Since its publication in 1929 in The Kelsey Papers, the Jonsonian verse epistle in which Henry Kelsey recounts his journey in 1690-1691 from York Factory (Churchill) to the Canadian plains has increasingly attracted the attention and imagination of Canadians whose interests include literary history and literary forbears. Pre-eminent among the poets and scholars who have been drawn to "Now Reader Read…" by its prelusive position in Canadian poetry is the late Jon Whyte, who records in a note to Homage, Henry Kelsey (1981) that his reading of the explorer’s journals in 1967-1968 in preparation for a (Centennial?) "Poem about muskoxen"—a "pleistocene relic" that "Kelsey had been the first to describe"—led to the recognition of "an ancestral voice" and a reenactment of the colonial project. Kelsey "took over the poem about the muskox" and it "began to shape itself into epic," writes Whyte; "[m]y academic work on the medieval poem Pearl started to inform what I was doing: I would, like the jeweller in that poem, put his poem in a new setting. Hence ‘homage’" (81). Whyte’s remarks do more than confirm his participation in the nationalistic ancestor-hunting of the Centennial years.3 In the issues of poetic primality, power, and genre that they moot, they speak to the late twentieth-century reader of fundamental characteristics of the long poem on Canada that are embodied in "Now Reader Read…."
An instrument of British imperialism like Kelsey himself, the three manuscript pages of "Now Reader Read…" enact most of the tasks that would characterize Canadian long poems in the ensuing three centuries: (1) comprehension (they provide an inclusive commentary on "the Country" and its inhabitants); (2) commemoration (they memorialize the "Journey" that Kelsey hoped would distinguish him in the minds of his Hudson’s Bay Company superiors); and (3) construction (they describe the "set[t]ing up [of] a Certain Cross" near what is now The Pas, Manitoba as a "token" of the Company’s active presence in the area [1-4]). Moreover, Kelsey’s decision to present his "Relation" (1) in the form of forty-five couplets—as a poem "neither epical in scope nor purely lyrical in quality" (Dixon and Grierson vii)—attests not only to the affinity between accretive poetry and imperial appropriation, but also to the appropriateness as a vehicle for the celebration of colonial achievements of a genre that situates itself between the great narratives of imperial civilizations and the brief utterances of solitary individuals. If confirmation were needed that "the defining tradition of Western epic" and a classical precedent for British imperialism reside in Virgil’s Aeneid (30-19 BC), it could be found in David Quint’s Epic and Empire (1993) and in the chapter on "The Empire and the War" in Richard Jenkyns’ The Victorians and Ancient Greece (1980). And perhaps Lionel Kearns’s answer to the question of "[W]hat is the nature of lyric"—"[a] fine line of the single voice alone" (n.p.)—is sufficient to confirm the identity of lyric and individual expression.4 In the precarious and vacillating "betweenness" that Charles Altieri sees as a salient quality of the Modernist long poem and Smaro Kamboureli extends to the contemporary Canadian long poem (75-77), the "middle-sized poem" (Frye, Anatomy 256) provides a generic equivalent for coloniality—an appropriate vehicle for the stylish and persuasive communication of the liminal experiences, memorable achievements, and constructive activities of colonials engaged in the process of colonization. As insistent in its presentation of a "single voice alone" as it is in its pursuit of the Golden Fleece (see Bentley, Mimic Fires 13-24), "Now Reader Read…" is the primal poem of colonial colonizing in Canada, and it is just as well equipped to coerce Whyte’s "poem about the muskox" towards "epic" as it is to impress him with its "ancestral voice."
An immediate effect of situating the Canadian long poem both generically and ideologically between the epic (imperialism) and the lyric (individualism) is to foreground and polarize aspects of the genre that might otherwise appear transparent or insignificant. Located between the encyclopaedic ambitions of the epic (Frye, "Encyclopaedic Form") and the self-ish concerns of the lyric, the long poem is modestly catalogic in its comprehension of external reality and tends to use the catalogue and its more pictorial cognates (the panoramic survey and the picturesque tableau) either to order the subject environment (and thus to indicate its successful colonization) or to suggest its immense expanse (and thus to suggest its openness or, perhaps, resistance to colonization). Located between the mythic time and la longue durée of the epic and the personal time or la durée of the lyric, the long poem is local, regional, or, at most, national in its historical scope and tends to restrict itself to the commemoration of events that have occurred in the preceding fifty or so years—that is, within the memory of living generations. (In fact, fifty years is precisely the period covered by both The Rising Village [1825, 1834] of Oliver Goldsmith and The Emigrant  of Alexander McLachlan.)5 If an epic embodies the myths and ideals of a civilization (see Bowra) and a lyric stands as a "Memorial"— "a moment’s monument"—to individual experience (Rossetti 74), then a long poem is the record or chronicle of a cultural unit that exists in or beside a civilization and provides its constituents with a comforting sense of their identity and difference. If for no other reason than the presence of local space, local time, and local community at the heart of the Canadian long poem, Dorothy Livesay is fully justified in seeing it as the most poetically "interesting" and culturally "representative" genre in English-Canadian literature ("Documentary Poem" 269). The argument could even be made that in its continual assessment and negotiation of the claims of liberty and authority, individuality and community, independence and interdependence, the Canadian long poem is the literary equivalent of the Canadian political experiment and its fabled art of compromise.
Notwithstanding the medial position of the genre to which they belong, most Canadian long poems tilt towards either epic or lyric in accordance with the ideological orientation of their author. This can be most readily appreciated by looking at two extreme examples of poems on Canada from the pre-Confederation period: Thomas Moore’s "Poems Relating to America" (1806) and William Kirby’s The U.E.: a Tale of Upper Canada (1859). As seen in Essay 2: Tokens of Being There: Land Deeds and Demarkations, Moore visited Canada in 1804 while returning to England from the United States, a nation towards which he was positively predisposed by his Irish background and liberal (Whig) sympathies but quickly came to criticize on a variety of counts, including its harsh and hypocritical treatment of Blacks and Native peoples. (Moore, it may be added here, was an associate of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and a "darling" of the British "Whig aristocracy" [Eldridge 54] who later confessed that his time in the United States was "the only period of…[his] life" in which he was "at all sceptical as to the soundness of th[e] Liberal creed" [Poetical Works (1840) 2: xii].) Not unexpectedly, therefore, Moore’s "Poems Relating to America" comprise a sequence of loosely connected lyrics that frequently attempt to give voice to "other" than Anglo-Saxon racial and linguistic groups: the most famous of the Canadian poems—"A Canadian Boat Song"—purports to be sung by voyageurs and the longest— "To the Lady Charlotte Rawdon from the Banks of the St. Lawrence"—provides a survey of Upper Canada from the perspective and in "words like th[o]se" of an "Indian Spirit" (Poetical Works  126). In contrast to Moore, Kirby, whose loathing for social and political reform brought him to Canada a year after the unsuccessful Rebellions of 1837-1838, was throughout his life a "spokesman, interpreter and bulwark of the Tory and Loyalist idea" (Pierce 17)—a devoted admirer of Scott and an adoring correspondent of Tennyson who produced numerous long poems in establishment blank verse to flatter and commemorate his conservative and loyalist heroes. To give just one example from his Canadian Idylls (1884, 1894), in "On the Sickness and Retirement of His Excellency Lord Metcalfe from the Government of Canada, Nov. 1845," Kirby’s "spurring memory[,] recall[ing] anew / The panoramic picture of the past," sees the Rebellions of 1837-38 as "a haggard night-mare" upon Canada’s heart and makes the man whose "master hand/ Cast down the misshaped idols worshipped there" an embodiment of the virtues of "The sage, the christian and the statesman" (156-58). Not surprisingly, Kirby’s most ambitious attempt to express and transmit his Tory and Loyalist myths and ideals is a Virgilian epic. As well as being divided into the traditional twelve books, The U.E. hails Virgil ("glorious Maro") as the "Chief of Song" (5-6) in its Introduction, alludes at one point to Homer’s account of the founding of Troy in the Iliad (31), and throughout its grand narrative makes extensive use of Paradise Lost (see Bentley, Mimic Fires 225-47). At a time when literary theorists were regarding the epic as a genre of the distant past that was not to be expected in a new country like Canada,6 Kirby’s "Canadian Epic Poem" (Annals 85), reflects the conservative desire to forge a distinctly British North American identity in Canada and, in doing so, provides the most concrete, not to say leaden, Canadian example of the affinity between the epic genre and the imperial ethos.
