Lampman Among the Timothy
by Kathy Mezei
The strong sense and spirit of place evoked by Lampmans poetry continues to arouse responsive chords in the contemporary reader. However, this locality or ground,1 so characteristic of his verse, was not easily attained; both the revisions of individual poems and the evolution of his oeuvre reveal Lampmans struggle to capture the essence of this new country.
The time was ripe to articulate questions about nationhood and to infuse literature with locality for Lampman was composing his poems fifteen years after Confederation. Like many writers and intellectuals of this period, he found that there was now a country and a need towards which he could direct his loyalty and his eloquence. In 1891 he realistically described the literary situation in Canada when he stated that It will probably be a full generation or two before we can present a body of work of sufficient excellence as measured by the severest standards, and sufficiently marked with local colour, to enable us to call it a Canadian literature.2 In the same essay he concluded, as have many Canadian poets, that the most fruitful source of inspiration lay in nature:
As is well known through the work of R.E. Rashley, A.J.M. Smith, John Matthews, and D.G. Jones,4 for example, Lampman and the other Confederation poets C.G.D. Roberts, Bliss Carman, W.W. Campbell, and D.C. Scott sought a spiritual quality in nature, what Geoffrey Hartman calls the belief in spirit of place, in a genius loci.5 In particular, Lampmans search for an answering harmony6 represented a yearning for a sacred marriage or answer between poet and place, between poetic genius and genius loci, between the mystery within and the mystery without. For the Confederation poets, the genius loci as it spoke through the poet and poem was also the voice of the country, its destiny and its past, intrinsically related to vision and prophecy.7
What distinguished the Confederation poets from other poets of their time and from earlier versifiers was this deeper awareness of the spirit residing mutually in the landscape and the self and, consequently, their attempt to create a locality in their poems that would truly reflect the spirit of the place. In the process of seeking to merge the genius loci with his own poetic genius, the poet was also looking for the language and form that would best image this merging. Therefore, to achieve locality the poet had to portray the sense of place through language, mood, and form and he had to go beyond mere physical description or local colour to project a psychic as well as a physical place. D.C. Scott expressed his awareness of this necessity when he wrote in At the Mermaid Inn that
He stressed that local colour (the sense of place) depended not only upon colloquial, indigenous expressions but also upon the manner of looking, upon the formal aspect of writing:
Scotts comments on timothy10 are particularly relevant to a discussion of the evolution of locality in Lampmans poetry for, as we shall see, Lampmans use of timothy is indicative of both his poetic dilemma and creative development.
As Scott suggested, Canadian writers had to create a language and form suitable to their place; however, to find words and images to reflect their own place was not a simple task for Canadian poets of the nineteenth century, hampered as they were, by the models and diction of their continental masters. Furthermore, the achievement of locality resides not only in nature, as described above by Lampman and Scott, but also in the recreation of history into myth.
Following in the footsteps of Thomas Carlyle and Francis Parkman,11 Lampman, Scott and C.G.D. Roberts felt that history was composed of notable men and events; in his address on The Tercentenary of Quebec, 1608-1908 Scott pointed out that the state would be a poor, dead thing without the memory of great men and great actions:
Often these episodes were moral battles, the outcome of which was inspired by some divine far off event and which, therefore, contributed to the ennobling progress of a strong young country. Repeatedly favoured by the late nineteenth-century writers were the war of 1812,13 the expulsion of the Acadians, and Indian massacres such as the Long Sault in which a heroic Canadian martyr defended his morally superior race against the savages. Indian tales and legends depicting acts of self-sacrifice or inhuman bravery as well as local mythologies were also popular and formed the subject of Scotts At Gull Lake: August, 1810 and The Forsaken or Roberts Clote Scarp (Glooscap) poems, The Quelling of the Moose and The Departing of Clote Scarp. In the tales of hardy habitants and lumberjacks or decadent seigneurs, writers discovered another area of romance and nostalgic reminiscence. The proliferation of this species of tale indicated the attractiveness of French Canada, especially the ancien régime, as a source of topics. Conscious of this, Lampman wrote that For the dramatic poet, if a dramatic poet could be produced in our age, there are, I should think, several excellent subjects in [the] history of old French Canada.14 Out of this interest grew his own Between the Rapids and the well known dramatic narrative At the Long Sault: May, 1660.
