Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Edited by D.M.R. Bentley and Laurel Boone


 

FOREWORD*


 

This slender anthology of contemporary patriotic verse by no means aims at completeness but tries to avoid exclusiveness. True, almost all the poems here included, whether by major or minor poets, may be classified as traditional rather than modernistic. They are in the great tradition of English verse from Chaucer down, a tradition demanding simplicity and clarity as the first pre-requisites in any poetry which seeks to reach the human heart. Of course there is much extremely important verse, both today and in the days of the later Elizabethans and Carolinians, for which its most ardent admirers would hardly venture to claim either clarity or simplicity. But verse which would give winged words to the passion of patriotism must be clear and must be simple or the words, however ingeniously winged, will miss their aim entirely. This will explain the fact, which no one can regret more than I do, that the so-called modernistic school of poetry finds no representation in this volume. The undoubted head of this school, Mr. T. S. Eliot, is a poet whose genius, for all its eccentricities, compels my enthusiastic admiration. His poem, "The Hollow Men," commemorates, with a depth of veiled significance and a power of incantation unmatched in contemporary poetry, the death and dissolution of an era. He has noteworthy disciples—though none with his peculiar power of incantation—in England, the United States, and Canada; perhaps the best of them in Canada! But master and disciples alike scorn simplicity and deliberately turn their backs on clarity. As for such a universal human emotion as patriotism, if they recognize it at all, it does not seem to them a subject quite worthy of their verse.

As this collection is intended primarily for use in Canadian Schools, and as it is obviously most important that our young pupils should be aroused to a consciousness and appreciation of our budding Canadian literature, I have had no hesitation in giving the larger part of my space to our own makers of verse. No reasonably well-informed critic will cavil at this. To the British Section, which inevitably sets the standard of excellence in poetic as well as patriotic quality, I have given less space because so much of its patriotic poetry is already a part of the glory of English speech and needs no introduction to Canadian readers. In the United States Section I have purposely refrained from drawing upon that vast and admirable body of verse whose patriotic fervour has been evoked by purely American themes and scenes. Rather have I made my choice from among those poems, and they are many, which show us American poets turning passionately, in time of stress, to the land of their origin and traditions. It is this instinctive feeling for the Motherland, not patriotism exactly but closely akin to it, which I would emphasize to Canadian readers, in the hope of promoting, by even a little, that spiritual if not political unity of the English-speaking peoples toward which events would seem at last to be leading us.

It is a matter of the greatest regret to me that, owing to difficulties in procuring suitable and up-to-date material, I have been unable to give adequate representation to the heroism and splendour of sacrifice of the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, and Colonials, as well as to the magnificent courage of the fighting races of India to whose fidelity we owe so great a debt. The few poems from these other sections of the Imperial Commonwealth which I have been able to include must therefore be regarded as a mere token representation.

 


"Foreword," Flying Colours, ed. Charles G.D. Roberts (Toronto: Ryerson, 1942), vii-viii [back]