land," and, less successfully, in "To Hold in a Poem," the ecologically conscious Smith17 fittingly employs a catalogic structure, which John Gage, in discussing various longer imagist poems, sees as being "generated by the principle of continuation" and credits with possessing "the expansive qualities of an accordion file,"18 for depictions of the stretching landscape of Canada.19

     There is a further and final reason why "To Hold in a Poem," for all its shortcomings, is formalistically and ecologically of interest: it reveals a Canadian poet, none other of course, than the author of the theory of "eclectic detachment," exercising the wisdom that resides but in choosing for a writer who finds himself in a satellite rather than a metropolitan culture. The Canadian writer, Smith argues in the "Eclectic Detachment" essay, "selects those elements from varied and often disparate sources that are useful to him, and rejects those that are not." "Where freedom of choice comes in is in the intellectual effort [required] . . . to pick and choose just those poets (or just those aspects of those poets) that can satisfy our needs."20 Some intimations of the "intellectual effort" behind Smith's imagistic poems in general and "To Hold in a Poem" in particular were gained in the earlier discussions of catalogic structure and Yeatsian borrowings. Further insights into the ecological intelligence that informs "To Hold in a Poem" become possible when just two of the poem's rejected options are examined. Suppose for a moment that Smith had written the poem, as he doubtless could have, in sonnet form. What he might have gained in spatial and fixative (Petrarchan) or argumentative and closural (Shakespearian) qualities by employing the sonnet form,21 would surely have stood in, at best, ironic contrast to the subject-matter, imagistic assumptions, and presumed audience of "To Hold in a Poem." The more the rejected option of the sonnet is pondered, the more certain the conviction becomes that Smith was ecologically correct in his decision not to cast any of his imagistic poems of the North in that form. Suppose for another moment that "Laurentia's long undulant line. . ." had tempted Smith to use Whitman's long line22 as a vehicle for the poem. Although such a choice might have gained him a form expressive of the democratic vistas and enormous size of Canada, the associations of Whitmanian free verse would surely have subverted the sense that he wished to convey of the Northern "spirit" as "austere," "Lonely, unbuyable...." Smith had too much ecological sense to commit the kind of error represented by Nathaniel A. Benson's decision to employ the hymn tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" as the vehicle for depiction of a personified Northland.23 These rejected, American options lend stature to Leon Edel's comments à propos the final stanza of "To Hold in a Poem" that "the poetry of A.J.M. Smith," in the "austerity and frugality" which differentiate it from the "roistering expansiveness of America," is a "subject open to the deepest exploration" because "full of wondrous implications for Canada. . ."24

     More successful but less significant than "To Hold in a Poem" is "Sea Cliff," the first of the relatively short imagistic poems in Smith's two collections to be discussed briefly here. John Ferns understands "Sea Cliff" merely as an "imagistic piece of verbal representation of the movement of the sea."25 Quite correctly he calls attention to some of the stylistic devices, which include alliteration, repetition, consonance, assonance, end-rhyme, and rhythmical variation (the poem has an iambic norm but strategically employs hard spondees and light anapests), that Smith musters to enact the contours and movements of his seascape. But there is more to "Sea Cliff" than meets the eye and ear. More than just the recreation of a natural scene, the poem, particularly in its less concrete second stanza, suggests both a sexual rhythm and an enduring strength which have clear, human referents. Here is that second stanza of "Sea Cliff" (notice how the only feminine rhyme in the poem, on "abiding" and "riding" reinforces the concluding sense of uplift):

                 after the ebb-flow,
                 wet rock, high— 
                 high over the slapping green,
                 water sliding away
                 and the rock abiding,
                 new rock riding out of the spray.

     A full response to "Sea Cliff" will recognize that, true to its imagist (and, indeed, Romantic) origins, the poem is more than a recreation of the kinesis and stasis of things; it is an invitation to discover the human significance of the sea's rhythm and the rock's endurance. One of Smith's detractors, Gordon Harvey — a writer for whom, as for some Imagists, rhetoric and style are negative concepts — has observed that in "Smith's poems [in the Imagist] vein, even finally in 'Sea Cliff' . . . style is more noticeable than subject."26 What Harvey does not consider is the possibility that for a Canadian poet of the classical and humanist tradition such as Smith, rhetoric and style, a personal voice expressive of a rational consciousness, are a means of asserting individual and human values in the context of a terrain that is devoid of human resonances until they are discovered there by the poet. A poem which can be adduced as further proof of this point is "The Creek," which follows, and in that sense reinforces, "Sea Cliff" in both of Smith's collections.

     Edel, whose detailed analysis of "The Creek" in "The Worldly Muse of A.J.M. Smith" obviates the need for a similar examination of it here, remarks that "the very shape" of the poem is "human."27 Not only do its two stanzas represent respectively the female and male profiles, but the "effects of craft" — assonance, internal rhymes, mimetic rhythms, and the rest — contrive to render the apparently literal (for Ferns "The Creek" is merely a "delicate and subtle work of imagistic mimesis"28) vocal of anthropomorphic significance. It should be noticed that in the first (female) section of the poem, the terms that are open to humanistic interpretation ("wet", "whips," "wisps," "hair," "lip") are, so to say, buried within lines of naturalistic description and that in the second (male) section figure and ground become one in the rhythms of natural and human life. The "these" which describes only a chaos of things and textures after stanza one becomes at the poem's end an affirmation of life on the verge of oblivion. "The Creek":  

                 still wet with cold black earth,
                 roots, whips of roots
                 and wisps of straw,
                 green soaked crushed leaves
                 mudsoiled where hoof has touched them,
                 twisted grass and hairs of herbs
                 that lip the ledge of the stream's edge:


                 then foamfroth, waterweed,
                 and windblown bits of straw
                 that rise, subside, float wide,
                 come round again, subside,
                 a little changed
                 and stranger, nearer