Further evidence of the homologies of genre and ethos exemplified in the extremes of The U.E. and "Poems Relating to America" can be found in the work of Moore’s most ardent Canadian admirer, Adam Kidd, and in several of the topographical poems that were written in and about Upper and Lower Canada in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A Rousseauian Irishman who apparently yearned for the unconstrained freedom and love (as he thought) of the Canadian wilderness and its aboriginal inhabitants, Kidd declared himself to be Moore’s "Most Ardent Admirer" in the fulsome dedication to The Huron Chief, and Other Poems (1830) and composed his desultory and episodic title poem as a series of lyrics expressive of the personal moods, chance encounters, and philosophical insights of his wandering narrator and various, mainly Native, characters. In addition, he decentres his text with copious footnotes (some of them scurrilously anti-establishment) and deploys allusions to the Odyssey and Paradise Lost on the side of liberty against authority (so that, for example, three villainous American aggressors are referred to Milton’s unholy trinity of Satan, Sin, and Death). To mount his challenge against oppressive authority generally and American imperialism especially, Kidd tilts The Huron Chief away from the classical epics of imperialism (the Aeneid and the Iliad) and orients it towards the modes of personal expression and episodic adventure (lyric, romance, the Odyssey). More than this, he aligns it through its amatory subject-matter and its citations of the Metamorphoses (circa AD 8)with the Ovidian tradition of transformation and hybridity which, as Quint repeatedly demonstrates (77, 82-83, 140-41), runs counter to the Virgilian epic in its preference for "constant digressions,…interwoven episodes," and unofficial history over "rhetorical unity," "linear narrative," and state mythology. "Et sunt, quid credere esse deos?" reads one of Kidd’s footnotes from the Metamorphoses: "And there are those who believe there are gods?" (1501n.).7
It is symptomatic of the imperial orientation of topographical poetry on Canada that the first poem in the genre—Thomas Cary’s Abram’s Plains (1789)—begins with a syntactical allusion to the opening lines of Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid ("Arms, and the man I sing" [14:231] ("Thy Plains, O Abram…Grateful I sing") and proceeds to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Wolfe’s victory by providing a comprehensive survey of the material resources of Lower Canada and the constructive achievements of its British inhabitants. Much the same emphases recur in Cornwall Bayley’s Canada. A Descriptive Poem, Written at Quebec, 1805 (1806) and in Adam Hood Burwell’s Talbot Road: a Poem (1818), both of which, like Abram’s Plains, draw extensively on Paradise Lost as well as on a plethora of English poems in the highly conservative topographical tradition (see Bentley, Mimic Fires and Mazoff). Paradise Lost also looms large in the background of The Rising Village, John Richardson’s Tecumseh (1828), and Joseph Howe’s Acadia (written in 1832-1834), adding a touch of epic sublimity to their depictions of pioneer heroism and, mutatis mutandis, Native noble and ignoble savagery in defence or defiance of Britain’s colonial interests.8 Richardson was alone among these poets in describing his commemorative and celebratory efforts as an "Epic Poem" (Tecumseh 183), but for all six of them the long poem with epic resonances was clearly the appropriate form for the commemoration and celebration of colonial victories and achievements in the military and agricultural spheres. As Derek Walcott wryly remarks in his Collected Poems, 1948-1984 (1986), "provincialism loves the pseudo-epic" (qtd. In Daymond and Monkman xiii).
In addition to confirming that it was the most admired and emulated poem in nineteenth-century Canada as well as Britain (see Hyman 129), the presence of Paradise Lost in the background of so many early Canadian long poems indicates that Samuel Johnson was only partly right in asserting that the subject of Milton’s poem is "not the destruction of a city, the conduct of a colony, or the foundation of an empire" (7:126). Paradise Lost may not treat of imperial themes directly but, of course, it is very much about the process of starting and running a colony: as it opens, the fallen angels are faced with the task of exploring, assessing, and accommodating themselves to a new environment, as also, at its dramatic heart, are Adam and Eve. In Hell and in Chaos, Satan and his followers are enterprising strip miners, city builders, and road makers, and, after the Fall, Adam and Eve are taken by Michael to the "subjected plain" (12: 640) where they will make a new home and their offspring will eventually found colonies and empires. It may well have been Paradise Lost that Mary O’Brien was reading on the verandah of her new home in Vaughan Township, Upper Canada in June 1830 while her husband "superintend[ed] the making of the road by [their] lot" and she herself "stirred a bowl of cream into butter" so distractedly that she "ground off one of her nails" (118). Certainly, Paradise Lost would not have been incompatible with O’Brien’s favourite book—Scott’s novel of British India, Guy Mannering (1815) (see O’Brien 125).
Between Confederation and the First World War, Paradise Lost continued to be a major presence in the background of the Canadian long poem, but now as a means of giving resonance to the expansive ambitions of the new dominion. Isabella Valancy Crawford’s Malcolm’s Katie: a Love Story (1884) is a Tennysonian domestic idyll and medley poem that interweaves a romantic narrative with lyric elements, but it also uses establishment blank verse to describe the settlement of the West and the subjugation of nature by Max Gordon, a hero reminiscent of Hercules both in his physical stature and in his pioneering activities. Near the poem’s beginning and at its conclusion, Max and Katie are given speeches that establish agricultural development as distinct from commercial exploitation as a guiding principle of colonization, and in the course of their love story each develops in a way that permits the emplacement in the West of a resonantly Miltonic family hierarchy consistent with the Victorian middle-class ideal of the self-made man (see Bentley, Mimic Fires 272-91). A similar ideal, but with an intellectual rather than a pioneering (but still Herculean) hero at its apex, emerges at the conclusion of Archibald Lampman’s The Story of an Affinity (written in 1892-1894), a "small novel in blank verse" (Lampman, Annotated Correspondence 120) that employs aspects of the Tennysonian domestic idyll and the Wordsworthian growth poem ("spots of time") to chart the progress of its hero and heroine, Richard Stahlberg and Margaret Hawthorne, towards a semblance of the mutuality enjoyed by Milton’s Adam and Eve before the Fall and after the expulsion. Like Malcolm’s Katie, The Story of an Affinity balances lyric and epic, individual and social elements in a way that reflects the Victorian domestication of Romanticism and, indeed, holds temporarily in suspension the potentially contrarious drives towards self-realization and civic responsibility that fuelled the debate over Canadian independence and imperial federation in the post-Confederation period. It is a measure of the balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces that Malcolm’s Katie and The Story of an Affinity achieve that the heroes of both poems are Ulyssean as well as Herculean and that, in the end, the two are safely united with faithful and Penelopean wives.
