"There Was One Thing He Could Not See": William Morris in the Writing of Archibald Lampman and Francis Sherman



by Karen Herbert


During his first visit to Iceland in 1871, Morris includes a description of Reykjavk in one of his letters to Jane: he writes, "the town itself might be in Canada."1 Although Morris’s impressions of Canada were vicarious, within the decade Canada’s impressions of Morris were to become a direct and considerable influence on this country’s developing poetic tradition. In late nineteenth-century Canada, this tradition was given impetus by the Confederation poets, a group for whom, as Les McLeod argues, "Post-Romantic" might be a more "useful" and accurate category (as far as any such bracketing can be accurate).2 Charles G.D. Roberts and Archibald Lampman, among other Post-Romantic poets, were familiar with Morris’s writing. So, too, was the lesser known East coast poet, Francis Sherman, a friend of Roberts and junior to Roberts and Lampman by ten years. In varying degrees and by differing means, the styles, subjects, and techniques of these poets reflect both an acknowledged proximity to and a desired distance from Morris’s writing. I have selected Lampman and Sherman for discussion because, although they are linked by their awareness of Morris’s work, they are differentiated by their contrasting geographical locations (Ontario and New Brunswick, respectively), their social outlook (political and apolitical), and, in retrospect, their fame. Then, too, Lampman and Sherman, like Morris, were in direct contact with the routine business of everyday life. Lampman worked for the Post Office Department in Ottawa until his early death in 1899; Sherman was employed by the Royal Bank in Fredericton and, from 1899 until 1912, in Cuba, where he was promoted to the position of Supervisor of Branches. As businessman/agitator, civil servant, and financier respectively, Morris, Lampman, and Sherman moved between the worlds of bureaucracy and art, worlds contradictory, yet complementary in that, together, they promote the multifaceted perception endorsed by each poet.


As a first time visitor to Iceland, Morris sees with the eyes of an explorer, yet speaks from within the context of familiar and communicable analogy. His generalized (and wrong-headed) equation of Iceland with Canada suggests that unfamiliar landscape requires a type of Adamic renaming. Hence, Morris shares—with a difference—the task of Canada’s second and third generation explorer-poets who search for language and forms to express their kinship with, as well as their alienation from, two inherited topographies: first, the unorganized land of their Canadian historical past and, second, the organized terrain of the English poetic tradition. Originating from within the premise of nineteenth-century Romanticism, this dialectical layering promotes the imaginative conjunction of landscape, perception, and language rather than the parasitical appropriation of landscape by perception and language. Jerome McGann explains how Morris’s writing generates in the reader a "recovery of the powers of vision, to see again for the first time."3 In an extension and application of this process, those readers of Morris who were, at the same time, Canadian poets of the late nineteenth century sought the birth of the powers of Canadian vision, a perceptual beginning which allowed them to see their landscape and its ethos not "again" but "for the first time."


Archibald Lampman, a Toronto/Ottawa member of the "1860 group" of poets (Roberts’ term), shares Morris’s preoccupation with "seeing": in his sonnet "Sight" (Among the Millet [1888]) Lampman explains, "if we could but lift our earthward eyes / To see, and open our dull ears to hear, / Then should the wonder of this world draw near."4 Similarly, in his essay "Poetic Interpretation," Lampman argues that beauty is visible to those who possess "poetic feeling"— an egalitarian feeling—and who are receptive to beauty and responsive to the "impression" of the world’s phenomena.5 In the Romantic tradition, both Morris and Lampman interpret the poet as one who possesses this "high degree" (Lampman, Prose 87) of perceptual acuity and who, in turn, is compelled to "reproduce" impressions through the visual and verbal suggestiveness of verse. For Lampman, as for Morris, these impressions reveal an intricate network of memories and associations. As David Bentley argues in his discussion of Lampman’s fourfold cosmology, Lampman sees both synchronically and diachronically: nature and civilization are regarded in the context of solar and seasonal, historical and individual cycles.6 Hence, Lampman extends the dual dimensions of nature and self (oppositions frequently identified but only tentatively explored by Roberts) to the multidimensional and transhistorical implications of the wilderness and the city—as these were, are, will be, and could be. In other words, the wilderness as hinterland, as pastoral, as wasteland, as paradise; the city as baseland, as urban centre, as nightmare, as paradise. This imaginative and actual experience of the trajectory of memory through and into futuristic vision corresponds quite closely with Morris’s historical and utopian aesthetic. For Lampman, as Barrie Davies and Bruce Nesbitt among others point out, nature is not merely "out there" but is linked inextricably with humanity’s existence as a whole.7 Hence, lyrics such as "Freedom," "Life and Nature," "April," and "After Snow" and the sonnets "The City," "A Winter Dawn" and "Winter Uplands" present landscape and city as a dialectic evolving, through meditation or "dream," to a reconciliation or, at least, to an acceptance, of the material and conceptual presence of the dialectic itself. Whereas Roberts tentatively approaches nature with desire and fear, Lampman’s more comprehensive perspective locates desire and awe, as well as the anxiety generated by this paradox, in both nature and the modern city. Similarly, the speaker/poet in Morris’s The Earthly Paradise proposes a literary, conceptual, and imaginative distance from the industrial city:


Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down,
And dream of London, small, and white, and clean.8