Smith himself described "The Creek" as an example of the "simpler kind of imagist verse," though he added, as if to stress the presence of style in the poem: "the reader may notice that the development of the poem depends upon metrical devices as much as on images; the music is harsh and the rhythm difficult."29 The reader may also notice that in "The Creek" Smith is consistent with imagist theory and practice in constructing his poem out of "diverse images borrowed from very different orders of things"30 — in this instance, external landscape and human sexuality. In his discussion of the "ideogrammic method," Pound describes this layering technique as "super-position,"31 and in the famous couplet of "In a Station of the Metro"gives it succinct form: "The apparition of these faces in a crowd:/Petals on a wet, black bough."32 There is an important difference in movement between this and "The Creek" which should not escape attention. It is that while Pound's poem moves from the human to the natural order, seeking a pictorial analogy for the ghostly "faces" of the "crowd" in the realm of flowers, trees, and moisture, Smith's poem moves in the opposite direction, inviting the reader to discover human shapes, characteristics, rhythms, and meaning in what seems at first to be an objective and formless external nature. Or, to put it differently: where the American poet finds the suggestion of a "wet, black bough" in the dark realm of experience, the Canadian poet, faced not with the unreal city but with the "cold black earth" implants in that impersonal nature the semblance of a very experienced humanity: complete with "hairs," "whips," and "harsh" music, Smith's "Creek" is no sweet river that runs softly in song. It is, however, humanizing and liberating — an ecologically appropriate and mischievously provocative adaptation of an imported aesthetic to the demands of its Canadian environment and to what some (for example, John Glassco) might argue are the real needs of a Canadian audience.

     A different means of humanizing landscape is to be found in "Swift Current," a poem which clearly belongs with "Sea Cliff' and "The Creek," if only because it precedes them in Collected Poems, follows them in Poems, New and Collected, and separates them in The Classic Shade.33 While F.R. Scott has termed "Swift Current" "purely descriptive"34 and A.M. Klein has called it "strictly Canadian,"35 the poem is not narrowly or necessarily either of these things; it is, in fact, a remarkably analytical and denatured poem which defines its subject through metaphor, negation, and abstraction:

                 This is a visible
                 and crystal wind:
                 no ragged edge,
                 no splash of foam
                 no whirlpool's scar;
                 — in the narrows,
                 sharpness cutting sharpness,
                 arrows of direction
                 spears of speed.

Since "Swift Current" focuses on a feature of the (Canadian) landscape which, though "visible" (if only relative to the utterly invisible "crystal wind"), lacks the texture, sounds, shapes and anthropomorphic possibilities (it has "no . . . scar. . .") that are the staples of imagistic verse, the poem is forced, paradoxically, towards abstractions for the purposes of mimesis. While "the narrows," a phrase which concentrates the river's water and the reader's concentration, is physical enough, the line following — "sharpness cutting sharpness" — is, curiously, both textural and abstract: "sharpness" is both an unspecific quality yet, in the context, of "sharpness cutting sharpness" it is harsh, grating, almost painful, in its physicality. It thus serves as a transition from the relatively concrete "narrows" to the more abstract, significative, but still representational terms — "arrows of direction/spears of speed" — with which the poem closes. The effect of these final lines — which recall the force-lines that represent energy, movement and direction in futurist art — is to allow the reader alternately to view either the vectorial signs — "arrows" and "spears" — or the swift current, the conception of the latter being, to some extent, dictated by the former.36 While the poem's title, "Swift Current," should ensure that, finally, the water rather than the vectors will be in the foreground in the reader's mind, the abstract, yet visual, quality of "arrows of direction/spears of speed" also ensures that, when attention is paid to these as one-dimensional, representational signs which are, nevertheless, inseparable from the water, the reader gains an impression as of a futurist (or cubist) painting. Finally, the responsive reader should leave the poem, not grumbling with Ferns that "it is much easier to visualize Smith's creek than his swift current,"37 but aware that a difficult, and almost scientific, process of observation, analysis, and description has occurred, that under the pressure of a rational and imaginative engagement with his intractable subject-matter, Smith brilliantly — and in an almost painterly manner — succeeds in rendering the swift current dynamically visible and humanly intelligible.  

     The four poems that follow "Swift Current" in Poems, New and Collected, "Walking in a Field, Looking Down and Seeing a White Violet," "Wild Raspberry (For W.W.E. Ross) ," "Birches at Drummond Point (Lake Memphremagog)," and "Tree" have a curious provenance which must be taken into account by an interpretation of them. Of the four, two —  "Walking in a Field. . ." and "Birches. . ." — were not present in the earlier Collected Poems,and two — "Birches. . ." again and "Tree" — were excluded from The Classic Shade.("Wild Raspberry" is thus the only one of the four poems to appear in all three volumes.) With a poet and anthologist as fastidious as Smith, it is essential to ask, not only why certain poems are excluded from a given collection, but also why one poem precedes or follows another in a volume. In the case of the four poems under consideration, it is clear from the presence of "Birches..." and "Tree" on facing pages in Poems, New and Collected and the absence of the arboreal pair from The Classic Shade,that Smith came to view the two poems as symmetrical and complementary — head and tail, so to say, of the same coin or beast. The same holds true of "Walking in a Field.. ." and "Wild Raspberry," for although the latter poem was written and collected earlier (not fortuitously, it is paired with "Tree" in Collected Poems), it faces the former in Poems, New and Collected and The Classic Shade.38 What the four poems have in common beyond these pairings (of which more in a moment) is that each is the exploration of a poetic, and, hence, epistemological alignment, a probe (to borrow McLuhan's term) of a semi-serious nature into a mode in which Smith, the classical ironist, participates at the technical level but knows intellectually to be limited. Such a practice of poetic probing by imitation is one aspect of eclectic detachment in action: it allows the Canadian poet to discover both the strengths and the limitations of an imported poetic in the only really sure way: by demonstrating them to himself. When a poet publishes his poetic probes he assumes a reader who does not simple-mindedly equate imitation of an intelligent, exploratory nature with a failure of creativity.  