But in other ways Malcolm’s Katie and The Story of an Affinity seem scarcely to be products of their late Victorian milieu, for by the final decade of the nineteenth century the atomizing and alienating forces of modernity were already giving rise in Canada and elsewhere to a type of long poem—the lyric series—that would foreground the isolation of the individual in a fragmented and heterogenous world.9 It is tempting to see Charles Sangster’s movement from the straightforward (albeit sometimes mysterious) narrative of The St. Lawrence and the Saguenay (1856) to the labyrinthine meditations of Sonnets, Written in the Orillia Woods. August, 1859 (1860) as a precursor of the submersion of plot in a poetic sequence that makes Bliss Carman’s Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics (1903) so engaging and germinal (see Bentley, "Threefold" and Dickie, Rosenthal, and Gall), but, baffling though they may be at times, Sangster’s poems are quite conventional deployments of Romantic and Victorian models and themes (the river poem, the sanctity of human love, and so on). A marked shift in sensibility and technique can be detected, however, in the early long poems of Charles G.D. Roberts: both Orion, and Other Poems (1880) and In Divers Tones (1886) contain epyllions or "miniature epic[s]" in the manner of Theocritus (Bush 204)10 by way of Tennyson’s "Oenone"—"Orion" itself and "Actaeon"—but the Songs of the Common Day,11 New York Nocturnes, and Book of the Rose volumes of 1893, 1898, and 1903 are series of lyrics with submerged metaphysical plots that anticipate Sappho not only in their erotic syncretism, but also in their quietistic avoidance of social and political issues. The precedents for Sappho in Carman’s own work are, of course, Low Tide on Grand Pré (1893) and the Vagabondia volumes (1894, 1896, 1901), the former, according to its Prefatory Note (and much to the distress of at least one conservative critic; see Essay 7: Trees and Forest: Variety and Unity in Early Canadian Writing) a "Book of Lyrics" unified by "a single theme" and a "similarity of tone" (n.p.) and the latter, like Carman’s soporific Pipes of Pan series (1902-1905), a therapeutic celebration of the freedom and camaraderie of the open road and adjoining taverns and terrain.12 Surely it can be no coincidence that all of these volumes by Roberts and Carman were written either just before or not long after they moved from the Maritimes to the United States, leaving behind them the "fetters" (Roberts, Collected Letters 140) of family life and, in Robert’s case especially, a political commitment to furthering Canada’s collective identity either as an independent entity or, failing that, as a central component of a federated British Empire.
With the exhaustion of the fin-de-siècle aestheticism that helped to shape the volumes of Roberts, Carman, and other Canadian writers around the turn of the century and the destruction of the remnants of the Romantic-Victorian sensibility that came with the First World War, Canadians were ripe for literary movements that would speak to the sense of national achievement and international recognition embodied in Canada’s signature on the Treaty of Versailles and its seat in the League of Nations. Given the inherent incompatibility of nationalism and internationalism, it was inevitable that not one but two literary movements would emerge in Canada in the ’twenties and ’thirties and that, eventually, they would come into vigorous conflict. As regards the Canadian long poem, the first of these movements to emerge—the Romantic-Victorian Revival that brought Roberts and Carman back to Canada in the late ’twenties— was the more textually productive, generating several poems that seek to foster national consciousness by bathing heroic individuals from the country’s literary and historical past and present in the awe-inspiring light of the egotistical and epical sublime. In The Wanderer: a Narrative Poem (1936), for example, Nathaniel A. Benson follows a potted history of English literature from Shakespeare and Milton to the great Romantics and high Victorians with a paean to Roberts as "the patriarch of our native tongue" and to Carman as "the sweetest singer of our western world" (4-5), and in Verendrye: a Poem of the New World (1935) A.M. Stephen finds in the "organic rhythms and the freedom of irregular verse" a style answerable not only to the "elemental vastness and beauty" of North America’s "wide open spaces" (viii), but also to the heroic activities chronicled in Lawrence J. Burpee’s 1927 edition of The Journals and Letters of Pierre Gaultier de La Verendrye…Touching the Search for the Western Sea, one of several archival and historical works of that period— including The Kelsey Papers—that reflect the assumptions of Romantic historiography in their emphasis on great men, momentous events, and national issues.13
Needless to say, the second movement that emerged in the post-War period in response to Canada’s new national and international confidence—the "aesthetic modernism" (Trehearne) of A.J.M. Smith, F.R. Scott, and their fellow cosmopolitans—could have little truck with all this literary, scenic, and historical nativism or, indeed, with the aggrandizing genre in which it found expression. As the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Confederation were underway in 1927, Scott lashed out at the nativists and their heroes in "The Canadian Authors Meet" and Smith’s "Wanted—Canadian Criticism" followed a year later. Neither poet would attempt a long poem until Scott, always much more engaged in the civic and political spheres than Smith, assembled "Letters from the Mackenzie River" in his Collected Poems of 1981. The long poems of the one member of the McGill group who worked in the genre—A.M. Klein—largely succeed in avoiding national themes and epic resonances in favour of pan-national and intensely personal subjects such as those of "Portraits of a Minyan" (1940) and "The Psalter of Avram Haktani" (1944). There is surely no more anti-national use of epic conventions than the allusions to Paradise Lost and the Aeneid in the opening lines of the Hitleriad (1944): "Heil heavenly muse…Adolf I sing but only since I must" (Collected Poems 2: 581).14
But not all Canadian Modernists held themselves as aloof from national and local concerns as the internationalists of the McGill Group. In the early-to-mid ’thirties Livesay used the fragmentary form of The Waste Land (1922) to represent the parched physical and social landscapes of the Depression in "Queen City" (1956) and "Depression Suite" (1956), two lyric and documentary sequences that are open to the charge of pastiche and superficiality not merely because of their simplistic Marxism, but also because they lack the understanding of the mythic method that Anne Marriott would bring to similar subject-matter in The Wind Our Enemy (1930) and that Sheila Watson would transfer to poetic prose in The Double Hook (1959) (a work that, despite the claims of Barbara Godard and other fanciful genealogists of Canadian post-modernism, does not treat, except tangentially, of Native peoples but, like its High Modern models, refers local landscapes and mythologies to assumedly universal archetypes).15 Only marginally less epical in its resonances but much less so in its ethos is Louis Dudek’s Europe (1954), a re-enactment of Pound’s pilgrimage to Europe that nods repeatedly towards the Odyssey, particularly while its itinerant narrator is travelling down the St. Lawrence towards the Atlantic and when he returns, disillusioned with Europe, to affirm the potential of the New World. By and large, then, the long poems of the ’thirties, ’forties, and ’fifties run true to form in concentrating on the cultural work of comprehension, commemoration, and construction, and in tending towards lyric when describing personal and quotidian subjects and towards epic when addressing national or universal themes. At the genre’s extremes during the period stand the shapeless records of ordinary experience that Raymond Souster collected in The Colour of the Times (1946) and the elegant artefacts that Jay Macpherson organized around the Frygian monomyth of "the loss and regaining of identity" (Educated Imagination 21) in The Boatman (1957). It almost goes without saying that Souster’s poems are as empty of epic allusions as Macpherson’s are full of them.