This "forget," "think," and "dream" sequence has a counterpart in the Lampman poems wherein a speaker/poet located in a natural landscape distances himself geographically (and/or psychologically) from the city and turns to nature for relief. He/she does this by surveying (in both senses of the word) and linguistically shaping a perceptual space in which to "think" and "dream." Whether actual (as in "A January Morning") or symbolic, the turning is from the inhospitality of both the urban, industrial climate and the rural, natural climate. At the same time, the city, transformed by the idealizing poetics of distance, appears as a vision of "glorious towers" ("The City," Poems 118), and nature, transformed by reverie, appears to retain its Wordsworthian and literary promise of catharsis. Without the dialectics of distance, however, the city’s "light is a gloom of warning" and nature’s beauty merely camouflages a "waste" (Poems 215, 21).9 Lampman’s two stanza, eight line lyric, "Distance," testifies to the significance of the horizon in his thought: "Peace is not in burgh or meadow / But beyond the rim" (Poems 143). In the second stanza, the speaker describes the moment of intuition when the transcendental horizon is perceived and the meaning of the "whole" becomes apparent. Because this horizon merges earth with heaven it is, at once, the object and the source of the poet’s perception. Lampman’s poet/dreamer "wrapped round with thought" and Morris’s "idle singer" who, however, does not create "for nought," see with a "creative eye" the manifold dimensions of existence, or the "hidden histories" and "hidden faces" of cultural and natural processes (Lampman, Poems 117, 116, 157).10 In an imaginative sense, Lampman moves from Roberts’ point of view to that of Morris: nature has been and, on occasion, continues to be the destroyer, the "grim, mysterious presence" ("Night in the Wilderness" Poems 294), but of equal or greater concern is humankind as the destroyer of nature and, in turn, the industrial city as the potential destroyer of humanity. With these views of modern civilization, Lampman, like Morris, eventually (and inevitably) named his social and political beliefs "Socialism."11


In general, Lampman’s pleas for perceptual renewal ("Let us clear our eyes," "Winter-Store," Poems 165), his dialectical images and structures, and his application of memory to the future and of dream to reality suggest the influence of Morris’s Ruskinian techniques and thought. Matthew Arnold, too, was a strong formative influence, as was Keats—although, in 1894, Lampman noted that he was "getting quite clear of the spell of that marvellous person."12 In 1885, Lampman’s paper, "On the Modern School of Poetry in England," includes a reference to Morris as "the third and last poet of consequence in the Pre-Raphaelite school." Morris, suggests Lampman, wrote a "great deal too much." Lampman continues with an assessment of The Earthly Paradise as Morris’s "greatest work" but an "idle story" which suffers from a lack of "dramatic and narrative force" and a "genuine hearty sympathy with the movement of life" (Prose 102). Although derogatory, this criticism of Morris reveals the active presence of Morris’s work in Lampman’s life. So, too, does Lampman’s wry observation, in the Globe’s November 12, 1892 "At the Mermaid Inn" column, that Morris was not "exactly the stuff that laureates are made of, either as regards his opinions or the quality of his genius."13 Nevertheless, Lampman’s charge in the "Modern School" that Morris and, indeed, all of the Pre-Raphaelites, lack both moral restraint and social concern is not only typical of much nineteenth-century criticism of the Pre-Raphaelites but reflects Lampman’s own fear that without the background of human landscape—whether material or conceptual— natural landscape becomes "mere" description; similarly, as Morris well knew, romance and myth do not merely describe imaginary cultural landscapes but "re-view" and "re-present" reality from the perspective of the imagination. In October 1892, Duncan Campbell Scott’s review of Morris’s Poems By The Way notes this liaison between the observer and the observed terrain: Scott praises Morris’s "clear pictures of landscape . . . knowledge of the human heart. . . . [and] pictures of life and nature."14 Much of this review could, with equal relevance, be applied to Lampman’s poetry. On occasion, Lampman’s nature lyrics and sonnets have suffered a critical fate similar to that dealt by their writer to Morris’s verse romances; that is, charges of escapism and "mere" word-painting. However, like Morris, Lampman gives nature, memory, and dream an active social and cultural function. In defence of the poet as one who sees with extreme clarity and depth of perception, Lampman writes in the April 2, 1892 "Mermaid Inn" column, "The poet attaches himself to no dream. He endeavours to see life simply as it is, and to estimate everything at its true value in relation to the universal and the infinite."15 Lampman’s sonnet, "Ambition," depicts, as does Morris’s "Apology" to The Earthly Paradise, the poet’s dialectical method of indirection and suggestion: while "seeing" the "tangle of Desire and Memory" in the world of action, the poet, spatially distanced yet perceptually involved, reflects, with some irony:


                     I watching with unenvious eyes
From other lips let stormy numbers flow:
     By others let great epics be compiled;
For me, the dreamer, ’tis enough to know
     The lyric stress, the fervour sweet and wild.
                                                                (Poems 295)


As a member of the Ottawa Literary and Scientific Society, Lampman debated the theories of Ruskin, Morris, and Marx. In his poems and prose of explicit social comment, Lampman’s visions of future society both complement and contradict (contradictions explicable in the Marxist context of historical circumstances) Morris’s political and social views. One such inconsistency is the lesser role played by architecture and art—oral narrative in particular—in Lampman’s criticism of the industrial present and vision of an ideal future. The absence of the "visible history" (Morris’s term) of architecture in nineteenth-century Canada, together with the desire of Lampman and his contemporary writers to develop Canadian cultural autonomy explains, in part, why Lampman focuses upon his heritage of landscape. Although Morris speaks from within, according to him, a decaying, aging society and Lampman from within a protean, emergent society, both attempt, to use Morris’s characteristically Carlylean visual metaphor, to "clear [their and their readers’] eyes to the signs of the times" (CW 23: 25). Whereas Morris designs an alternative world of romance and fantasy as a foil reflecting, by contrast, his Victorian world, Lampman invests his Canadian landscape with mythological possibilities: nature is healer and destroyer but, at the same time, vulnerable and fragile.