     Since the four poems on view are poetic probes, craftsmanlike but only semi-serious explorations in and of imported modes, it would be perverse to subject them to close aesthetic analysis. The techniques and assumptions of Hopkins or Sitwell or Thomas per se are better explored in the originals than in poems by Smith. "Walking in a Field. . .," and "Wild Raspberry," "Birches. . ." and "Tree," are worth considering, however, for what they reveal about Smith's mentality, specifically about his attitudes to various nineteenth-and-twentieth-century ideas about nature, perception, and art.39

     As the very title of "Walking in a Field, Looking Down and Seeing a White Violet" and the somewhat unsubtle isolation of "the eye" on a pivotal line at its centre suggest, this is a poem concerned with ways of seeing. It is also a poem about pathetic fallacy and about Romantic illusions. In the first stanza, "the eye" is engaged in the activity of "Threading" its way among the objects, shapes, and textures of a field in spring, making virtually no effort to do other than record, with occasional, authropomorphic readings (such as "avid arches"), the external nature through which it passes. In the second stanza, however, the eye is more consciously, albeit innocently, directed: it "plays Jackstraws/to disentangle/the skywhite skyblue/first sky white shoot/of a white violet...." By the middle of the second stanza, if not before, it becomes quite apparent that "Walking in a Field. . .," particularly in its use of compound adjectives is, stylistically, an exercise in the Hopkins or Thomas manner and, generically, an assignment in the Romantic-Victorian tradition of single flower poems, which includes such gems as Tennyson's "Flower in the Crannied Wall," Rossetti's "The Woodspurge," and Carman's "A Windflower." Following its stylistic and generic roots to their underlying assumption that nature's minute particulars can yield lofty meanings to the visionary eye, the poem concludes with an intimation of something very curious: "the old/grayblack earth's/mother-milky breast." The mawkishness of these lines is part of their strategy. Together with the sly humour of an "old," "grayblack" earth with yet a "mothermilky breast," it points to the fallacy of the shift from the natural and experiential to the supernatural and fanciful, criticizing also, perhaps, the cult of mother earth as infantile. The very fact that the concluding lines and insights of the poem lie outside its lengthy and prosaic title, reveals them to be unsupported by ocular proof and epistemologically unverifiable. If "Walking in a Field, Looking Down and Seeing a White Violet" reveals the fallacy of the subjective, Romantic view of nature, its companion poem in Poems, New and Collected and The Classic Shade, "Wild Raspberry," addresses the limitation of the supposedly objective, imagist view of things.  

     Although "Wild Raspberry" is dedicated to W.W.E. Ross, the poem's irregular lines are arranged in couplets, a form not at all typical of Ross,   but, rather, suggestive of William Carlos Williams' work in the imagist or objectivist mode. Such couplet poems as Williams' "Nantucket" and "Flowers by the Sea" (which Smith quotes and discusses in "Refining Fire," his 1954 essay on "The Meaning and Use of Poetry"40) may well be the referents for a formalistic allusion in "Wild Raspberry." The poem is less subtle in remembering the famous "Red Wheelbarrow" (whose lines are also arranged in groups of two), making what in essence is a verbal and visual allusion from its own "after the rain/gashes of red/glisten/among slipp'ry green leaves..." to the "red wheel/barrow/glazed with rain/water/beside the white/chickens"41 of Williams' poem. "Wild Raspberry" thus becomes, in one of its aspects, a learned joke shared between Smith and Ross, a witty exercise in the imagist manner which, like "The Creek," invites the reader to discover the metaphors of human sexuality that are superimposed upon the leaves "sticky" with sunshine and "slipp'ry" with moisture, the "gashes of red," the "Yellow whips," and the "prickly little branches/... pulled into curves/by the big berries...." "Wild Raspberry" may incidentally show the kinship between imagist simultaneity and metaphysical wit, but if its final couplet — "The eye feasts on [the big berries]/and feels refreshed" — is given a full reading the poem acquires the force of a critique of the imagist emphasis of sight and the sensual over thought and the metaphysical. The gustatory "eye" that simply "feasts" on the "berries" evidently does not share the reader's "intuitive flash"42 of awareness that the wild raspberry bush (which, it is worth noticing, is addressed as a second person from the outset) can be perceived sexually and metaphorically, that a wittily intellectual correspondence between nature and man is imaginatively possible. Moreover, the eye merely "feels refreshed": even the satisfaction of its appetite is an illusion. The qualifications introduced by the last couplet of "Wild Raspberry" indicate that here, as in "Walking in a Field..." Smith is reenacting for the purposes of examining an alignment vis-à-vis the perception of external nature which he sees as potentially lacking in honesty and intelligence, and, when so, as insufficient and illusory. This reading of "Wild Raspberry" may help to explain why W.W.E. Ross, in a letter to Smith in January, 1958, was troubled by what he saw as a "slight falling off" towards the end of the poem and suggested that Smith "might put . . . 'The eye feasts on these' rather than 'The eye feasts on them' " — a change which, he thought, would enable " 'feels' [to be] . . . replaced, simply, by 'is'."43 Such changes would have diminished the subtle critical force of "Wild Raspberry," and Smith did not make them.  

     Just as the juxtaposition of "Walking in a Field..." and "Wild Raspberry" prompts the recognition that those poetic probes are thematically linked explorations of epistemological positions, so the pairing of "Birches..." and "Tree" reveals these poems to be examinations of different yet related alignments. Like its immediate predecessors in Poems, New and Collected, "Birches at Drummond Point" presents and questions an epistemological position, this time the Romantic proposition that a receptive and privileged observer can receive valuable lessons from external nature, from the impulse of a vernal wood. "The older masters," writes Smith of the 'Confederation Poets' in The Book of Canadian Poetry (1943), "sought a spiritual nourishment in the beauty of their natural surroundings.... The poets of today, inheritors of what I.A. Richards has called the "neutralisation of nature,' . . . can no longer find [their subject matter] in the beauty of nature — a beauty that seems either deceptive or irrelevant."44 "Birches at Drummond Point (Lake Memphremagog)," finds the modern Canadian poet tentatively adopting the stance of one of the "older masters" to wonder whether external nature has an intelligible message for him or whether that possibility is itself a deception:  

                 Leaning over the lake
                 slim white birches
                 curved by the south-west wind
                 offer a silent rebuke
                                or seem to. . .

The next section, an elaboration of the possibility of receiving an impulse from the birches, is almost Leacockian in its parodic depiction of the trees as Aldis Lamps:

                 When the sun glints
                 on their leaves
                           dark green or light green
                 they seem to be flashing
                 a message. . .

It is as though Wordsworth were to have depicted the leech-gatherer as a practitioner of semaphor. Now tilted towards the facetious, the poem moves ingenuously and quizzically to its conclusion:

                 When a breeze
                            makes them rustle
                 I listen:

                 What do they say?
                           or seem to? 