If there was a poet who bestrode the Romantic-Victorian revival and the Modern movement in Canada like a colossus, it was E.J. Pratt. Honourably mentioned by Benson in The Wanderer and reluctantly included by Smith and Scott in New Provinces (1936), Pratt drew on both the Modern and the Romantic-Victorian traditions, combining imagistic techniques with natural and folkloric subjects in Newfoundland Verse (1923) and, in his masterpiece, The Titanic (1935), brilliantly interweaving the polyvocalism and pan-Euro-Americanism of The Waste Land with ethical and evolutionary ideas derived from Thomas Huxley, Thomas Hardy, and other late Victorian thinkers and poets. In accordance with the nationalistic demands of the times, Pratt turned his hand during and after the Second World War to heroic subjects and the epic genre. Brébeuf and His Brethren (1940) is divided into twelve books and tells a story that, as already seen (Essay 4: Savages and Relics: the Commemoration of Native Peoples in the Nineteenth Century), Pratt regarded as "a great act in the national drama…a chapter in the history of religion…a saga of the human race" and—though he does not say so explicitly—a parable for the times in its emphasis on "courage, faith, self-effacement, [and] endurance—that sheer holding on at solitary posts in the darkness of an approaching catastrophe" (E.J. Pratt 114). (It is not insignificant that Brébeuf and His Brethren is a poem about the heroism of French Catholics by an ostensibly Protestant English Canadian: in 1943, E.K. Brown and Duncan Campbell Scott would follow suit with Lampman’s "At the Long Sault: May, 1660" a fragmentary depiction of Dollard des Ormeaux that trumpets its epic possibilities in its Homeric comparison of the so-called ‘saviour[s] of New France’" [Margaret Kennedy 54] to "a tired bull moose" dragged down by a "ravening pack" of "sleepless wolves" [Poems (1974) 27].)16 Towards the Last Spike (1952), Pratt’s Verse Panorama of the Struggle to Build the First Canadian Transcontinental from the Time of the Proposed Terms of Union with British Columbia (1870) to the Hammering of the Last Spike in the Eagle Pass (1885) (to give its full, original title), cannot be assigned the label of epic as readily as Brébeuf and His Brethren for the very good reason that Pratt, now writing in the shadow of Northrop Frye’s Viconian theory of the ironic nature of Modern literature, views the epical "triumph" (Collected Poems 388) of the politicians, entrepreneurs, and engineers who built the C.P.R. and unified Canada from what R.D. MacDonald has recently termed a "wry and remote perspective" ("E.J. Pratt" 41). Among the "objects and forces and natural phenomena" that Pratt had once listed as sources of epic "sublimity" are "a range of mountains…[and] struggles on the immense scale, whether physical or moral, involving the fate of nations and people" (Pursuits 214). The natural and national sources of epic sublimity are abundantly present in Towards the Last Spike, but the machinery and actors in the "Struggle"—the ironic spike that Donald Smith misses with his "first stroke" (Collected Poems 387)— ensure the poem’s ironic distance from the high mimetic mode.
While the sublime and epical themes of Towards the Last Spike recall earlier phases of the Canadian long poem, its "wry" and ironical tone anticipate developments in the genre that began to coalesce fully some ten years later with the publication in Tish 12 (August 14, 1962) of the first instalment of David Dawson’s "tentative coastlines," a work that, in the words of Frank Davey’s Introduction to Tish No. 1-19 "revealed Dawson as the first of us to work with the serial poem—an open-ended form already being explored in San Francisco but which Dawson, I believe, stumbled across accidentally as a extension of the multi-section poem in progress" (10). It matters little whether "tentative coastlines" was as generically original as Davey believes, for its real importance lies in its radical reorientation of the long poem on Canada away from the imperial-national ethos of the epic and towards the local-personal matrix of the lyric: at the outset of the first instalment of the poem, after carefully locating his poetic "I" on a "beach…6 miles" from both "the city" (presumably) of Vancouver and the western limit of the continent, Dawson looks back "200 yrs…to/ Valdez/ quadra/ Spanish galleons in the bay/ scanning our shores." But instead of proceeding to commemorate explorer heroism or colonial construction, he looks to the north of "our shores" and, later, "my mountains"—that is, north of the areas appropriated by European civilization—to where "the Kwakiutl once lived" and imagines a spiritual-sexual union between himself and one of their chiefs: "I would/ pray with him/ then lay down/ between his bronze-brown thighs/ to come into maquinna,/ My lord maquinna,/ ME" (242, 244). "In David Dawson’s Tentative Coastlines," Robert Duncan would affirm in the next number of Tish, "there is a breakthru to a tutelary daemon of an other Vancouver" (253). As an Indian lover on the western margins, Dawson’s "ME" has precedents in The Huron Chief and the lyrics of Constance Lindsay Skinner’s still sadly underrated Songs of the Coast Dwellers (1930), but the shamanistic homosexuality and programmatic openness of "tentative coastlines" transgressed Canadian social and poetic conventions in ways that heralded new directions for the long poem in Canada.17 Henceforth, the traditional activities of the genre—comprehension, commemoration, and construction—would be displaced or supplemented by contestation of the colonizing project from a counter-cultural standpoint. In Vancouver in August 1962, as earlier in San Francisco and later in Vietnam, the westward march of European imperialism ground to a halt and turned back on itself. As if sensing both the elegiac and the liberatory implications of the moment, Davey and George Bowering followed the sixth and final instalment of "tentative coastlines" in Tish 14 with "Morte d’Arthur" and "Grandfather," the former a Poundian meditation of the "ruin of [a] realm" (285) and the latter a Purdyesque commemoration of a patriarch whose geographical movements and constructive activities were an embodiment of British imperialism in Canada.
Directed not merely against but towards supplanting Canada’s established poetic and ideological orders, the contestatory long poems of the last three decades have now been thoroughly institutionalized by a process that, to a remarkable degree, replicates in the academic sphere the colonial and colonizing activity of establishing a node of power (Duncan’s happy term is "beach-head" ), defending it against the "natives" (Seymour Mayne’s charge of derivativeness in Tish 3, was followed by the berserker ragings of Robin Mathews and Keith Richardson), and then striking out for fresh fields and pastures new ("Frank Davey is moving to Victoria," Bowering recorded in Tish 19; "I’m moving to Calgary" ["The Most Remarkable Thing"]). Thanks in great measure to the creative and academic efforts of the Tish poets and their associates in such venues as Imago, the long poem magazine that Bowering edited in Calgary, Montreal, and Vancouver from 1964 to 1974, Open Letter, the creative-critical journal that Davey began at York University in 1975, and The Long Poem Anthology, the class-room text that Michael Ondaatje published through Toronto’s Coach House Press in 1979, college and university teachers and students of Canadian literature are now as thoroughly familiar with the contestatory long poems of Bowering, Davey, Ondaatje, and others as they are comfortable with the shibboleths of North American counter-culture that, with engaging local and personal variations, constitute their standard subject-matter.18 Can there be an advanced course in Canadian literature at any college or university that does not include—and rightly—one or more of Daphne Marlatt’s Steveston (1974), Robert Kroetsch’s Seed Catalogue (1977), and a book of bp Nichol’s Martyrology (1972-1988)? As became increasingly apparent in the course of the event that marked its canonization—the Long-liners Conference on the Canadian Long Poem that Davey organized at York in 198419—the contestatory long poem may have begun on the margins but it now holds the centre.