The means by which Lampman imaginatively recreated the geography and history of his place and the evolution of his craft along these lines provide an insight into his developing sense of locality. Therefore, it is important to discuss first the landscapes and places that inspired him and, second, the moments in our history that he seized upon. Our main concern, however, is with the forms that he initiated to convey these places and moments and with the language and images that he chose to evoke the sense and spirit of place and to transform history into myth. Early in his poetic career, Lampman became intrigued by the imaginative possibilities of certain landscapes and colourful episodes in our past and, in 1883, wrote his old school friend, John Ritchie, that
The result of this interest was probably the long narrative poem The Story of an Affinity (April 1894),16 set in the Niagara peninsula, a golden land of fruit and flowers. But Lampman, despite his assertion that good subjects for poetry are to be found in the history of Canada, seldom mined this rich field. Instead, he set many narrative poems and ballads in the classical period (Sostratus, Phokaia, An Athenian Reverie), the middle ages (The Monk, Ingui and Alf), in biblical days (Dauid and Abigail); only At the Long Sault: May, 1660 explores an historical incident,17 although The Story of an Affinity does have a Canadian locale. This is not to say that Lampman did not turn his attention to local matters for he attacked Canadian politics in the sonnet, The Modern Politician, satirized mores in Stoic and Hedonist and Avarice, and criticized the excesses of city life and the industrial age in The Railway Station. However, locality in Lampmans poems derives more from the moods and contours of the natural landscape than from local history or legends. He often addressed his poems to familiar landmarks To the Ottawa, In Beechwood Cemetery. While some poems recall certain cherished landscapes Across the Pea-fields or A Niagara Landscape, others evoke the seasons March, The Coming of Winter, April in the Hills.
Lampmans Canadian landscapes are almost entirely confined to the Ottawa-Gatineau district. Both the form and content of his verse, especially his earlier verse, tend toward the pastoral a middle ground between wilderness and city which provides a calm moment of simplicity and contemplation.18 Lampman himself admits this preference:
Again, Lampmans use of timothy in Among the Timothy is symbolically appropriate. Just as poetry performs an important role on the borders of civilization (see p. 1.), agriculture, too, works on the edge of civilization between the wilderness and the domesticated world. Timothy what better symbol of the complex mix of wilderness, cultivation and the Old World that was Canada, was found as a wild plant in woodlands in some late-settled parts of Ontario. Apparently it had run ahead of settlement, spreading out from the points where it had been introduced from the Old World. Presumably it grew wild in the woods in other parts of Ontario.20
In his first volume, Among the Millet (1883), the title poem sets the tone of pensiveness and delight in simple beauty that echoes throughout his other volumes:
Heat, Among the Timothy, Freedom, April in the Hills, Forest Moods, The Meadow, Comfort of the Fields exhibit similar patterns and carry on the pastoral mood. Often, in these poems the city with its crowds, bustle, and captivity lurks in the background while the hills, wilderness, and freedom beckon distantly in the other direction. The speaker dwells on the details of the flora and fauna around him, drawing analogies between the moods of nature and his own state of mind. To the troubled and brooding speaker, this domesticated and peaceful nature is a solace and a retreat.