The uncertain ending of "Birches at Drummond Point" might seem to add nothing to its beginning. But the fact that the poet's initial uncertainty has now found shape in two questions, the first assuming the existence of a message from nature which he tries to understand and the second undercutting the first in its suggestion that to conceive of a message emanating from the birches is a delusion, indicates a crystalized scepticism regarding the Romantic epistemological assumptions that the poem investigates. The inference to be drawn from "Birches at Drummond Point" is that for the modern poet to fancy external nature as anything other than neutral is futile, and delusive, albeit still attractive. 

     The conceptual generality of its title, "Tree," indicates that the companion poem to "Birches at Drummond Point" concerns itself neither with a particular vernal wood nor, in contrast to an imagist poem such as  F.S. Flint's "Trees" (plural), with specific things and their significance. Smith's "Tree" is, in fact, a sympathetically assertive but not entirely credulous instancing of the high, orphic claims made by poets of the symboliste tradition — such as the Mallarme of Variations sur un sujet and the Prévert of Paroles45 — concerning the power of language and art to create their own worlds as real as objective reality. "Tree" thus explores an alignment which, though very different from that of "Birches. . .," has its origins in Romanticism, in the idea that, through the power of the word, the poet is able to partake in the creativity of God and to call into being a world of his own. The opening stanza of "Tree" recalls the conclusion of "Swift Current" as it assigns to words the mysterious power to designate the vectorial characteristics of occurences in the mental and physical worlds:  

                 Words are ciphers
                 denoting speeds and directions
                 not of thought only but of things.

From this statement of the referentiality of language, the poem proceeds, by means of an allusion to Mallarmé's "Je dis: une fleur! et, hors de l'oubli . . . se leve . . . l'absente de tous bouquets"46 to show an orphic utterance creating a world:

                 I say tree
                 and the rain falls
                 and the sun gets to work
                 and the seed breaks
                 and the sprout appears

                 and the years pass
                 and here it is spring again.

The colloquial tone and casual syntax of this passage might obscure a full reading of the final line where "here" surely refers to the environment called into being by the poetic utterance. Once inducted into the circumambient world of the word's making, the reader can be invited to observe its texture and inhabitants:

                 See what the word
                 has split the earth with—

               gray, black, knotted, gnarled—

                 with even a boy
                 carving a heart
                 and a name.  

The function of the imagistic series of adjectives at the centre of this passage is, of course, to reify the tree, to transform what had before been a generalized abstraction ("tree") into a visual image in the reader's mind. The function of the concluding stanza is more complex. That it strikes a sentimental note may at first seem disappointing. Is it a failure of control on Smith's part that bathos is allowed to call the question on the ability of "the word" to create human life, to bring into being a "boy" with the capacity to love and to (pro)create — for surely the name that he carves on the 'tree' is, in the logic of the poem, the first stage in the creation of yet another world? Against such an interpretation stands the phrase "even a boy," for it is in the slightly surprised "even" with which the poet extends his proposition into the realm of the unexpected that he uncovers his own and the reader's certainty regarding the limits of what has transpired. Something that can be theoretically conceived and verbally created in the realm of art has an existence which it is both surprising and sentimental to imagine issuing into any other realm. The "words" of the poet, however vividly they may create in a reader's mind the image of a "tree," have not the constitutive power of the Word of God; or as Yeats put it: "the only real Imagist was the Creator of the Garden of Eden."47

     Following "Tree" in Smith's two collections is his most famous poem in the imagist vein. Although the poet's placement of "The Lonely Land" after "Swift Current" and "Sea Cliff" in The Classic Shade might seem to confirm its affinities with those more obviously imagistic poems, Smith's own description of it as "romantic" and "theatrical"48 should warn against too rigid a distinction between "The Lonely Land" and his poetic probes. Indeed, one way of approaching "The Lonely Land" might be to ask how it is possible to reconcile, on the one hand, Smith's view, in 1977, that the poem had been over-anthologised in relation to its merits and, on the other, the widespread public and critical acceptance of it as "a Canadian classic."49 Part of the answer to this question may reside in the ecological fitness that resulted, in "The Lonely Land," from a difficult (and, to Smith's mind, not entirely successful) poetic experiment — namely, the adaptation of the imagist mode to the needs of an imaginative vision and understanding of the Canadian North.  

     It has in recent years become a critical orthodoxy in Canada to claim that one of the archimedean points of Imagism can be located in Hulme's journey in 1906-7 across Northern Ontario and the Prairies.50 Of his experience in Canada, Hulme later wrote: "the first time I ever felt the necessity or inevitableness of verse, was in the desire to reproduce the peculiar quality of feeling which is induced by the flat spaces and wide horizons of the virgin prairie of Western Canada."51 From this statement, coupled with Hulme's seminal role in the imagist movement, Canadian critics have been perhaps too eager to reach the conclusion that, in Sandra Djwa's words, "vers libre and imagism, [are] particularly well-adapted to a depiction of the Canadian landscape. . ."52 Leaving aside the questions begged by the phrase "the Canadian landscape" (Djwa perhaps means to say Canada's hinterland terrains), and granting that free verse may be a fitting form for those landscapes that are conceived as open,53 it is still necessary to question the attractive equation, by way of Hulme, of imagism and the landscapes of the Canadian hinterland. For Hulme does  not say that he discovered the idea of the image on the prairie but, rather, that he experienced "the desire to reproduce the peculiar quality of feeling . . . induced . . ." by the prairie, a quality which he defines elsewhere as "a feeling of separation in the face of outside nature" and "the fright of mind before the unknown. . ." which "created not only the first gods, but the first art." "The flats of Canada," he wrote, "are incomprehensible on any single theory."54 Hulme's remarks have been quoted here at length because they provide one key to an ecological explanation of why "The Lonely Land," with its abstractions and generalizations, is not a pure imagist poem but, more valuably, an intelligently eclectic and syntropic adaptation of several imported aesthetics — including those of the imagists, the picturesque, and the middle Yeats — that attempts to reproduce, not merely an accurate visual impression of the Shield country, but also an adequate emotional and intellectual response to it. For a humanist such as Smith, an adequate response is of course one that affirms a human presence and human values even in a region like the North, which Martha Ostenso characterizes in Wild Geese as "beyond human warmth . . . beyond even human isolation...."55 The very title of "The Lonely Land," while it may well have been culled from two Group of Seven paintings —  MacDonald's The Solemn Land and The Lonely North56 — is a pathetic fallacy, an instance of Romantic empathy, which serves notice of the humanistic stance and assumptions of what follows.