In poems such as "New Year’s Eve" (with its pageant reminiscent of Shelley’s "The Triumph of Life" and of The Earthly Paradise tale, "The Ring Given to Venus") and "The Three Pilgrims" (with its Tennysonian revels), nature acquires sinister connotations. In "The City of the End of Things," nature is banished, together with feeling, language, communication, hope, fear, and memory—qualities which define and comprise human nature. Apart from obvious relations to Thomson’s "The City of Dreadful Night" (1874), Lampman’s dystopian poem suggests and redesigns the psychological settings of several Earthly Paradise tales and, in particular, of the "Prologue." The "ceaseless round" of mechanical noise and the horror of "hideous" monotonies that "cease not, and change not, night nor day" (Poems 180) in "The City of the End of Things" recall the "unvarying round of misery" (CW 3: 73) endured by the Wanderers during their imprisonment in the demonic inversion of an earthly paradise—demonic because it offers not eternal life but eternal death in life. For both Morris and Lampman, such an existence is unbearable because the absence of change is, in effect, death. Symbolically, the Wanderer’s false paradise and the "Idiot" at the gate of "The City of the End of Things" depict humanity’s loss of identity. Hope, fear, and memory, the essential "wealth" of our existence, are gradually commodified by the values and processes of industrial capitalism. In particular, industrialism threatens to extract meaning from memory and speech; accordingly, the frame of The Earthly Paradise projects its structural basis of communal and individual memory into the tales themselves. Antithetically, in "The City of the End of Things," the noise which replaces speech is "incommunicable" and "Each thread of memory is snapt and cut" (Poems 181, 180). Change and memory, hope and fear permeate the writing of both Morris and Lampman. Whereas Morris locates these processes in art, artifact, and architecture, or the manifestations of historical cycles, Lampman locates the same processes in landscape, the manifestation of seasonal and natural cycles: hence, the structural and thematic tensions generated by Morris’s framing techniques and by Lampman’s "nature" sonnets.16 Moreover, as a nightmarish extension and reading of Bellamy’s Looking Backward, "The City of the End of Things" synoptically remembers or "looks back" to the communal, co-operative origins of the city and, in turn, predicts the eventual breakdown and self-destruction of the mechanistic, symbolically reified, and dehumanized civilization. The prospect of this future enslavement of individuality, freedom, and imagination underlies Morris’s political lectures and Lampman’s "Essay on Socialism": sounding very much like Morris, Lampman asserts that "there is no cure for these things under the competitive system, none whatsoever" (Prose 52). However, the reality of vast areas of unpopulated hinterland, potentially fertile and rich in natural resources, gives Lampman an alternative to Morris’s concentration on the degradation of art: the immorality of the laissez-faire system which permits the economics of supply and demand to allow want and poverty amidst latent plenty. To be sure, Morris does not overlook the problems of scarcity induced by capitalism’s network of distribution: capitalism, argues Morris in "The Aims of Art" (1886), is, in effect, a synonym for "Artificial Famine" (CW 23: 95-96).


Lampman’s "A Vision of Twilight" and "The Land of Pallas" replace the horror of "The City of the End of Things" with utopian "dreams" of an alternative future for civilization. With echoes of the Elders’ city in The Earthly Paradise, the landscape and culture of the dream city in "A Vision of Twilight" reflect harmony, fellowship, serenity, wisdom, and a "far-seeing" (Poems 197) understanding of the dialectics of existence. Pertinently, the "domed and towerèd centre" of the city has a pastoral, rather than a commercial function: "a garden wide and fair, / Open for the soul to enter" (Poems 196). The city’s inhabitants possess a prelapsarian (and, symbolically, pre-industrial) unity of body and spirit, word and truth, and physical sight and mystical vision. In contrast to the metallic cacophony of "The City of the End of Things," the "perfect speech" of those who dwell in Lampman’s vision is "marvellously musical" (Poems 196). Lampman’s waking "Vision" and dystopian "End of Things" express, respectively, the hope that civilization will evolve through its present stage (see also "The Clearer Self") into a nobler form and the fear that the effects of our competitive, technological culture are irreversible. Morris holds to a similar dialectic of teleological optimism and pessimism but, increasingly, he relinquishes hope because, to him, degeneration is pervasive: political, cultural, and social cycles appear to be in simultaneous descent with little hope of any immediate retrograde movement. "A Vision of Twilight" concludes with a Romantic inquiry into the appearances and direction of historical and cultural change; Morris’s fantasy and romance implicitly ask the same question: "Which is real? The fleeting vision? / Or the fleeting world of men?" (Poems 198).


As Bentley points out in his reading, "The Land of Pallas" is indebted to News from Nowhere but differs from Morris’s work in several ways: landscape is generalized, the change to communism is evolutionary not revolutionary, society is classical, not medieval, and wisdom, rather than art, predominates.17 As in News, private ownership and class or gender levels are abolished, currency and legal contracts are unnecessary, and culture is pastoral, not industrial. The emphasis on oral language ("lovely speech," "blithe speech," "sweet converse" [Poems 202, 203, 204]) suggests that verbal communication reflects the speakers’ morality and is, in essence, an art form. Lampman’s short lyric "Good Speech" advocates this Ruskinian aesthetic, as do Morris’s lectures and political romances: according to Morris, language, especially the language of popular speech, has become coarsened and degraded since the period of its second "fall," the Middle Ages.18 Hence, "thoughts only of good deeds, sweet speech, and just return" (Poems 204) characterize the utopias of both Morris and Lampman. At the conclusion of "The Land of Pallas," the narrator finds himself in another land where society is motivated by "fear, and hunger, and the curse of greed" (Poems 209); here, the narrator attempts to "preach" the "message" of Socialism (as do the narrators in The Pilgrims of Hope and News) but is considered "an anarch, envious and bad" by those with "hollow orbs" (Poems 209) who, to use Morris’s corresponding metaphor, "have lost their eyes," and persist in their adherence to the competitive system.