In perhaps the only tedious portion of Seed Catalogue Kroetsch answers the question "How do you grow a past/ to live in" with a theoretically interminable catalogue that nevertheless ends with "the absence of Aeneas" (38-39). Such an assertion of absence is, of course, a testament to presence, an acknowledgment that, though the Aeneid took place elsewhere, its central character and imperial ethos occupy a special position in the present as well as the "past" of all Canadians, not least those who have engaged in the constructive and creative activities of raising seeds, houses, barns, children, communities, and poets that Kroetsch, no less than Goldsmith, recognizes as the staples of colonial culture and the long poem.20 Like several other long poems of the so-called Prairie Renaissance— Andrew Suknaski’s "Homestead, 1914" (1976), for example, and David Arnason’s Marsh Burning (1980)—Seed Catalogue both acknowledges and interrogates the pre-conditions of its creation— namely, the existence of the communities that for all their imperial and colonial sins of omission and commission have made possible the long poem in English in Canada. Indeed, one of the many old lessons that Kroetsch’s poem teaches anew is that no poetic expression, be it epic or lyric or something in between, can exist in any meaningful way without a receptive community. Not until after the establishment of "the home place" and the inculcation of communal awareness does Kroetsch draw from himself and his surroundings the achingly affective and playfully connective passages that make up the final section of Seed Catalogue (34, 50-51). Only when an isolated settlement has become a thriving community does it generate The Rising Village. Without the Hudson’s Bay Company, there would be no "Now Reader Read…." Neither as self-centered as the lyric nor as self-occluding as the epic, the long poem has served from the beginning in Canada as a means of aligning individual with collective experience and, in so doing, establishing its author’s membership in a community that may be local, regional, national, or, in Kelsey’s case, merely corporate, but which is none-the-less valued, validating, and even valorizing. Nor, by and large, have the communities hailed and flattered in long poems failed to honour their side of the genre’s implied social contract: Kelsey was almost continuously employed by the H.B.C. until two years before his death in 1724 (Davies 310-13); Goldsmith was fêted by a crowd of "perhaps…two thousand persons" when he left New Brunswick in 1844 (qtd. in Myatt 108); and Completed Field Notes: the Long Poems of Robert Kroetsch, which was published by "The Canadian Publishers" in 1989, won the Governor-General’s award for poetry in English for that year. Or, arguably, should have.
In its hesitant querulousness, this last statement returns the discussion to the political dimensions of the Canadian long poem, but with some troubling questions born of contemporary realities. Is there any longer a cohesive Canadian community to occasion long poems and honour their authors, or are Canada’s communities once again local, regional, and off-shore? Is there any more a justification for using the term "the Canadian long poem," or should every long poem written by someone with Canadian citizenship or experience be treated as a singularity? These are not idle questions at a time when regionalism, separatism, and globalization are working alongside multiculturalism, self-help therapies, and a host of minority and individual rights movements to reduce the Canadian nation to bite-sized chunks in the global soup of neo-conservatism. In very many ways, the forces of pluralism and individualism have been liberating, enriching, and salutary in Canadian society and Canadian literature. The ensemble of "Canadian long poems" now includes works that comprehend, commemorate, construct, and contest Canadian and non-Canadian realities from many different perspectives. No longer can a student named Smith or Macdonald at, say, the University of Ottawa, read Brébeuf and His Brethren or, for that matter, the very different responses that Pratt’s poem occasioned from F.R. Scott in "Brébeuf and His Brethren" (1945) and from Eldon Garnet in Brébeuf: a Martyrdom of Jean De (1977), without realizing that there are indeed "other" stories to tell. No longer either can such a student read the summary sentence of Steveston— "This is the story of a town, these are the people…" (89)—without a conditioned wince of embarrassment or, worse, a condescending sneer of assumed superiority. By no means all literary texts, particularly those written before the dawning of the New Age, can meet the exacting standards of contemporary tolerance. So, as this capacious and fragile nation labours in the closing years of a millennium and more of European imperialism to embrace diversity without triggering fragmentation, an optimistic historian of Canadian literature can only hope that the full and growing corpus of long poems written in and about Canada in the last three centuries will continue to be tolerated and occasionally appreciated for what it is—a various, sometimes moving, and just possibly coherent record of the emergence and, it may be, disintegration of the nation that still provides a great many Canadians with a large part of their collective and personal identities.
What makes a poem enter the collective memory of a culture? Or, to put the question more precisely, why are certain poems remembered by a large number of people in a particular society across a span of time? Part of the answer doubtless lies in school anthologies and rote learning: a poem enters a society’s poetic repertoire when it has been memorized by a generation or more of children. But this begs the underlying question of why certain poems have proved to be memorable or worthy of memorization. To this there is no simple answer, but a complex set of factors that include a poem’s subject-matter, poetic technique, and length: memorable poems tend to be those that deal in a technically accomplished and concentrated manner with such perennial and emotional themes as love, death, and departure. Such, at least, is the inference that can be drawn from three poems that have made their way into the memories of many Canadians (and some non-Canadians) in the present and previous centuries: "In Flanders Fields" (1919) by John McCrae, "Indian Summer" (1889) by William Wilfred Campbell, and "The Lone Shieling" stanza of the "Canadian Boat-Song" that was first published in Blackwoods’s Edinburgh Magazine in September 1829. All of these poems are brief lyrics, all deal with very emotional subjects, and all display a high level of technical skill. All three also contain what appears to be the fourth prerequisite for memorability: one or two (at most three) vivid images that the poem makes into emblems of its central emotions and attitudes—condensers of feelings and thoughts that are activated every time they are supplemented by the energy of an emotive and knowledgeable reading or hearing.21
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
"In Flanders Fields" is a rondeau, a fixed French form popular among late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English poets such as Henry Austin Dobson and W.E. Henley and appropriate in its geographical as well as its mournful associations to an elegiac poem set in Belgium.22 While broken into three stanzas as is conventional for rondeaus, its most important structural feature is the change of focus and direction that occurs between its second and third stanzas. In the first two stanzas, "the Dead" describe their physical and temporal circumstances, their "place" in the graveyards of Flanders, and their feelings while still alive "Short days ago." In the third stanza, they address the living, enjoining them to continue the fight and keep the faith in order that they, "the Dead," may rest in the knowledge that they have not died in vain. But, despite being divided into three stanzas and two parts, "In Flanders Fields" gives the overwhelming impression of being a coherent and unified whole. Several factors implicit in the rondeau form account for this. One is the metrical pattern (iambic tetrameter), which remains constant throughout the poem except in the dimeter, but still iambic, refrain or retrement ("In Flanders fields") and in the trochees that lend emphasis and force to the opening words in several lines ("We are the Dead," "Loved and were loved," "Take up our quarrel"). Another is the rhyme scheme (aabba aabc aabbac), which runs the same two rhymes through all three stanzas and uses a third only in the phrase that further contributes to the unity of the poem by providing its title, initiating its opening line, concluding its second and third stanzas and, for all these reasons, signalling its final closure.23 Almost needless to say, all of these factors contribute not only to the unity of the poem, but also to its memorability: along with aural and syntactical repetitions such as "row on row," "Loved and were loved," and "we are the Dead…we lived…we shall not sleep," regular, and, thus, predictable, rhythms and rhymes are powerful aids to memory that, as every student of Anglo-Saxon literature knows, abound in oral poetry and popular song.