     Thanks to Desmond Pacey's assemblage of the early published versions of "The Lonely Land" in Ten Canadian Poets,57 the provenance and evolution of the poem are the best known of any in Canadian literature. A comparative examination of the 1926 (McGill Fornightly Review), 1927 (Canadian Forum), and 1929 (Dial), versions reveals that "The Lonely Land" gradually assumed the bipartite structure which is reinforced in Collected Poems, Poems, New and Collected, and The Classic Shade by the placement of the first, more objective section on the left-hand page and the second, more abstract section on the right. (So marked is the division between presentation and commentary in "The Lonely Land" that it calls to mind such antinomies as body and soul, classical and romantic, mirror and lamp — dualities that have never been far from the centre of a literature which, from the start, has been faced with the double-task of recording Canadian reality and discovering man's place in it.) There can be no doubt that in 1926-1929 Smith revised the first section of the poem — the section ending, in the final version, with "smooth, flat stones" (a phrase added in 1927) — in accordance with imagist principles and practice, deleting "high-sounding rotundities"58 ("Hark" and "monstrous plaint" went after the first version), replacing the abstract with the concrete ("Accusing barbs" became "sharp barbs" with the final version), and freeing his verse from conventional rhyme and delineation to enact the contours of its subject-matter. The result is that in the first section of the final version of "The Lonely Land" Smith achieves, to the satisfaction at least of writers such as W.W.E. Ross and George Woodcock (if not of Gordon Harvey) a fitting congruency of matter and manner.59 Notice  particularly the mimetic quality of the lines describing the call of the "wild duck":  

                 Cedar and jagged fir
                 uplift sharp barbs
                 against the gray
                 and cloud-piled sky;
                 and in the bay
                 blown spume and windrift
                 and thin, bitter spray
                 at the whirling sky;
                 and the pine trees lean one way.  

                 A wild duck calls
                 to her mate
                 and the ragged
                 and passionate tones
                 stagger and fall,
                 and recover,
                 and stagger and fall
                 on these stones — 
                 are lost
                 in the lapping of water
                 on smooth, flat stones.  

     Sandra Djwa speculates that Smith's literary model for these lines was the "pointed pines" and "rocks" of H.D.'s "Oread,"60 a possibility which serves to emphasize the fact that, unlike the mountain nymph who speaks the American poem, the speaker of the Canadian poem does not desire "pleasant obliteration"61 in the forest/sea, but, on the contrary, remains resolutely distanced from a landscape which threatens its inhabitants with obliteration. The details selected for inclusion in "The Lonely Land" emphasize, on the one hand, those aspects of the landscape that are inhospitable or actively threatening to life (the "snap" of the "bitter spray" implies an active hostility that contrasts nicely with the passive expansiveness of Pratt's Laurentian lizard) and, on the other hand, those features of the landscape ("Cedar," "fir," and "pine trees," the "wild duck" and "her mate") whose very existence is an affirmation of life —  "passionate" life, the poet plausibly wishes to believe — in an environment that induces an awesome sense of non-entity.62 Of course, the call of the duck, skilfully presented by Smith as a series of dying falls, prepares the way for the humanistic affirmation that comprises the poem's second section.  

     The mention of "Oread" as a possible model for the first section of "The Lonely Land" points up the fact that, much more than H.D.'s short lyric, Smith's poem is catalogic in nature, enumerating significant details in an accumulative manner which, as was suggested in the earlier discussion of   "To Hold in a Poem," is appropriate to Canada's open and stretching landscapes. Consistent with the poem's desire to discover human resonances in the North, the poem contains visual images and structural devices which not only call to many minds such paintings as Tom Thomson's The Jack Pine,63 but also serve to suggest an older pictorial analogy in the picturesque convention. For the opening section of "The Lonely Land" is broadly consistent with picturesque seeing both in its emphasis on differing textures (from "jagged" to "smooth") and, more importantly, in its division of the scene into background (the trees against the sky), middleground ("the bay"), and foreground ("these stones"). Edel goes so far as to say of "The Lonely Land" and of Smith's other Canadian poems that "the poet takes . . . symbols of Canadian nature, but gives . . . a feeling that behind his framed picture he is looking, as in a montage, at a much tamer landscape . . . the senses of the poet turn nature's rudeness into a beautiful composition. . . [that is] perhaps classical-modern, say Constable with a touch of the early Cezanne...."64 Precisely; for Smith, as much as the poets writing in Canada nearly a century and a half earlier, places on view a vision of the landscape that is, in the fullest sense, informed by pictorial and rhetorical conventions which order and humanize the chaotic and inhuman reality.  

     It is a matter of considerable interest that as Smith revised the first part of "The Lonely Land" to convey a sense of the 'thingness' of the Northern wilderness he also expanded and elaborated the second part of the poem as if to counterbalance imagistic presentation (where subjectivity is suppressed) with humanistic commentary (where it is implicitly affirmed). A comparison of the three versions of "The Lonely Land" suggests, moreover, that Smith revised with one eye on his intended audience; in The McGill Fortnightly the second part of the poem is, predictably, tinged with adolescent melancholia ("It is good to come to this land . . . And . . . Find for a tired heart relief. . ."); in The Canad ian Forum, again predictably, the poem is burdened with a baldly nationalistic statement ("These are the poems of Canada. . .") and an emblematically Canadian place name ("Long Lake..."); and, finally, in The Dial, the Yeatsian note that had sounded loudly through such phrases as "desolate splendour" in the two previous versions is skilfully muted, as is the explicit nationalism, to yield the confident assertion of aesthetic qualities and spiritual values which may now be quoted:  

                 This is a beauty
                 of dissonance,
                 this resonance
                 of stony strand
                 this smoky cry
                 curled over a black pine
                 like a broken
                 and wind-battered branch
                 when the wind
                 bends the tops of the pines
                 and curdles the sky
                 from the north.  
                 This is the beauty
                 of strength
                 broken by strength
                 and still strong.  