Lampman’s verse narrative, The Story of an Affinity (1894, begun 1892) may be read as a Canadian counterpart to Morris’s The Pilgrims of Hope. Although Desmond Pacey suggests that the work "remind[s] us that Lampman had little gift for narrative poetry," The Story of an Affinity is a convincing and technically adept demonstration of the universal desire for freedom and self-knowledge.19 Lampman describes his "small novel in blank verse" as "the test" of his skill in "that kind of work,"—"work" meaning the genre of sustained narrative.20 In The Story of an Affinity, the protagonist’s movement from a pastoral to an urban setting and back to his rural home gives him the knowledge of beauty, community, and love, the objects of his quest. As Richard (who bears the same name as the protagonist in The Pilgrims) develops from adolescence to adulthood, his quest for identity presents him with the experiences of alienation, of urban poverty and squalor, of formal education, and of fellowship and idealized romantic love. Margaret, Richard’s childhood friend and, later, his anima figure, has the beauty, wisdom, and love of books to inspire Richard to seek knowledge and fulfillment in the city. Two moments of insight or "spots of time" precede Richard’s departure: one, when he uproots a birch sapling and symbolically gains control of his physical, instinctual powers; two, when he sees Margaret with a book in her hand asleep in the glade and gains control of his "power to think and learn" (24). He takes Margaret’s book, a talisman and a symbol of his new-found physical and intellectual autonomy, to the city where for ten years he fulfills his "being’s purpose" (46) by acquiring knowledge in all of its aspects: intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual. As well, he develops an appreciation of the bonds of kinship uniting humanity, bonds often severed by industrial capitalism. After ten years, Richard returns to Margaret who, after making a morally complex choice, rejects another suitor (one who would not be able to satisfy her intellectual and spiritual sensibilities) and is united with Richard.


Certain images in The Story of an Affinity suggest The Pilgrims of Hope: the wind as a symbol of change and inspiration, the "mist" of the city as disorder, degradation, and psychological confusion, the city crowds as a river, the house at the periphery where city and country meet, the dream-like train journey, the wisdom figures who instruct the protagonist (in Lampman’s narrative poem, the teacher and the poet; in Morris’s, the Frenchman and the Socialist agitator, Morris himself), the visual metaphors, the love triangle, and the moment of rebirth when each protagonist gains perceptual clarity.21 Both works foreground language in its various forms: the ethics of speech, the written word, the merits of eloquence, learned discourse, etc.. The tableau of Margaret, the book, and the orchard recollects, yet inverts, the connotations of misreading and spiritual entropy suggested by the King’s Daughter, her book, and the orchard in Morris’s The Glittering Plain. However, as Lampman’s characteristic motif of the path suggests, common origins may lead to divergent destinations, whether in life or literary transmission. In The Story of an Affinity, adjacent Wordsworthian images of the conch-shell, the sand, and the book suggest several interpretations, one of which reflects Lampman’s unique and problematical position as a nineteenth-century Canadian poet: the historical echo within the shell preserves the memory of the original transformation of the hinterland into the baseland by the establishment of home and community (symbolically re-enacted by Richard’s uprooting of the birch tree), as well as the memory of the shaping power of the imagination which lies behind this refashioning of landscape. Similarly, in the context of poetry, the "winding echoes" emitted by the shell suggest that the east to west movement of literary tradition involves not only displacement but a recontextualization of function: just as the shell, removed from its "sand- nook" (17), now conveys the "ancient" voice of the ocean, or the past, together with the living voice of the one who now breathes into the shell, so literary tradition, also transported from east to west, must be infused with new and relevant expressive or performative capabilities. As the voice of art, the shell is the repository or "resting place" (17) of memory, but, at the same time, is today’s medium for vision; analogously, the poet hears the past but speaks to, and in, the present. Northrop Frye suggests this type of relation between the "medium" and its "message": "The forms of poetry can be derived only from other poems, the forms of novels from other novels. The imaginative content of Canadian poetry . . . frequently makes extraordinary demands on forms derived from romantic or later traditions."22 Morris, too, insists that, with effort and determination, the limitations of inherited materials "need not fetter your imagination, for you may, with them, tell a story in a new way, even if it be not a new story" (CW 22:182).


Whereas The Story of An Affinity proposes a contemporary myth, "At the Long Sault: May, 1660" (1898) shapes historical "fact" into subjective, emotive mythopoetics. The narrator in "The Long Sault" speaks to ensure the perpetuity of the myth he recounts, the myth of "a ruined fort with a name that men forget" (Poems, "Appendix" 1). Images of benign nature, a Canadian spring, and of urban order, a town "at rest" (Poems, "Appendix" 3), frame the description of the violence, death, and destruction at the fort. Because the opening apostrophe to spring concludes with the image of a hawk, suggestions of transience and predation, nature’s ominous underside, penetrate the frame’s idealism. Neither baseland nor hinterland is immune from disorder or destruction; in turn, the "frontier" space, or the garrison, is the locus of the confrontation between the forces of the baseland and hinterland where political, economic, and cultural changes come into effect through conflict. Endurance, resilience, and stoicism in the face of impossible odds characterize the defenders of the fort; the sense of fellowship between Daulac and his men is foregrounded by their repeated designation as "comrades" (Poems, "Appendix" 1, 3). All in all, the circumstances and qualities of Lampman’s mythical heroes of "The Long Sault" display an affinity with Morris’s heroes of classical myth or saga, in particular, with those of Sigurd the Volsung. The courage of Gunnar and his kindred, trapped in the feast hall and encircled by Atli’s men, resembles the steadfast purpose of Lampman’s "silent" heroes who, like Gunnar’s kin, fall "one by one" until all are dead (Poems, "Appendix" 2, 3). Thoughts "of maiden and matron and child" (Poems, "Appendix" 1) enter the minds and strengthen the resolve of the Norse and Canadian heroes alike.