A third factor that contributes to the unity and memorability of "In Flanders Fields," while also providing an intimation of its social function, is its single yet collective lyric voice. Spoken as if by all "the Dead" in unison—by a "we" with one identity and one will— the poem presents itself as the expression of a communal experience and purpose that transcends individual death and, indeed, the deaths of large groups in the community.24 At the core of the poem, in its middle stanza, McCrae has placed a sharp and moving contrast between life and death, sensuous vitality and impotent stillness:
But in the surrounding stanzas, and with the assistance of some skilful enjambement—"in the sky/ The larks, still bravely singing" and "To you from failing hands we throw/ The torch"—he suggests that a continuity of bravery and purpose can surmount the rift between "the Dead" and the living and connect the gruesome present to a happier past and a brighter future. The final stanza of the poem is an impassioned call for persistence and a stern caution against severance:
Take up the quarrel with the foe:
Both obviously and subtly,25 McCrae’s poem is an affirmation of community and a plea for continuity. "Little wonder then that ‘In Flanders Fields’ has become the poem of the army," wrote Sir Andrew Macphail in 1919; "[t]he soldiers have learned it with their hearts, which is quite a different thing from committing it to memory…. That is the true test of poetry,—its insistence on making itself learnt by heart…. Nor has any piece of verse in recent years been more widely known in the civilian world" (57). Macphail’s words are residually as true today as they were in 1919 for, of course, "In Flanders Fields" "was recited as part of the official Armistice Day program in 1918, and has since become an integral part of…Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada," Britain, and other English-speaking countries (Colombo, Quotations 373). It has, in fact, become an element as well as an expression of communal continuity.
If any part of the poem is more easily remembered and still as widely known than any other, it is the first two lines: "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/ Between the crosses, row on row." In addition to introducing the contrast between the living and "the Dead" that is repeated (retraced) and resolved in the rest of the poem, these lines contain its two most vivid and memorable images. But what precisely do people visualize when they hear, read, or recall the opening lines of "In Flanders Fields"? An informal survey of younger and older family and friends indicates that most "see" scarlet poppies with their petals being ruffled by a gentle wind and symmetrical rows of white crosses in a memorial cemetery. If asked to explain the significance and appropriateness of these images, they seldom have any difficulty: poppies are symbols of remembrance, and the fragility of their petals and stems reflects the precariousness of human life at the front during the First World War; and rows of crosses suggest self-sacrifice, as well as remembrance and, more specifically, the great memorial cemeteries of western Europe. Such explanations say a great deal about the capacity of McCrae’s poem to evoke the imagery of commemoration that it no doubt helped to create, beginning with its anonymous publication in Punch on December 8, 1915. Precisely for this reason, however, they are partly anachronistic, for when McCrae composed his poem near Ypres on May 3, 1915, there were no memorial cemeteries in western Europe,26 and the scarlet poppy was an "emblem," not of remembrance, but of "sleep" and death (Macphail 55)—hence, the incongruity of "the Dead" being unable to "sleep though poppies grow/ In Flanders fields." Moreover, the impression that most people today derive from the phrase "the poppies blow" is also anachronistic and erroneous, for the word "blow" in this context is not a present participle—"blowing"—that has been shortened for the purposes of rhythm and rhyme but a noun meaning "bloom," "blossom," or "[a] state of blossoming" (OED).27 According to Cyril L.C. Allinson, who was probably with McCrae when he composed the poem near a "little cemetery" where a close friend, Lieutenant Alex Helmer, had recently been buried, "‘[t]he poem was almost an exact description of the scene in front of us both’" (qtd. in Delaplante).28 Clearly, what it was to McCrae and is today are two very different things, but if readers choose they can try to strip away some of the varnish of anachronism by recovering and recalling a semblance of its compositional setting and original meaning. There is no guarantee of success, however, for those ruffling poppies and anachronistic crosses have been so frequently and deeply traced on the memories of most Canadians that "In Flanders Fields" almost automatically evokes them.29 Nevertheless, there was that "little cemetery" with its crude wooden crosses and slumberous unmoving poppies, and remembering is more "an affair of construction than…of mere reproduction" (F.C. Bartlett 205).
Like "In Flanders Fields," "Indian Summer" is one of the best-known, most-anthologized, and least-discussed Canadian poems. Written in the early 1880s and published by Campbell in various places—Poems! (c. 1881), the Toronto Varsity magazine (1881) and Varsity Book (1885), Snowflakes and Sunbeams (1888), Lake Lyrics (1889), and Collected Poems (1905)—all of them Canadian, "Indian Summer" is unequivocally a poem by a Canadian for Canadians. This helps to explain its matter-of-fact quality, its simple and direct presentation of a series of natural images and events—the call of "the blue jay," "the sumachs on the hills," "Wild birds flying south"—that Campbell clearly assumes will be familiar to his central and eastern Canadian audience. At the emotional core of the poem is the anticipation of seasonal change that, as much as seasonal change itself, characterizes life in a northern climate. Especially before and during the transitional seasons of spring and fall, Canadians are likely to feel the kinds of longings and regrets that bring to mind momentous thoughts of life and death, rebirth, regeneration, and resurrection. So at least theorized the Confederation poets under the influence of the environmental and "meteorological determinism" (Westbrook 94) of Washington Irving, John Burroughs, and others. "There is…an analogy to our life, and even to the genius of…[the] race" in the distinctive qualities of the Canadian season and woods, suggests Campbell in Canada (1907); in the fall "[a]ll nature seems in a mood of quiet contemplation" that includes "thoughts and imaginings upon life and death" and encourages Canadians to "measure the petty strife and…shrivelled ambition" of the work-a-day world against "the vast spaces and the eternal silence" (126, 123-24).
In its two preliminary appearances in Poems! and Varsity, "Indian Summer" contained two stanzas that made elaborately and unnecessarily explicit the spiritual implications of its natural images and events:
And mists come up at golden dawn
But does the key to this fame reside only in the poem’s unquestionable success in generating an emotional, and, perhaps, spiritual, response? The answer is probably no, for surely much of the memorability of "Indian Summer" derives from its vivid natural images and its accomplished poetic techniques. A few moments in the presence of the poem’s opening line—"Along the lines of smoky hills"—reveals that the combination of "Along," "lines," and "hills" very effectively creates the impression of a distant range of hills in Campbell’s native Ontario or a similar landscape and that the word "smoky" has been brilliantly chosen to elicit an image of hills that resemble smoke either (or both) because of their brownish colour or because of an autumnal haze.33 Moreover, the pronounced rising and falling of the line’s iambic tetrameter assists in the creation of an image of the hills’ contours, as do the rhythmic ascents and descents of its actual letters. With the second and third lines, the "crimson forest" and the "blue jay" add bright patches of colour to the hitherto drab landscape, and the irregular rhythm and internal rhyme of "all the day the blue jay calls" unobtrusively imitates the sound of the bird whose very name derives from its raucous cry of "jay, jay." The final line of the stanza—"Throughout the autumn lands"—does more than proclaim the sights and sounds so far recorded to be general and, therefore, typical; it carries forward the long "o" and "a" sounds from the previous lines to reinforce the sombre mood for which the "smoky hills," the "crimson forest," and the call of the "blue jay" have become emblematic.
The second and third stanzas of "Indian Summer" also put poetic skill at the service of vivid imagery. In the lines "Now by the brook the maple leans / With all his glory spread," the word "leans" hangs at the end of the line to suggest the pendant aspect of the maple, and the phrase "his glory" confers an element of personal and spiritual achievement and triumph on the tree’s fall display. The remaining lines of the second stanza reinforce the sense that the sombre mood created earlier is being counteracted not only by an appreciation of the natural splendours of Indian summer, but also by a recognition that, far from lamenting the passage of summer into winter, the natural world willingly treats Indian summer as an occasion for colourful display: "And all the sumachs on the hills/ Have turned their green to red." In the third stanza, a repetition of the words "Throughout" and "autumn" from the fourth line of the poem ("Throughout the autumn lands") serves the dual purpose of signalling its imminent closure and recapturing its earlier mood. Now, however, somberness combines with appreciation to produce an awed sense of immense geographical spaces and perennial natural forces:
Now by great marshes wrapt in mist,
By stressing "great" and "Wild" with spondees, Campbell emphasizes the extent of the marshes and the naturalness of the birds’ migration. By placing a caesura—the only one in the poem— between "long" and "still," he slows the pace of the line to convey something of the common enough feeling that Indian summer is a protracted period of calm, a lull, before the storms of winter. These are not esoteric techniques or obscure effects, but examples of the "impressive qualities" of "true poetry" that can be recognized, Campbell insisted, without any "subtle insight into the intricacies of language and the laws of prosody" (Selected Poetry 180). It is not techniques that make a poem memorable but their results.