     The function of the "This. . ." which begins, paces, and, finally, serves notice of closure in the second part of "The Lonely Land" is pivotal and complex: it confirms and carries forward the 'thingness' of the previous imagistic presentation ("This. . .," "this smoky cry. . ."); it inaugurates and maintains the magisterial tone of the commentary ("This is. . ."); and it compels and advances the consolidation of the details accumulated earlier into a single vision that is amenable to abstraction and analysis ("This is a beauty/of dissonance..."). While imagist principles and practice are clearly discernible in the central part of the passage (from "stony strand..." to the full stop), its beginning and its conclusion — where, to borrow Smith's own phrase, "mind comes flooding in"65 — unabashedly violate the imagist proscription of abstraction, and, as their use of two tropes, concordia discors and paradox, indicates, derive from metaphysical sources, from Donne and Vaughan, Yeats and Eliot. Smith's method of elaborating the "beauty/of dissonance...," which is to yoke together sensual and visual impressions for the purposes of conveying a feeling of the elemental movement and enduring strength of the North, derives, of course, from the imagist idea of simultaneity and draws heavily on the principle of synaesthesia. But the excursus with which the poem concludes is indebted to the metaphysicals for its paradoxical definition of the moral-aesthetic that the humanistic poet discerns in the northern landscape. The purpose of the second part of "The Lonely Land" is thus to inform the reader, as no further accumulation of mere images however skilfully shaped by pictorial conventions could, that the Canadian North is a repository, not just of curiously shaped trees, moving waters,66 and wild ducks, but of a particular and individual beauty whose significance is not simply aesthetic but metaphysical, moral, and spiritual. The broad implication of "The Lonely Land" is that the Canadian character, even the Canadian identity, draws its strength from the Northern climate and landscape. That view has its origins in the environmentalism of Montesquieu, and it has of course appealed to Canadian poets from the beginning, particularly in times of national self-consciousness such as the 'twenties.67 "The Lonely Land" must therefore be seen as a modern poem, certainly, but also as a poem with deep roots in European tradition and the Canadian continuity.  

     Various writers other than Smith himself have expressed reservations about "The Lonely Land," particularly about its painterly quality, its traditional component, and its instructional conclusion68 — aspects of the poem which the present discussion has attempted to understand. Some readers have been dismayed to learn that when "The Lonely Land" was written "Smith had never been to the North shore of Lake Superior, or to the particular region from which Lawren Harris, Tom Thomson and Arthur Lismer took the inspiration for their paintings."69

     Needless to say, such a consideration is irrelevant. (As F.R. Scott notes: "nor had Coleridge   ever been to sea before he wrote 'The Ancient Mariner.'") What is important is the fact that "The Lonely Land" vividly and intelligently recreates an imaginative experience of the North, combining materials derived from several sources — imagist poems, Group of Seven paintings, metaphysical poetry — into a poem that is successful in its own terms. By selecting and adapting his poetic models to the needs of his inspiration and his audience Smith shows in "The Lonely Land" the intellectual acumen and creative skill that prevails in the most accomplished Canadian poets. In the case of "The Lonely Land," where eclectic detachment issues in ecological fitness, a final judgement of the poem must surely tilt the balance away from counting it a mere poetic probe and towards according it the status of a Canadian classic.   The final poem to be considered here and the last one of the imagistic group in Poems, New and Collected and The Classic Shade (in the Collected Poems it appears between "The Creek" and "Wild Raspberry") is "The Convolvulus." While its central technique, the superimposition on the titular flower of images evocative of religious ritual, derives from Imagism, "The Convolvulus" is an authentic statement, a joyful celebration of life and living. A cursory reading of the poem might place it with "Walking in a Field, Looking Down and Seeing a White Violet" and "Birches at Drummond Point" as a semi-serious exercise in Romantic typology, in this instance a matins service in the Wordsworthian cathedral of nature with a sermon on little flowers made vocal of lofty meanings. On closer examination, it becomes apparent that in "The Convolvulus" Smith draws on these traditional associations, not for the purposes of questioning their validity, but to add resonance to his celebration of "being." The poem is an address delivered to the convolvulus flower in the imperative tone of the preacher or the bard and calling upon it to unfold its petals, to affirm life; its "diapason" recalls that of Milton's "At a Solemn Music:"  

                 Open your narrow throat
                 convolvulus, and cry  

                 Let your paean of being
                 ring like a great shout  

                 in the diapason  

                 of the yellow sun
                 and a million green shoots  

                 —in the communion of summer
                 and the morning's glory.  

The metaphorical and religious aspects of this passage — the flower as praising "throat" and church bell, the sun as organ note, and the summer as holy "communion" — serve as an imagery of magnification through which the "paean of being" that is the unfolding of the convolvulus is imaginatively articulated. The delight of recognition and involvement attends the reader's recognition that the poem's closing words, "morning's glory," are a witty play on the familiar family name of the convolvulus, a freshly-minted statement of the flower's very identity which, in a marvellous manner, identifies and surrounds it with a radiance, a glory, bestowed by the poet's imaginative participation in the fellowship of all being.  

     "The Convolvulus" is a good poem on which to conclude because, despite the slightness of its stature beside "The Lonely Land," it points up some of the enduring qualities of Smith's best imagistic poems: their celebrating energy, their rhetorical skill, their linguistic brilliance, their memorable cadences, and, above all, their combination of vividness and intelligence. Smith's tendency to analyse as well as to describe, to affirm the human presence in a neutral nature, may push some of his imagistic poems farther into the realm of the abstract than some readers may wish to accept. But that intellection, humanism, and abstraction may well be a necessary and correct response to the Canadian environment if it is to be imaginatively conceived and rationally understood. No doubt "The Lonely Land" is less than successful if judged in strict imagist terms, yet it is, in its own terms and in Canadian terms, a successful poem — a judgement which, incidentally, is not based on a double standard. Even in his very minor poems, Smith, far from evincing an uncritical reliance on his models, reveals a combination of intelligence and creativity which allows for a detached participation in various stances and styles, for an argumentative probing of modes and assumptions. To an appreciation of the descriptive skill and keen intelligence that are found in Smith's best imagistic poems, must therefore be added a recognition of the poetic and cultural responsibility that governed his formalistic and rhetorical choices. There is nothing arbitrary about the verse pattern of "To Hold in a Poem," the typographical layout of "The Creek," or the jagged free verse of "The Lonely Land." Nowhere is Smith's responsibility more evident than in what has been called the ecological fitness of his best poems; the Smith of "Swift Current" and "The Convolvulus," no less than of "To Hold in a Poem" and "The Lonely Land," understood that "the size of a canvas is not irrelevant to the picture painted on it," that "they need to fit each other."70 The successful poems in the imagistic sections of Collected Poems and Poems, New and Collected were won, not easily, by a poet dedicated to the ideal of acquiring an "eye made aquiline by thought."71 For a concluding description of Smith's best work in whatever section of his various collections, it would be difficult to improve upon his own description of poetic excellence in the "Refining Fire" essay: "clarity, wholeness, integrity, depth, intensity, and" — the inevitable and incorrigible Smithian caveat — "universality."72