Yet Lampman also ventured far beyond the local pastoral landscape into the wilderness on canoe expeditions with D.C. Scott and friends, which were transformed into Morning on the Lievre (1886),22 On Lake Temiscamingue (1896), Night in the Wilderness (1896), Temagami (1898), and In the Wilds. In these later poems, Lampman tried to depict the wild spirit of the land and to recreate the echoes that resonated between the sensitive poet and the mysterious wilderness:
In this inspiring wilderness, the ornate frills which we find in the early poems were pared away and the starkness of these lines from Wayagamack induced:
The hackneyed echoes from the English pastoral tradition the warm wooing of green kirtled May (April) and the heavily derivative poetic diction of Lampmans narratives that resound so insincerely and irritatingly in the earlier verse are happily absent in the sketches of the northern wilderness. Nevertheless, Lampman wanted to achieve a delicate balance between the regional and the universal; he, therefore, sought ways to universalize local scenes and incidents.
This desire to be universally acceptable may be the reason behind his reluctance to change the title of Among the Millet to Among the Timothy, as he did in the case of the ninth poem in that volume of poetry. Among the Timothy (pp. 13-16), originally Among the Millet, may have been renamed in order to give it a more local and correct flavour (see n. 10). However, Among the Millet was retained for the title poem, as if Lampman wanted to reach British audiences to whom millet would be a more familiar expression than timothy.23
Unlike Among the Millet, a conventional pastoral poem whose original title, My Flock,24 would probably have been more appropriate, Among the Timothy attempts to portray the poetic process through the use of place and of natural phenomena. The poem begins with a circle clean and gray cleared by an archetypal mower among the timothy. Then the poet arrives, overwhelmed by heat, as in the more famous Heat. Weary of hope and weary of song he lies down not to think but only dream". Gradually, however, the act of observing details in the natural world arouses his poetic powers as he compares his thoughts to:
The process of regeneration continues; his spirit lifts; he notices the daisies, the leaves of the pale poplar. Finally, an answering harmony between; poet and nature is created. Then, as the poem closes, the ever-journeying sun shines down: Till flower and blade and every cranny brown, / and are soaked with him (p. 16).
It is among the timothy that the poet, in his sacred circle, has his poetic inspiration restored to him. Although certain lines, through too much generalization and too many literary allusions, are overwrought for example, the poplar leaves that are like sleepy maenads, who in pale surprise, / Half-wakened by a prowling beast, have crept, / Out of the hidden covert . . . many are powerful and concrete, such as the image of dreams all gone lifeless now, like those white leaves. / That hang all winter, shivering dead and blind / Among the sinewy beeches in the wind, / That vainly calls and grieves. In the contrasting effects of these two images we can see Lampman being torn between his wish to pay respect to his literary heritage and his desire to develop a native poetic diction.
Since Lampman decided to change the poems title, it is worthwhile to examine his other emendations to see if they also reflect his concern with locality. There are two manuscript sources for the poem; one is a fair copy in the 1884-1885 Notebook in Volume 2 of the Lampman Papers in the Public Archives of Canada (pp. 1387-1395); the second are rough earlier drafts and verses scattered through pages 1674 to 1685 in the 1884 Notebook in Volume 3. The fair copy is dated August 5,1885, and is entitled Among the Millet.25 There are few but significant changes from this copy to the published version; they are as follows:
Thus, Lampman, in his published version, has replaced millet with clover or blossoms or timothy. The earlier drafts also use millet. In general, Lampmans emendations render an image or thought more concrete, tighten up an abstract or vague phrase, and make his language more precise. Frequently, too, his changes reflect his desire to improve the rhythm or sound of the line. An example of his attempt to create a more concrete and rhythmically pleasing image can be seen in stanza 2, 1.2 in which he describes My heart a heaven, opening like a flower. Early version read: My heart a home of bright imaginings, My heart a home of sweet imaginings, and My heart a home of fair imaginings. With this revision, he has transformed a vague phrase into a concrete simile.
The clearest example of this development occurs in the fourth stanza which, as described earlier, is the turning point of the poem. The early, rough manuscript version reads:
The published version reads:
With the addition of the concrete images of ant, spider, and bee, Lampman has personified his spirit or thought. Such precise pictorial images are more effective in revealing the poets mental process to the reader, and the poem is stronger as a result. One can see, therefore, how Lampmans revisions of Among the Timothy show him to be a poet concerned with creating a sense of place through concrete images and a precise use of language.
