Non-Fictional Prose

by Charles G.D. Roberts

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


 

THE WORLD OF BOOKS: Acadian Legends and Lyrics*


 

Acadian Legends and Lyrics, by Rev. Arthur Wentworth Eaton. [1889] New York: White & Allen.

 

Mr. Eaton’s volume of poems, though published in New York, belongs properly to Canada. The author is a Canadian, though living in the United States, and the subject matter is almost wholly Canadian. Both in matter and in spirit, these poems take their origin from those favored Acadian regions which had already proved themselves fertile in inspiration. From faithful critics on all sides the cry has been going up of late years that poetry was too much given over to the worship of form,—that our singers were in danger of becoming mere intricate weavers of words. The cry is one of needed warning, and cannot be too pertinaciously reiterated. In a vast deal of contemporary work one feels that the initial impulse has come less from a need of giving utterance to some vivid emotion or high idea than from an idle itch for experimenting in bizarre verse-forms. I am keenly alive to the fact that this experimenting in verse-forms has its value. It gives faculty, it opens one’s eyes to the defects of his technique, it helps one to realize how flexible our language may become; but, like all experimenting, it is perilous by reason of its fascinations. And often it happens that the writer who at first thought only of how he might best achieve a fine poem, gradually lowers his aim to the accomplishment of a delicate piece of verbal filagree that can be ticketed Rondeau, or Ballade, and judged as such mainly.

Mr. Eaton’s book is of interest to all lovers of song, because it serves as an indication of a return to simplicity. These verses are direct, unstrained, natural, and always simple in form and motive. There is much easy melody, much tenderness of mood, much faithful and effective discription. The poet’s gift is not a mighty and compellingly one, but it is very true and refreshing one.

In the Acadian Legends, Mr. Eaton may be said to revive that pleasant art that has long been in disuse, the art of telling a not very striking story in verse, and adding an evasive grace which persuades one that the tale was worth the telling. The opening poem, "The Naming of the Gaspereau," is a case in point, in spite of what may almost be called the philological outrage of the incident, which gives the poem its title. The other poems in this section are not open to any such blame, but few of them quite attain the same unconscious grace. The "Lyrics" have a wider range of theme, as might be expected; but they do not very greatly in tone. They are human and wholesome, almost without exception, and possess that attribute of improving on close acquaintance. The following quotations will give a taste of the quality of this little volume, whose unobtrusive beauties are likely to be overlooked by the hasty reader:

FLOOD TIDE.

The tide came up as the sun went down,
   And the river was full to its very brim,
And a little boat crept up to the town
   On the muddy wave, in the morning dim.

But that little boat with its reed-like oar
   Brought news to the town that made it weep,
And the people were never as gay as before,
   And they never slept so sound a sleep.

News of a wreck that the boatman had seen
   Off in the bay, in a fierce, wild gale;
Common enough, such things, I ween,
   Yet women cried and the men were pale.

Strange that a little boat could bring
   Tidings to plunge a town in tears;
Strange how often some small thing
   May shatter and shiver the hope of years.

O, none but the angel with silver wings
   That broods o’er the river and guards the town,
Heeds half of the woe each evening brings,
   As the tide comes up, and the sun goes down.

Here are two stanzas from "Foundry Fires:"

"Crude the mass time’s fiery forges
   At your eager feet have hurled,
Centuries of toil must follow
   Ere ye shape a perfect world;
Yet with clanking, clanking, clinking,
   Strike the iron, shape the truth;
Science is indeed the beginning,
   Thought in its lusty youth.

O ye forgemen of the nations,
   Keep the world’s great fires alight,
Let the sparks fly from your anvils
   All along the roads of night;
Clanking, clinking, never shrinking,
   Work till stars fade and the morn
Of a wider faith and knowledge
   In the radiant East is born."

   ‘TWERE BETTER TO HAVE LOVED.

   "‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."

‘Twere better to love, though the heart be broken,
   Than to sit alone from passion free,
Never to have a sign or token
   Of the life that deepest lies in thee.

‘Twere better to love, though peace should never
   Softly climb to thy soul again,
Than to live the blinded life forever
   Of barren- hearted, loveless men.

‘Twere better far that the gates, in shadow,
   Of heaven, should once have come to view
Than that thou till death, from thy dull meadow,
   Shouldst never have seen the pearl and blue."

 


"The World of Books: Acadian Legends and Lyrics," Progress 2: 76 (Saint John, N.B.), 12 October 1889, 6 [back]