The influence of Morris’s translations of Norse myth appears most directly in Lampman’s short verse narrative, Ingvi and Alf. Like Morris’s early tale, "Gertha’s Lovers" and The Earthly Paradise tale, "The Lovers of Gudrun," Lampman’s saga tells the story of the love of two men for one woman. Morris’s heroes are doppelgänger, one type extroverted and gregarious (Olaf and Kiartan) and the other, dark and melancholy (Leuchnar and Bodli); similarly, Ingvi is "fair" and of "winsome speech" while his brother Alf is "dark and dour, a silent man" (Poems 348). Alf’s gloom and brooding turn into passionate jealousy when his wife Bera is, by her sunny disposition and "gladsomeness" (Poems 349), attracted to Ingvi. As Bera’s alienation from Alf develops into loathing, her friendship with Ingvi deepens. Alf misinterprets this friendship and in a rage stabs Ingvi who, as he dies, kills Alf. Lampman follows Morris’s psychological presentation of the saga characters: as in The Lovers of Gudrun, a passionate love turns inward upon itself and becomes self-consuming and destructive. However, in Morris’s tale, diction, syntax, and metrics suit the tale’s universal and tragic implications. Whether or not Lampman successfully re-creates the "high seriousness" and dignity of the sagas is doubtful; in particular, the conclusion moves away from a focus on the working out of fate and tends, instead, toward melodrama:


                                                   and both
On the grim floorway of the startled hall
Lay in their mingled blood together—dead.
                                                          (Poems 356)


Nevertheless, Ingvi and Alf attests to Lampman’s interest in the creation/re-creation of myth as well as to his understanding of the contribution of "dark tales of ancient wrongs" (Poems 349) to a nation’s cultural heritage.


Francis Sherman (1871-1926) wrote from 1896 until 1901. His works remain relatively unknown. Although a decade younger than Roberts and Bliss Carman, he was a member of their Fredericton circle and, like them, was influenced by George Parkin, the headmaster at Fredericton Collegiate School and an Oxonian with an enthusiasm for the poetry of Rossetti, Swinburne, and, notably, Morris. Perhaps more overtly than any other Canadian poet, Sherman shows the influence of Rossetti and Morris. Two months after Morris’s death in October 1896, Sherman composed a tribute to his mentor: "In Memorabilia Mortis" is a pastoral elegy in which Sherman not only speaks as Morris’s acolyte (or ephebe, to use Harold Bloom’s lexicon) but as Morris himself. The elegy’s diction, together with its traditional structure, assists the speaker’s attempt to re-create Morris’s mythical characters and to revivify Morris’s voice. As Bentley’s thorough study of the elegy indicates, Sherman is a competent craftsman whose style, metrics, and prosody are carefully and intricately designed.23 This meticulous attention to detail, itself a Pre-Raphaelite technique, develops a tone of urgency which, in effect, extends the invocation, traditionally found at the elegy’s beginning, throughout the poem; as a result, the work becomes a sustained appeal for the transmission of Morris’s perception and language to the speaker. For Morris, "Beauty" does not exist only in material forms but is also a perceptual quantity; hence, his emphasis on both eyesight and imaginative vision. Accordingly, in Sherman’s elegy, only those who see and follow Love, Beauty’s "sentinel," "reach the "mercy-seat" of Beauty herself" (86).24 The elegy is a sequence of six sonnets. In the first two sonnets, the narrator expresses his grief and loss while in a realistic Canadian autumnal setting. Following the convention of the pastoral elegy, the poem describes nature’s lament for the loss of joy and life. Sherman, however, adapts this convention to his contemporary Canadian context by replacing the music of the shepherd figure (that is, the dead poet) with the music of nature. This substitution endows landscape with a mythological voice: symbolically, the cessation of the "robin’s song" followed by the wind’s moan that "spoke of rain" introduce and modulate Morris’s voice into the speaker’s landscape (85). Gray, Morris’s symbolic colour for spiritual and imaginative inertia, gradually erases nature’s colour until, as the speaker observes, "all things and hours were gray" (86). Now, the narrator loses both memory and hope, the premises of Morris’s conception of history and art: "And so it seemed the year sank to its rest, / Remembering naught, desiring naught . . . " (86). Gray, with its associated mood of quiet melancholy, also predominates in Morris’s "October" lyric in The Earthly Paradise. Indeed, the seasonal and perceptual subjects of Sherman’s elegy recall The Earthly Paradise sequence of lyrics as a whole; in a sense, "In Memorabilia Mortis" returns Morris’s art to him in a modified and relevant Canadian form and by so doing demonstrates the universality of his mythmaking project. In the third and transitional stanza, the mourner moves from an actual to an oneiric summer garden landscape, but with this crucial qualification: "And I knew not at all it was a dream / Only . . . " (86). Hence, as a most appropriate tribute to Morris, Sherman designs a poem in which reality and dream are not separate forms of perception but in which one is the gloss of the other; that is, dreamscape exists simultaneously with landscape as "a mist above the Autumn’s face" (86).


In the fourth sonnet, the narrator "seem[s]" to live in the garden which, as he repeats, he "knew" well and becomes a participant in Love’s "pageant" of "Great Kings" and "Young Queens" (87). Similar perceptual contradictions between "seem" and "know" appear in the "Defence of Guenevere" and create the mystical and fantastic tone in Morris’s earlier tale "The Story of the Unknown Church," published in The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine in 1856. Sherman’s epigraph to his sonnet "Because Thou Hast No Dreams of My Distress" (published 1897) is taken from Morris’s The Hollow Land; therefore, we can assume that Sherman, as well as the members of the 1860s group, with the possible exception of Lampman, knew Morris’s early tales. The elegy’s fifth stanza is a catalogue of characters from The Defence, The Earthly Paradise, Sigurd the Volsung, and The House of the Wolfings; the elevated diction of this invocation suggests that here the mourner speaks for and as Morris. The speaker’s tone of urgency escalates as he directs his art (and through him, Morris’s art) towards the reincarnation of figures who transmit beauty and inspiration from age to age. In other words, the speaker’s words activate his, and in turn, Morris’s literary memory of the origins, or the "raw materials," of myth; hence, the speaker selects images of rebirth (Pygmalion’s "well-wrought clay," Alcestis’ life-giving death, Brynhild’s "pyre" [87]) to signify this Phoenix-like metamorphosis of a poetic tradition. In the final sonnet, the mourner finds himself back in his realistic, but, for him, altered landscape. A negative assertion of absence indicates that the "dream" has changed his perception by giving him the "eyesight" (again, Morris’s term) to "see" reality as Morris would have it seen: in the comprehensiveness of its full potentiality, with "familiar things made clear, / Made strange" (CW 24: 376). Sherman’s narrator experiences this type of perceptual transformation:


                     no white daisy bowed its head
To harken to the wind’s love-murmurings.
Yet, by my dream, I know henceforth for me
This time of year shall hold some unknown grace.