Another means of harnassing language to the yoke of locality is explored in A Niagara Landscape where Lampman luxuriated in the rhythmic incantation of names:
Realizing their poetic possibilities, Lampman shaped names of places or names peculiar to places into images and incantations. Place names les Emboulements, Wayagamack, Temagami, Temiscamingue, Lievre, Oxbow Bend as well as indigenous words timothy, snowshoe, moccassin dot his poems and take on the function of images by evoking pictures and sounds and a sense of place. In his sonnet To the Ottawa, Lampman deliberately used place names to develop rhythm and to enhance the mood when he described how, over the Ottawa River, he saw
Rigaud complements the open vowel sound of long slopes to create internal rhyme and the sensation of flowing, timeless rivers and descending slopes and suns: the effect is onomatopoeic. In this way, words borrowed from the French and Indian dialects emit a local flavour and replace the stale Old World romantic diction that pervaded his earlier verse.
At the same time, however, Lampman was aware of the difficulties of focussing on local scenes and incidents. In 1895, he wrote to his friend, E.W. Thomson, suggesting Virgin Limits as a possible title for a volume of poems, but adding that it is new and of the soil here, though I supposed it would convey no idea to anyone who did not know something about lumbering.26 It was, once again, the timothy-millet dilemma.
Like D.C. Scott, W.H. Drummond, Isabella Valancy Crawford and the earlier poets, Oliver Goldsmith, Standish OGrady, and Charles Mair, Lampman immersed himself in the native tradition not only through landscape description and the lyrical litany of place names, but also by celebrating the pioneer or habitant life. His The Settlers Tale, which Scott retrieved from Lampmans notebooks and published in 1913, is a ballad in rhyming couplets of love and death in the wilderness, a product of his contact with pioneer life as one sees it in the unsettled parts of Quebec.27
In the voice of a settler who built me a hut by a northern lake, the poet described how he lost his wife, child, and his own soul in the harsh backwoods:
Although it presents, as did The Settlers Tale, a picture of life in the past in Quebec, Between the Rapids (1886, also called Once More),28 is more complex in that it develops a symbolic landscape. Note, too, that the change in title suggests that Lampman wanted to emphasize the symbolic qualities of place. In Between the Rapids the process of moving through the landscape and of observing it becomes the frame for a personal narrative a story of the longing for an unretrievable past. By focussing on the image of a traveller in a canoe, Lampman harked back to the old tales of voyageurs and coureurs de bois, creating a sense of tradition and locality. The canoe trip also becomes a metaphor of a spiritual journey, a metaphor that has grown into a recurring theme in Canadian literature:
Inspired by his return to a familiar landscape, the traveller reflects upon his past in the tradition of Tintern Abbey and Roberts Tantramar Revisited. While in Tintern Abbey and Tantramar Revisited, the personae are separated from the landscape and their past by a prospect, in Lampmans poem, the continual movement along the river, the approaching night, and the travellers physical separation by water from the shores of his past symbolize the distance and finality of the more idyllic and innocent past. As the voyageur paddles his canoe down the river, people and places are named, a litany of remembrance:
Through the evocation of names and places, and the insistent motion of the river, we sense, though we are not told, the story of the voyageurs restless wanderings and abandoned family. As in A Niagara Landscape and To the Ottawa, the inclusion of words and names of French origin serves to develop the sense of locality.
Both The Settlers Tale and Between the Rapids derived their energy from encounters with the landscape. But they are not strictly landscape poems. Narrative in form, these two poems concentrate on the more personal aspect of Canadian history. In Between the Rapids personal history is mythologized by the association of memories and feelings with the landscapes. At the Long Sault: May, 1660 (1898), a much later poem, heralds a new direction for Lampman; it is a dramatic narrative taking as its topic one of what he had described as excellent subjects in [the] history of old French Canada. In light of this different poem, Scott remarked that it was lamentable that his career was cut short just as he was beginning to develop new and freer forms of expression. . . . It is idle to conjecture what the course of that development might have been, but one can hazard that it would broadly have tended towards the drama of life and away from the drama of nature.29 In this poem, Lampman achieved a sense of locality by focusing on an historical incident and by carefully moulding form and language to the subject matter.