This paper, a shortened version of which was delivered at the Northeast Modern Language Association Convention in April, 1982, has benefited greatly from suggestions by Malcolm   Ross and Alfred Bailey, as well as from conversations with colleagues and students at the University of Western Ontario. Smith's own comments on the nature of his poetry as criticism at the conclusion of his interview with Michael Heenan (which, unfortunately, I had not read at the time of writing) lead me to hope that he would have found congenial some of the arguments advanced in the paper.  

  1. "Review of A.J.M. Smith's Collected Poems," reprinted in The McGill Movement: A.J.M. Smith, F.R. Scott, and Leo Kennedy, ed. Peter Stevens (Toronto: Ryerson, Critical View on Canadian Writers 1969), p. 124. ;   [back]

  2. "A Rejected Preface," Canadian Literature, 24 (Spring, 1965), 8. See also "Introduction," The Book of Canadian Poetry (Toronto: Gage, 1943), p. 28: "The modern revival began in the 'twenties with a simplification of technique.... Canadian poets turned against rhetoric, sought a sharper, more objective imagery, and limited themselves as far as possible to the language of everyday and the rhythms of speech."   [back]

  3. See "A New Dimension: Notes on the Ecology of Canadian Poetry." Canadian Poetry, 7 (Fall/Winter, 1980), 1-20. Hereafter cited as "A New Dimension."   [back]

  4. This and subsequent quotations from the poems of A.J.M. Smith, unless otherwise noted, are from Poems, New and Collected (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 42-52.[back]

  5. The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (Toronto: Anansi, 1971), p. 37.    [back]

  6. The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At the Long Sault), ed. Margaret Coulby Whitridge (University of Toronto Press, Literature of Canada, 1974), p. 16.   [back]

  7. For this and subsequent information about early printings of Smith's poems, I am indebted to Michael Darling, "A Variorum Edition of the Poems of A.J.M. Smith with a Descriptive Bibliography and Reference Guide," Ph.D. Dissertation, York University, 1979. Hereafter cited as "Variorum Edition."   [back]

  8. Poetry in Canada: The First Three Steps (Toronto: Ryerson, 1958), p. 44.   [back]

  9. Canadian Literature, 24 (Spring, 1965), 6-7. [back]

  10. The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1950), pp. 164 and 167. Smith, who of course wrote his M.A. thesis on Yeats, quotes the opening lines of "The Dawn" in his "A Poet Young and Old," University of Toronto Quarterly, 6 (September, 1939), 259 and alludes to the final lines of "The Fisherman" at the conclusion of his "Ode: On the Death of William Butler Yeats."   [back]

  11. Ibid., p. 258.   [back]

  12. Ibid.   [back]

  13. In the McGill News the line had read "Lonely, untouchable, clear"; see "Variorum Edition," p. 82.   [back]

  14. John Ferns, A.J.M. Smith (Boston: Twayne, 1979), p. 41. Hereafter cited as A.J.M. Smith.   [back]

  15. This is Charles G.D. Roberts' phrase from the "Prefatory Note" in his Selected Poems (Toronto: Ryerson, 1936), p. viii.  [back]

  16. "Introduction," The Long Poem Anthology (Toronto: Coach House, 1979), p. 11. [back]

  17. See, for instance, Smith's comments on "Spring on Mattagami" in "The Poetry of Duncan Campbell Scott," On Poetry and Poets (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, NCL, 1977), p. 52.   [back]

  18. In the Arresting Eye: the Rhetoric of Imagism (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 114-119.   [back]

  19. See also "A Stretching Landscape; Notes on Some Formalistic Continuities in the Poetry of the Hinterland," CVII, 5 (Summer, 1981), 6-18. Hereafter cited as "The Stretching Landscape."   [back]

  20. "A Rejected Preface, " pp. 8 and 12.  [back]

  21. See "A New Dimension," pp. 9-12.  [back]

  22. See "A Stretching Landscape," pp. 12-15. It is worth noting that in the McGill News "Laurentia's long indulant line . . ." was "the Rockies' irregular line . . .," a phrase which would have been ecologically in keeping with a free verse poem. See "Variorum Edition," p. 82, and also Michael Darling's paper in the present issue of Canadian Poetry.   [back]

  23. Modern Canadian Poetry, ed. Nathaniel A. Benson (Ottawa: Graphic, 1930), p. 226.  [back]

  24. "The Worldly Muse of A.J.M. Smith," University of Toronto Quarterly, 47 (Spring, 1978), 213.  [back]

  25. A.J.M. Smith, p. 42.  [back]

  26. "A.J.M. Smith and The Classic Shadow," The Compass, 8 (Winter, 1980), 8.   [back]

  27. "The Worldly Muse of A.J.M. Smith," p. 207.   [back]

  28. A.J.M. Smith, p. 43.   [back]

  29. "A Rejected Preface," p. 8. [back]

  30. This is Hulme's translation of Bergeon, as quoted in Gage, ln the ArrestingEye, pp. 11-12. [back]

  31. Ibid. [back]

  32. The Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1956), p. 35. [back]

  33. While "The Creek" was first published in The Dial in November, 1928, "Sea Cliff' and "Swift Current" both appeared in The Canadian Forum for June, 1930. [back]

  34. "A.J.M. Smith" in Leading Canadian Poets, ed. Percival (Toronto: Ryerson, 1948), p. 239. [back]