Sherman’s first volume (Matins published, like the elegy, in 1896) is unmistakably derived from Rossetti and the early Morris: a narrator speaks from beyond life, a fantastic setting is located beyond space and time, a ballad and a dramatic monologue are written in the Froissartian tone, interior and exterior landscapes reflect the speakers’ disturbed psychological states, precise details of colour predominate, italics are used for effect, atmospheres are Medieval, and, in general, the subjects are love, fate, and death. In particular, "A November Vigil," "The Kingfisher," "The Quiet Valley," "The Conqueror," and "Between the Winter and the Spring" reflect Sherman’s ability to re-create Morris’s fantastic and Froissartian settings in which detail, ambiguity, and voice work together to create worlds of psychological intensity and mystical beauty. "The Mother," "The Window of Dreams," and "The Relief of Wet Willows" continue in the tradition of Morris but show, by their forms and subjects, the influence of Rossetti’s "My Sister’s Sleep," "The Bride’s Prelude," and "John of Tours" respectively. The 1896 Matins reveal Sherman’s acquisition of his "medium"; that is, the techniques of Morris and Rossetti. In his subsequent poetry, beginning with "In Memorabilia Mortis," Sherman adapts his Pre-Raphaelite medium to the Canadian messages he articulates. The pitfalls he faced were twofold: absorption by the influence of either his English "masters" or his Canadian mentors, Roberts and Carman. In "The Foreigner," Sherman’s narrator defines his own Canadian identity and perception against those of the "foreigner" (symbolically, each of those who influence his writing?) who cannot "see" through the winter landscape to its imminent rebirth. A sense of kinship with nature, however, allows the narrator to "read" beyond appearances: "Beneath the look these dead things had / I saw Spring eyes agaze at me" (38). Nevertheless, Sherman cannot always retain this optimistic attitude toward the Canadian winter; throughout all of his nature poetry, he celebrates April and spring as release from the oppression and hardships of winter.25 The Deserted City volume (1899), with its "House" sonnets, is modelled on Rossetti’s House of Life. Yet despite this obvious debt, the sonnets’ tendency toward personalized rather than personified love, less elevated diction, Canadian imagery, and muted Dantean mysticism distinguishes them from Rossetti’s House sonnets. "The House of Tears" does, by its theme, resemble the "Willowwood" sonnets and "The House of Wisdom" includes a verbal echo of Morris’s "Defence" ("ah, God! had I but known!") but, on the whole, The Deserted City continues Sherman’s quest to "write" a mythology— here, the generic mythology of the personal, reflective sonnet—onto and into the Canadian landscape.


Sherman’s ability to apply the techniques of Rossetti and, especially, Morris to specifically Canadian subjects appears most clearly in his last two volumes, A Canadian Calendar: XII Lyrics (1900) and An Acadian Easter and Other Last Songs (first published in its entirety in 1935). Sherman presents the particularities of seasonal changes in landscape, as well as the correspondent variations in human mood, with sensitivity and clarity. Form and content blend. "A Song in August" and "Three Gray Days" are examples of this suitability. Sherman assumes an explicitly socio-political voice in two poems which more or less frame his oeuvre: "A Life," the second poem in Matins, and "A Word from Canada" (1897) in An Acadian Easter. At first reading, sonnets I, II, and III of "A Life" appear to be apostrophes to the glory and beneficence of the Empire; however, the fourth sonnet’s condemnation of imperialism exposes the subversive irony in the preceding stanzas. To our twentieth-century, politically conscious sensibilities, "Until we come no bird dare try to sing" (32) may appear as explicit, hyperbolic criticism, but, in the nineteenth century, such poetic affirmation of the natural legitimacy of imperialism was relatively common. In historical retrospect, the first sonnet in "A Life" accurately and succinctly defines the premise of imperialism: "To take what all things give; / To feel the whole world growing for our sake" (32). The second sonnet "celebrates" the energy and power which effectively rob the colony not only of its natural resources but also, and more importantly, of its indigenous conceptions of time, place, and identity. The third sonnet, framed by the italicized exhortation "Let us lie down and sleep," describes the rest won by the imperialists’ toil but concludes with a prediction of "long shadows" and, ominously, with a change to the past tense: "We too have lived" (33). Repentance is the theme of the fourth sonnet: a change in perception allows the speaker to "see" that the destruction of nature and the appropriation of her beauty for commercial gain is, in fact, a sin: "The stars, the winds,— all they were subject-powers. / All things we had for slave. We knew no God" (33). Appropriately, the italicized imperative framing this sonnet’s expression of contrition and insight requests the reader to join the speaker in prayer.