The massacre at the Long Sault was a subject that had slowly taken root in Lampmans imagination. In the cataloguing of destructive wars through the ages in War (p. 243), Lampman leaps from old Japan to
This earlier (February 1895) poem foreshadows At the Long Sault which seems to reflect the influence of Scotts Indian verse, though Scotts At Gull Lake: August, 1810 whose title is strikingly similar to Lampmans poem was published much later in The Green Cloister, Later Poems, 1935 (see n. 36). Lampmans interest and research in the subject of this poem are documented in a note in his 1895 scribbler.31
Through the joint efforts of Scott and E.K. Brown,32 At the Long Sault became the title poem of a posthumous edition of poems culled from Lampmans notebooks. In the Lampman papers deposited in the Public Archives, there is a fair copy of the poem (Volume 3, folder 11, Notebook 1896-1899 pp. 2420, 2421, 2417, 2418, 2419)33 and also a rough working copy (pp. 2371, 2372, 2373, 2397, 2410, 2411, 2412). Parts of the rough copy are devoted to correcting and rewriting lines, and the published version is based on the fair copy with the few changes described by Scott.34 In his own revisions on the rough copy and from the rough to the fair copy, Lampman cut out superfluous details and tightened the rhythm; for example, the opening lines in the rough version read:
Note how Lampman, by deleting a numberless foe in the fair copy, delayed destroying the peaceful atmosphere.
In another example, Lampman by changing whom a pack of lean and hunger-stricken wolves to whom lean and hungry wolves, a ravening pack, to, finally, whom scores of sleepless wolves, a ravening pack, created a more varied syntax and took rhythmic advantage of alliteration. He also omitted twenty-nine lines of the rough copy that described the violent attack of the Iroquois on the fort held by Daulac and his little band of men and by this elimination heightened the drama and horror of the incident.
At the Long Sault moves by contrast, the contrast between idyllic nature and the bloody battle, between the besieged, and enclosed Frenchmen defending maiden and child and the threatening silent menace of the Iroquois hordes, and between the opening and flowing descriptive lines and the clipped narrative of men in action:
As in Among the Timothy the primary movements and metaphors are those of enclosing circles fort, wolves around the bull moose, closed lilies which foreshadow the inevitability of Daulacs defeat and death. Yet this metaphor also suggests a return to the earth which is reinforced by the close of the poem describing, once again, after the slaughter, the calm beauty of indifferent nature. In these lines Lampman reverts to a tidy quatrain form to relay the resultant scene in a rhythmic chant:
In At the Long Sault Lampman has adroitly developed a sense of physical place the pastoral beginnings, the threatened fort, the bloodbath described through natural images such as the tired bull-moose dragged down by wolves, and the restored tranquility. He has tightened the language and form of the poem to focus on the drama of brave men trapped by hostile forces, a drama enhanced by images drawn from nature, particularly those of enclosing circles. Unlike any other poem Lampman wrote, At the Long Sault dramatically presents a historical incident and transforms it into a Canadian myth, thereby sowing the seeds of a Canadian literary heritage. Tone, form and diction have been combined to shape a poem firmly rooted in local history and geography. Daulac and the eerie, silent forest become etched in our memory.
Through both the landscape poems and those that turned to the past, Lampman sought and developed locality. By mythologizing history, attempting to create a language of place, and using forms as varied as ballads and dramatic narrative, he evoked a sense and spirit of place. Although his poetry often bore the scars of the battle between the timothy and the millet, between his love of place and his irresistable desire to emulate his English masters, the art of Lampman was to invite the reader into a world that was both recognizable and magical.