  35. "The Poetry of A.J.M. Smith," The Canadian Forum, 23 (February, 1944), 258. [back]

  36. Cf. Gage, In the Arresting Eye, pp. 57-63. [back]

  37. A.J.M. Smith, p. 43. [back]

  38. "Tree" was first printed in Here and Now for May, 1948; "Wild Raspberry," with "The Convolvulus," "Thomas Moore and Sweet Annie," and "The Haggard Moon," in Pan, 1958; "Walking in a Field..." in Canadian Literature, Winter, 1963; and "Birches..." in Quarry, Summer, 1967 where, as in a later appearance in Canadian Literature, Spring, 1968, it is printed in italics — perhaps to point up its stylized quality. [back]

  39. In his "Prologue to a Poetry Reading: Address to the Audience" ("Variorum Edition," p. 241), Smith makes a characteristic assertion of impersonality ("I am not I/not the I of the poem"), but adds: "under several layers of art/or artifice/and several layers/of subconscious compulsion /lurks/no one but I...." [back]

  40. See On Poetry and Poets, pp. 60-61. [back]

  41. The Selected Poems of William Carlos Williams, introduced by Randell Jarrell (New York: New Directions, 1968), p. 30. [back]

  42. On Poetry and Poets, p. 61. [back]

  43. "On Poetry and Poets: The Letters of W.W.E. Ross to A.J.M. Smith," ed. Michael Darling, Essays on Canadian Writing, 16 (Fall/Winter, 1979-80), 120. [back]

  44. On Poetry and Poets, pp. 40-41. [back]

  45. Smith's translations of Mallarmé include "Le Vièrge, Le Vivace et Le Bel anjourdt hui" and "Canticle of St. John," and those from Prévert "The Important Personage and the Guardian Angel," "The Keys to the City" (see "Variorium Edition," pp. 211-212) and "May Song." See particularly "Pour faire le Portrait d'un Oiseau" in the Paroles (1945) volume. [back]

  46. Oeuvres Complètes (Tours: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade, 1945), p. 368. F.R. Scott may have in mind the same passage in Mallarmé in "Poetry," Events and Signals (Toronto: Ryerson,1954), p. 24: "If I write 'ostrich'/Those who have never seen the bird see it...." [back]

  47. Quoted by Glenn Hughes, Imagism and the Imagists: A Study in Modern Poetry (1931), vii and again by Gage, In the Arresting Eye, p. 22. [back]

  48. In "An Interview with A.J.M. Smith" by Michael Darling, Essays on Canadian Writing, 9 (Winter, 1977), 58-59. [back]

  49. Desmond Pacey, Ten Canadian Poets (Toronto: Ryerson, 1958), p. 212. [back]

  50. See, for instance, Barry Callaghan, "Memoir," Shapes and Sounds: Poems of W.W.E. Ross (Don Mills: Longmans, 1968), pp. 4-5 and George Woodcock, "Nationalism and the Canadian Genius," artscanada, 36 (December/January, 1979-80), 2. [back]

  51. Quoted by Alun R. Jones, The Life and Opinions of T.E. Hulme (London: Victor Gollancz, 1960), p. 23n. [back]

  52. " 'A New Soil and a Sharp Sun': the Landscape of a Modern Canadian Poetry," Modernist Studies, 2 (1975), 7. [back]

  53. See "A Stretching Landscape," pp. 6-8 and 15-16 especially. [back]

  54. Quoted by Jones, p. 23. [back]

  55. Wild Geese (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, NCL, 1971), p. 32. [back]

  56. See Djwa "'A New Soil . . .,'" p. 12. [back]

  57. Ten Canadian Poets, pp. 212-214. Quotations from the early versions of "The Lonely Land" are from this source. Darling, "Variorum Edition," p. 91 notes another early printing, essentially the same as in The Canadian Forum, in The New Outlook for October 5, 1927. [back]

  58. Harriet Monroe, quoted by Gage, In the Arresting Eye, p. 33. [back]

  59. See "On Poetry and Poets: The Letters of W.W.E. Ross to A.J.M. Smith," ed. Michael Darling, Essays on Canadian Writing, 16 (Fall/Winter, 1979-80), 82-83, Woodcock "Nationalism and the Canadian Genius," p. 9, and Harvey, "A.J.M. Smith and the Classic Shadow," p. 8. [back]

  60. "'A New Soil . . .,'" p. 12. [back]

  61. Hugh Witemeyer, The Poetry of Ezra Pound: Forms and Renewal, 1908-1920. (University of California Press, 1969), p. 35. [back]

  62. Two comments which Sinclair Ross, As for Me and My House (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, NCL, 1957) pp. 19 and 100, gives to Mrs. Bentley are pertinent here. Of the hymn-singing Prairie farmers she observes: "it was as if in the face of so blind and uncaring a universe they were trying to assert themselves, to insist upon their own meaning and importance." And later she says: "Eternity . . . was too big for me, and even while we sat there, looking at the hills, I slipped away from them to think of us." [back]

  63. See Djwa, "A New Soil. . .,'" p. 7 and Woodcock "Nationalism and the Canadian Genius," p. 9. [back]

  64. "The Worldly Muse of A.J.M. Smith," p. 211. [back]

  65. "F.R. Scott and Some of His Poems" in The McGill Movement, ed. Peter Stevens, p. 87. [back]

  66. See "An Interview with A.J.M. Smith," p. 58. [back]

  67. Djwa, " 'A New Soil. . .,' " pp. 4-6 discusses the Northern vision in the painting and poetry of the post-World War I period. See also S.M. Beckow "From the Watch-Towers of Patriotism: Theories of Literary Growth in English Canada, 1864-1914," Journal of Canadian Studies, 9 (August, 1974), 9f. [back]

  68. See, for instance, Pacey, Ten Canadian Poets, pp. 214-215 and Harvey, "A.J.M. Smith and the Classic Shadow," p. 8. [back]

  69. F.R. Scott, "A.J.M. Smith," p. 243. [back]

  70. Bernard P. Davenhauer, Silence: the Phenomenon and its Ontological Significance (Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 10. [back]

  71. "A Poet Young and Old," p. 259. [back]

  72. On Poetry and Poets, p. 68.   [back]