"A Word from Canada" is Sherman’s second inquiry into the perspectives and perceptions of imperialism. Whereas "A Life" deals with the effects of the Empire’s "ownership" on natural landscape, "A Word from Canada" presents the effects of colonialism on the cultural landscape. Both poems focus on the perceptual discrepancies between the colonizer and the colonized. Although the speaker in "A Word from Canada" pledges his allegiance and love to the Empire, his condemnation of the Empire’s perception of Canada is as thorough as is the condemnation of the exploitation of natural resources by the speaker in "A Life." The "message to the wind" (an echo of Morris’s "The Message of the March Wind"?) is, in effect, an offering of the Canadian voice to the rulers of the Empire. The speaker’s catalogue of images not only articulates Canada’s mythological potentiality but also shows the speaker participating in the mythmaking process itself. He speaks to those in "London-town" who, because they neither recognize nor empathize with Canada’s natural ethos, are "blind" to the colony’s true value. In other words, the narrator assumes the role of interpreter as he speaks on behalf of his nation’s habitat and inhabitants: "in my dumb country’s stead, / I come to thee, unheralded" (145). Although his is an unofficial and humble voice, he requests that his alien listeners change their perception of his land as inarticulate and, therefore, incapable of shaping its own identity or destiny:


For what reck they of Empire,—they,
Whose will two hemispheres obey?
Why shouldst thou not count us by clay
For them to fashion as they may
                                      In London-town?


Sherman’s last poem, the sonnet "So, After All, When All is Said and Done" (July 2, 1901), concludes with the projection of the issue of the Canadian voice into the future: after his death, the narrator muses, his nation will continue to speak in its young, but audible voice:


But, after I am dead, my troubled ghost
Some April morn shall tremble and be glad,
Hearing your child call to a child of mine
Across the Northern wood it dreams of most.

The speaker finds this consolation after reflecting upon past disappointments. These regrets echo those of The Earthly Paradise sonnets: the cycles of loss and gain, the ruin of love and hope, and the death in life brought about by age and changelessness. Hope, then, lies in future generations and in their transmission of dream and poetry. In "An Acadian Easter" (published in 1900), Sherman projects his mythologizing voice back into history rather than forward to the future of Canadian culture. "An Acadian Easter" is an account of the seventeenth century feud between the rival French officers Charnisay, a lieutenant, and La Tour, commander of the forts at Penobscot and Port Royal. The speaker is Lady La Tour (who is executed by Charnisay after her surrender on the terms of truce); the poem is a dramatic monologue with varying stanza forms reminiscent of Morris’s "Sir Peter Harpdon’s End" and "Rapunzel." Whereas the personal voice of Lady La Tour recalls that of Guenevere, her historical voice and situation have similarities with those of Peter Harpdon. The speaker’s reflections on her betrayal by both love and history give her words the psychological intensity and nostalgic depth of the Guenevere poems. Anguish akin to that of Guenevere and Peter Harpdon leads her to focus on the emotional and spiritual relevance of remembered and immediate details of incident, object, and colour. Her vision is, then, "Pre-Raphaelite" but, at the same time, distinctively Canadian:


"(As on that day I drove him back
Into Port Royal with his dead!
Our cannon made the snowdrifts black,
But there, I deem, the waves were red.)"


Her feelings of exile from France and alienation from her new land, together with her longing to return to the innocence of her girlhood, augment her nostalgia and her idealization of the past. Like Lady Alice in "Sir Peter Harpdon’s End," she resorts to illusion as she converses with memories and with the lover she imagines to be present. When execution is imminent, this world of fantasy and madness envelops her:


"Come close to me now,—past the weed-covered rocks,
                      up the gray of the sand;
Here is a path I have made for you, hollowed it out
                     with my hand;
Come, I would whisper a word to you, Sea, he may
                     never withstand."


Sherman’s integration of Canadian history, landscape, and perspective into Morris’s psychological narrative, colour symbolism, and form creates an exemplary Canadian myth. All in all, Sherman’s poetry acknowledges both his debt to Morris and Rossetti and his allegiance to a Canadian mode of vision and voice. This dialectic predominates in the work of Francis Sherman, a personally diffident but artistically assured turn-of-the-century Canadian poet.


Earlier, in 1890 and 1891, Morris’s presence in Canada had appeared not only in literary and academic circles but also in a weekly proletarian periodical, The Labour Advocate. Selections from News from Nowhere and pieces from Poems by the Way and Chants for Socialists were printed in the Advocate. The January 16, 1891 issue, for instance, featured "The Day is Coming" (titled "The Dawn and the Day is Coming") reprinted from the London People’s Press; the February 20, 1891 Advocate included a full column headed "Socialist Ideals in Art: William Morris Claims that Art Should be within Reach of All" and reprinted from the January issue of the New Review. In addition, the Advocate featured poems by Whitman and Swinburne, a review of George Bernard Shaw’s edition of Fabian Essays in Socialism, the utopian fiction A Story of the Twentieth Century by Edmund Boisgilbert, and, on April 17, an article with the intriguing title, "Peruvian Socialism." On April 3, 1891, the Advocate included a tribute to Morris, reprinted from the New England Magazine and written by an A.E. Cross. The work is entitled "William Morris" and has eight couplets. Stanza six is as follows: "And the dreamer saw the sorrow, and he heard the bitter cries, / And he left the dreams of morning and his Earthly Paradise" (143).26 If we can overlook this writer’s inaccuracy (Morris left neither his "dreams" nor his "Earthly Paradise") this tribute attests to the influence of Morris in late nineteenth-century Canada—an influence which entered Canada across the southern, as well as the eastern, border.


