Corydon: An Elegy

by Bliss Carman

Introduction by D.M.R. Bentley


 

 

Introduction



"Corydon: An Elegy" is Bliss Carman's "most ambitious work" of the eighteen eighties (Gundy in Carman, Letters 25) and arguably his most complex and important poem of the period preceeding the publication of Low Tide on Grand Pré. A Book of Lyrics (1893). Written to commemorate the death of Matthew Arnold on April 15, 1888, it is a pastoral elegy in the tradition that Charles G.D. Roberts had earlier placed on view in one of his finest literary essays ("Pastoral Elegies" [1883]) and in the Introduction to his edition of P.B. Shelley's Alastor and Adonais (1902). According to the available evidence, Carman envisaged "Corydon" as a poem in three parts entitled "Death in April," "Midsummer Land," and "Autumn Guard," each of which would be furnished with an epigraph from another pastoral elegy and "preceded and followed by a lyric interlude" (see Letters 26). Probably because the third part of the poem, the enigmatically titled "Autumn Guard," was never finished (see Letters 26, 28, 32), the scheme never came to fruition. However, the first part, "Death in April," was published in the April 1889 number of The Atlantic Monthly (Boston), the second, as "Corydon: An Elegy," in the March 1890 number of The Universal Review (London), and three of its lyric interludes entitled "Stir," "Ad Vesperum," and "E Tenebris" survive, the first in the January 25, 1889 issue of The Critic (Halifax) and the other two after "April in the Hills" in what are probably the trial sheets for "a limited edition of seventy-five copies" that Carman intended to have published "at [his] own expense" in Fredericton (Letters 26). The fact "Corydon: An Elegy" was poorly reviewed in such influential British periodicals as The Spectator (London) and The Academy (London) (see Miller 62) may also help to explain Carman's failure to complete his pastoral elegy and his decision not to include even "Death in April" in By the Aurelian Wall and Other Elegies (1898).
       With the exception of the epigraphs, which are taken from the texts that are here grouped for convenience under the title "Corydon: An Elegy" are those contained in the publications and trial sheets referred to above and in the Works Cited, below.
       For further discussion of "Corydon: An Elegy," see my The Confederation Group of Canadian Poets, 1880-1897.

—D.M.R.B.
                                                                                                                    


 

Works Cited in the Introduction

 

Carman, Bliss. "Corydon: An Elegy." The Universal Review (London) 5 (Nov 1889): 425-37.

————. "Death in April." Atlantic Monthly 63 (April 1889): 458-62.

————. Letters. Ed. H. Pearson Gundy. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's UP, 1981.

————. Papers. Rufus Hathaway Collection, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB.

————. "Stir." The Critic (Halifax) 6.4 (Jan 25, 1889): 3.

Miller, Muriel. Bliss Carman: Quest and Revolt. St. John's: Jesperson, 1985.