That "Indian Summer" is still capable of generating an emotional response in Canadians is indicated by Robert Nielsen’s recent ruminations about the relative lack of songs and poems that his "countrymen" might sing or recite after a "Canadian wedding in a foreign land":
in lieu of a song I might…urge [them]…to join me in mouthing a few lines of verse:
Okay, okay, they’re corny and are banished from all the best anthologies. But—unlike just about everything else to do with my country— I love them. I think of them constantly and they stir deeply whatever there is in me that is "Canadian."
The Lone Shieling
When the "Canadian Boat-Song" of which this is the second of five stanzas appeared in the "Noctes Ambrosianae" section of Blackwood’s in September 1829, it was preceded by an explanation of the poem’s origins by John Wilson ("Christopher North"):
By the by, I have a letter this morning from a friend of mine now in Upper Canada. He was rowed down the St.Lawrence lately, for several days on end, by a set of strapping fellows, all born in that country, and yet hardly one of whom could speak a word of any tongue but the Gaelic. They sung heaps of our old Highland oar-songs, he says, and capitally well, in true Hebridean fashion; and they had others of their own, Gaelic too, some of which my friend noted down, both words and music. He has sent me a translation of one of their ditties—shall I try how it will croon? (qtd. in Bentley, "The ‘Canadian Boat-Song’" 69)
"‘Hech me! that’s really a very affectin’ thing, now’," exclaims James Hogg ("The Ettrick Shepherd") after the singing of the "Canadian Boat-Song—(from the Gaelic)"; "[w]eel, Doctor, what say you? Another bowl?" (70).
There the matter rested for twenty years until, following the second appearance of the "Canadian Boat-Song" in the June 1849 number of Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, the first of several candidates for the poem’s authorship—Hugh Montgomerie, the 12th. Earl of Eglinton—was suggested at the close of an anonymous article on Highland exiles (see Dowler 70). Since then, at least seven other candidates for the authorship of the "Canadian Boat-Song" have been more-or-less seriously considered, including Wilson himself, Hogg, John Galt, and—perhaps most likely—David Macbeth Moir, a Scottish "physician and poet" who went under the title of "Delta" in Blackwood’s Magazine and may have written the poem "at the instigation of Galt, his regular correspondent while in Upper Canada" (Dowler 71-72). The authorship debate continued well into the present century, and spawned two closely argued monographs: Edward MacCurdy’s A Literary Enigma (1935), "a competent survey of the evidence for all eight nominees" that guardedly endorses the candidacy of Moir, and G.H. Needler’s The Lone Shieling (1941), a close analysis of the poem’s literary form that "develops the case for a Galt-Moir collaboration" (Dowler 72). The fact that Needler’s argument for the poem’s Canadian origins was published in Toronto during the Second World War is neither coincidental nor unprecedented. In the March 1918 number the The Canadian Magazine, Charles S. Blue had drawn on earlier suggestions by two British scholars to argue the case for Wilson’s other literary "friend in Upper Canada," William "Tiger" Dunlop, and in the August 22, 1942 issue of The London Free Press Victor Lauriston revisited the same evidence to conclude patriotically that "the champions of Huron’s claim to the authorship of the ‘lone shieling song’ can safely sheathe their claymores. Tiger Dunlop answers the requirements as no one else does. And, admitting that, his anonymously-published poem was undoubtedly the first writing from Huron county [Ontario] to find a place in literature" (qtd. in Draper 78).
Long before the turn of the century, the most valued portion of the intellectual property that Lauriston and his predecessors sought to assign to different authors and countries had become the stanza that R.E. Rashley describes as "[t]he most complete expression" in early Canadian poetry of "the regret of the immigrant at the loss of his familiar home" (4). As MacCurdy notes in the introductory chapter of A Literary Enigma, the "lone shieling" stanza was quoted in isolation in 1860 by the Scottish writer Norman McLeod to illustrate his observation during a visit to Canada fifteen years earlier that "one of the most interesting and remarkable features of the Highlander abroad is his undying love of the land which he still fondly calls his home" (12). MacCurdy also records that W.E. Henley (who spent a good deal of time in Scotland) and Robert Louis Stevenson (who was born there) "knew only the ‘shieling’ stanza" of the "Canadian Boat-Song" (13), and that the latter used it as an epigraph for the chapter entitled "The Scot Abroad" in The Silverado Squatters (1883). The fact that the same stanza was known and quoted by two very important British imperialists—the Earl of Rosebery (the British foreign secretary in 1886 and 1892 and prime minister in 1894-1895) and Joseph Chamberlain (the British colonial secretary who advocated imperial unity in 1903-1904 and furnished the prototype for Fawcett Wallingham in The Imperialist [T.E. Tausky 327-28])—suggests that in the decades surrounding the turn of the century it had become associated not merely with emigrant homesickness, but also with colonial affection for the Mother Country. The fact that it is included as "Scotland Yet" in Field Marshall, Viscount Wavell’s well-known war-time anthology, Other Men’s Flowers (1945) indicates that by the Second World War it had ceased to be perceived merely as an expression of Highland nostalgia or colonial affection and had become instead a more general, albeit still primarily Scottish, statement of steadfast allegiance in adversity that might be expected to appeal to soldiers overseas. Wavell, it may be recalled, held commands in the Middle East, Italy, and India in the years preceding the publication of his anthology. For readers of Other Men’s Flowers in 1945 there must have been many referents for the "mountains" and "seas" of the stanza’s second line.
The appeal of "The Lone Shieling" stanza derives from its poetic techniques as well as its subject-matter. Spoken, like "In Flanders Fields," by the collective voice of a community, the stanza recalls McCrae’s poem in two other respects: it is unified by a tight rhyme scheme (abab5, an adaptation, perhaps, of the stanza used by Thomas Gray for his "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"); and it divides into two parts on either side of the conjunction "Yet," which signals a shift of focus from the physical barriers that divide the immigrants from their homeland to the emotional and mental ties that "still" bind them to "the Hebrides."