To conclude, Canadian poets writing at the close of the last century were aware, each in his/her own fashion, that "influence" must take into account topographical, cultural, and perceptual difference because such influence is, in part, to quote Morris, "a matter of eyesight"; so far as textual topography is concerned. From the material reality of their landscape, Lampman and Sherman fashion a "spectral reality" akin to that which Ruskin finds in the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.27 Morris uses this technique to stress the materiality of vision; Lampman and Sherman use a similar technique to accentuate the visionary underside of hitherto imaginatively unexplored landscapes. By their integration of inherited form and Canadian vision, these poets reveal the accuracy of the words being spoken by Morris at that time, 1891, in his lecture "The English Pre- Raphaelites": "traditions we must undoubtedly work up again for ourselves. They must help us to produce something which has not been produced before. We cannot do the work of the past again."28









Norman Kelvin, ed., The Collected Letters of William Morris, 2 vols. to date (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984- ) 1: 142.[back]




Les McLeod, "Canadian Post-Romanticism: The Context of Late Nineteenth- Century Canadian Poetry," Canadian Poetry 14 (1984): 1-37.[back]




Jerome McGann, "‘A Thing to Mind’: The Materialist Aesthetic of William Morris," Huntington Library Quarterly 55.1 (1992): 59.[back]




Laurel Boone, ed., The Collected Letters of Charles G.D. Roberts (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 1989) 449. Archibald Lampman, The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including "At the Long Sault"), intro. Margaret Coulby Whitridge (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974) 111. Hereafter cited in the text as Poems.[back]




Archibald Lampman, "Poetic Interpretation," Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose, ed. Barrie Davies (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1975) 87. Hereafter cited in the text as Prose.[back]




D.M.R. Bentley, "Watchful Dreams and Sweet Unrest: An Essay on the Vision of Archibald Lampman, Part I," Studies in Canadian Literature 6 (1981): 188-210. See also Part II of this article in Studies in Canadian Literature 7 (1982): 5-26 and Bentley’s "A Thread of Memory and the Fabric of Archibald Lampman’s ‘City of the End of Things,’" World Literature Written in English 21 (1982): 86-95.[back]




Barrie Davies, "The Forms of Nature: Some of the Philosophical and Aesthetic Bases of Lampman’s Poetry," The Lampman Symposium, ed. Lorraine McMullen (Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1976) 75-97. Bruce Nesbitt, "The New Lampman," The Lampman Symposium, 99-110.[back]




May Morris, ed., The Collected Works of William Morris, 24 vols., 1910-15 (New York: Russell, 1966) 3: 1. Hereafter cited in the text as CW followed by the volume and page number.[back]




See also Lampman’s "The City" and "In November" sonnets, "Winter Hues Recalled," "A January Morning," "Winter Uplands," and "After Snow" for other examples of the redeeming dialectic between the landscapes of nature and civilization. "The Woodcutter’s Hut" chronicles the activity and eventual cessation of this dialectic within one particular "ecosystem."[back]




The Morris quotations here are from the "Apology" and "Envoi" in The Earthly Paradise (CW 3: 2; 6: 330, 331, 332, 333).[back]




See Barrie Davies’ "Lampman: Radical Poet of Nature," English Quarterly 4. 1 (1971): 34-43.[back]




Helen Lynn, ed., An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence between Archibald Lampman and Edward William Thomson (1890-1898) (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1980) 119.[back]




Archibald Lampman, "November 12, 1892," At the Mermaid Inn, intro. Barry Davies (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1979) 188.[back]




At the Mermaid Inn 164, 165.[back]




At the Mermaid Inn 45.[back]




See, for instance, Morris’s early tales, the complex framing structures of The Earthly Paradise and Love is Enough, and the prose political romances A Dream of John Ball and News from Nowhere. For Lampman, the sonnet’s "turn" before the concluding sestet ("A January Morning") or quatrain ("A Winter-Dawn") creates the tension between observation and reflection, general and particular, or distance and proximity.[back]




D.M.R. Bentley, "A Wizard to the Northern Poets: Notes on William Morris in Nineteenth-Century Canadian Poetry," Victorian Studies Association (Ontario) Newsletter 44 (1989): 13-15. See also Bentley’s comprehensive text The Gay]Grey Moose: Essays on the Ecologies and Mythologies of Canadian Poetry 1690-1990 (Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1992).[back]




In "Art and the Beauty of the Earth" (1881) Morris reminds himself of the "good luck" that has placed him on the other side of the window from "the yells and shrieks and all the degradation cast on the glorious tongue of Shakespeare and Milton" (CW 22: 171).[back]




Desmond Pacey, Ten Canadian Poets: A Group of Biographical and Critical Essays (1958; Toronto: Ryerson P, 1969) 138. My text for The Story of an Affinity is the Canadian Poetry Press, London edition, 1986 edited (and with an excellent introduction) by D.M.R. Bentley. Hereafter cited in the text by page numbers.[back]




Lynn, Correspondence 120. See note 12 above.[back]




See M.H. Abrams’ seminal article "The Correspondent Breeze: A Romantic Metaphor," English Romantic Poets: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed. M.H. Abrams, 2nd ed. (1975; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1975) 37-54.[back]




Northrop Frye, "Preface to an Uncollected Anthology," The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (Toronto: Anansi, 1971) 173-74.[back]




 Memorabilia Mortis,‘" Essays on Canadian Writing 30 (1984-85): 320-38.[back]




Francis Sherman, The Complete Poems of Francis Sherman, ed. Lorne Pierce, Foreword Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (Toronto: Ryerson, 1935) 86. Hereafter cited in the text by page number. For Morris’s use of the terms "eyeshot," "eye," and "mind’s eye" see especially The Wood Beyond the World, CW 17: 4-6.[back]




For example, see "After Harvest," "The Quiet Valley," "And After Many Days," "In the North," "An Acadian Easter," "In Exile," "In April," and "So After All, When All is Said and Done." In such poems, Sherman’s High Church background, as well as his familiarity with Rossetti’s work, lie behind his literary association of April with the Christian symbolism of Easter and rebirth.[back]




A.E. Cross, "William Morris," The Labour Advocate 3 April 1891: 143.[back]




John Ruskin, "The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelitism," The Works of John Ruskin, eds. E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, 39 vols. (London: Allen, 1903-12) 34: 163.[back]




William Morris, "The English Pre-Raphaelites," William Morris: Artist, Writer Socialist, ed. May Morris, 2 vols. (New York: Russell, 1966) 1: 308.[back]



A shorter version of this paper was read at the William Morris Society session at the MLA conference, 1993, in Toronto.