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.