In the first part of the stanza, "the sense of remoteness proves the dominating influence" (MacCurdy 92) and the dominating mood is one of separation and nostalgia. The stanza’s opening word, "From," establishes immediately the sense of separation, and in the first line the highly connotative words "lone" and "misty" begin to characterize the speakers as intensely wistful exiles from a cherished "island" and home. The word "shieling"—meaning either or both a summer pasture and a cattle or sheep herder’s summer hut— has Scottish referents and resonances that simultaneously define the speakers as Highlanders and reinforce their group identity by excluding others from the specifics of Highland experience. (To people unfamiliar with the word, "shieling" may recall "shale" and "shelving" and thus suggest a "natural rock formation" [Will R. Bird qtd. in Ian McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" .) In grammatical terms, the first line of the stanza is a parenthetical opener, an adverbial phrase that modifies "divide" and, by its placement before the subject, verb, and object of the sentence, helps to emphasize the group’s sense of being separated or "divide[d]" from their home. Their sense of separation and division is given further emphasis in the second line of the stanza, where the two elements of the sentence’s compound subject—the "mountains" and "the waste of seas" (the enormous physical and geographical barriers that separate the exiles from their "island")—are so placed as to separate the pronoun "us" from the "misty island" of line 1 and the reclaimed Highlands of lines 3 and 4. Even the broken rhythms of the first two lines and the gaping caesura in the second reflect the speakers’ emotional and physical state:
From the lone shieling of the misty island
While the first line tends towards the trochaic and the second towards the iambic (and, thus, the rhythm of the second part of the stanza), both contain extra unstressed syllables whose cumulative effect is to quieten and prolong their expression of separation and longing. A combination of unstressed syllables, long vowels, and sibilants makes "and the waste of seas" particularly affective and memorable. The pluralized "seas" both culminates a pattern of consonance in the lines and emphasizes the immensity of the division between the exiles and their homeland.
The second part of "The Lone Shieling" stanza focuses on the emotional and imaginative forces that permit the exiles to transcend their physical alienation from the "Highland[s]" and the "Hebrides." The regular, iambic rhythm of its two lines reinforces the sense that emotional turmoil is giving way to harmony:
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is
These lines are not introduced by "But" (which would merely signal a turn of thought) but by "Yet," a conjunction that, particularly when followed by "still," brings with it a sense of temporal continuity and endurance. Instead of being divisive, the caesura in the first line demarcates parallel grammatical structures ("the blood is strong, the heart is Highland") whose present-tense, copula verb ("is") affirms the existence in the "blood" and "heart" of an enduring "Highland" identity. In the second line, the connective conjunction "And" anticipates the contact between the Highlanders and their homeland that occurs in "dreams" when the "Hebrides" are not merely seen but "beh[e]ld"—actively kept in view by the mind’s eye. Much of the credit for what MacCurdy calls, in Arnoldian fashion, the "magical" quality of the stanza’s final line (92) must go to its regular cadence and repeated sounds, but another contributing factor is the special poetic and emotional emphasis that falls on the concluding word. Not only does "Hebrides" stand out as the only three-syllable word and, strictly speaking, proper noun in "The Lone Shieling" stanza,34 but in its terminal and climactic position it becomes the focal point for all the preceding expressions of alienation and longing. Characterized in the preceding lines as achingly beautiful and desirable, the "Hebrides" are the home of the heart that will never be lost from view to those who remain true to their racial and national origins. With "The Lone Shieling" stanza, the "Hebrides" are transformed into a transcendental goal for anyone who has felt the aches and longings of homesickness.
But, of course, the strongest effects of the stanza have been felt in the groups designated by McLeod and Stevenson as the "Highlander" and the "Scot" "abroad." Probably the most concrete confirmation of this can be found in the episode described by Ian McKay as the "oddest event" in the construction of Nova Scotia as an essentially Scottish province between 1933 and 1954 ("Tartanism Triumphant" 34): the building after the Second World War of the replica of a "Lone shieling" that now stands beside the Cabot Trail in northern Cape Breton. As McKay records, the project was instigated in 1934 by a bequest to the Crown of a hundred acres by a former Dalhousie University professor named Donald S. MacIntosh, who requested in his will "‘that the government of [Nova Scotia] maintain a small park [on the property]…and…build there a small Cabin35 which will be constructed in the same design or plan as the lone shieling on the Island of Skye, Scotland’" (qtd. in McKay "Tartanism Triumphant" 33). Since the Premier of Nova Scotia at the time was Angus L. Macdonald, a Liberal with a conservative bias and a regional vision who, in McKay’s neo-Marxian (Foucauldian, Gramscian) terms, saw "pre-Capitalist Highland culture" as a bulwark against modernity (8, 17-18), MacIntosh’s bequest was accepted by the Province and used to strengthen the case for the establishment in 1937 of the park whose very name—Cape Breton Highlands National Park—attests to the "naturalization" of Macdonald’s belief in Nova Scotia’s "inherently Scottish" identity (34). The fact that Macdonald had earlier alluded to "The Lone Shieling" stanza in a speech on the "Memorial to the late Bishop MacEachern of Prince Edward Island, 1929"36 makes his enthusiasm for MacIntosh’s bequest especially understandable. A bronze plaque carrying details of the bequest and an unlineated version of "The Lone Shieling" stanza was unveiled in Cape Breton in 1947 by Fiona McLeod of McLeod (McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" 34).
McKay’s research into "the Construction of Scottishness in Nova Scotia, 1933-1954" in "Tartanism Triumphant" (1992) is brilliantly illuminating, but not everyone will agree that the project that helped greatly to establish a national park on Cape Breton, to secure a lasting source of tourist revenue for Nova Scotia, and to enhance the economic prospects and local pride of many Maritimers (and, indeed, Canadians) was quite as risible and sinister as he suggests.37 (The "tartanization" of Scotland itself has been similarly ridiculed and denounced by critics of the Left, but it, too, has had many positive effects.) It is true that the Lone Shieling that stands in Cape Breton Highlands National Park is inauthentic ("Tartanism Triumphant" 33), but this does not prevent it from having educational value or serving as an aid to memory. When Mary Arseneau and Darcy Terrell were visiting it in August 1989, a "Scotsman…from the Hebrides" arrived and informed them "that shielings were often made of wood, and that this replica was a little more grand than the typical shieling. Most often [he explained] only the young people went up to the shieling for the summer, and many romances began there. In fact, he said he learned the difference between boys and girls during summers spent at a shieling." To the surprise of all present, the same Scotsman "arrived quoting the very lines that are inscribed on the plaque…. [H]e said that in Scotland it is known as the ‘Canadian Boat-Song.’" Like the "lines on the plaque" and the "replica" that they inspired, the Scotsman’s memories confirm the presence in "The Lone Shieling" stanza of one of the crucial ingredients of memorable poems: a vividly clear image—in this case the "lone shieling" itself—that serves as a condenser for the ideas and emotions expressed in the poem.
McKay is doubtless right in seeing the construction of the Lone Shieling as "the crowning moment of tartanism in Nova Scotia"38 but his premises are shakier when he explains the presence of only one stanza of the "Canadian Boat-Song" on the plaque in Cape Breton Highlands National Park as evidence of the "eras[ure] from public tartanism" of "an alternative vocabulary" of political protest that "could not be admitted into the official and hegemonic story of the Nova Scotia Scot" (34). There may well be political as well as mnemonic reasons for the absence from the plaque of the lines of "The Canadian Boat-Song" that refer to the Highland Clearances ("No seer foretold the children would be banish’d,/ That a degenerate Lord might boast his sheep" [qtd. in Bentley, "The Canadian Boat-Song’" 70]), but there is more to the presence there of "The Lone Shieling" stanza than "a monument to one generation’s drive to tame and to commercialize its vividly, re-imagined, incompletely Scottish past" (McKay, "Tartanism Triumphant" 34). There is also the residue of a long and complex literary and historical process that attests to the perennial human need for the inspiration and comfort of poetry.
On the evidence of "In Flanders Fields," "Indian Summer," and "The Lone Shieling" stanza of the "Canadian Boat-Song," it would appear that W.H. Auden was wrong in asserting that "poetry makes nothing happen" (Collected Poems 197). In Canada, some poems have helped to create rituals, identities, and even places: poetry has made things happen.