|Life "Only Sweet": the
Significance of the Sequence in Lampman's Lyrics of Earth
Of the three collections of poems Archibald Lampman prepared for publication (the third, Alcyone, was in press when he died), two are miscellanies meant to represent the diversity of the poet's output in terms of both form and subject matter. Lyrics of Earth differs in that it is, as D.C. Scott points out in his 1900 "Memoir", "a collection of poems following the sequence of the seasons".1 Scott, unfortunately, does not speculate on what meaning may be attached to this design, and until recently very little attention was given to the subject. As D.M.R. Bentley demonstrates in his detailed and informative Introduction to Lyrics of Earth: A Working Text (1978), the question of the sequence in Lyrics of Earth had not, up to the time of his writing, been adequately addressed by those few critics who had written about the book.2 In 1986 L.R. Early published his Twayne World Authors Series study, Archibald Lampman, in which a ten-page section entitled "The Shifting Sun" is devoted to Lyrics of Earth.3 Early does not discuss the sequence per se. He does, however, provide readings of three poems from the sequence "The Sweetness of Life", "In November", and "Winter-Store" all of which, to his mind, strike a "contrary note" in relation to the other poems and depict an estrangement from nature on the part of the speaker. Because they represent current thought about Lampman's response to nature in Lyrics of Earth, some of Early's observations are referred to and, where the present author has a disagreement, challenged in this essay.
In his working text, Bentley traces the pre-publication history of Lyrics of Earth as recorded in Lampman's correspondence and comments, as well, on the significance of the sequence. By describing Lampman's unavailing efforts to find a publisher for an earlier version of the book, by drawing our attention to E.W. Thomson's role in helping to select and organize the contents of the published version, and by outlining the circumstances leading to the shift in position of "The Sun Cup" within the sequence, Bentley has provided information which is crucial to a clear understanding of Lyrics of Earth and, in particular, the sequence of poems it embodies. There are, however, two aspects of the sequence in Lyrics of Earth touched on by Bentley of which, because of their far-reaching implications, it may be worthwhile to consider an alternative view. According to Bentley's reading of the relevant letters, not only were the selection and arrangement of the poems included in Lyrics of Earth largely determined by Thomson, but it was through Thomson's intervention that poems not concerned with nature (and therefore irrelevant to the sequence) were excluded from the volume. At the same time, Bentley suggests that the significance of the sequence is multi-faceted and complex, the collection being a "highly unified" whole.4
In what follows, an attempt is made to show that Lampman was, after all, responsible for the sequence in, and the essential make-up of, Lyrics of Earth. The meaning of the sequence, moreover, is seen as being simple rather than complex. Specifically, it is argued that the cycle of seasons in Lyrics of Earth is Lampman's image of nature in its entirety, a vehicle by means of which Lampman could convey his belief that nature, despite variations in aspect or "mood", is entirely beautiful, the embodiment of unsullied perfection. The significance of this view of nature is that the potential for human beings to experience visionary insight or oneness with the eternal presence of nature, based on awareness, is perpetual in time. Accordingly, life is, as stated in "The Frogs", "only sweet" but only for those who, receptive to the influence of the beauty of nature on their minds, are able to rise above the level of mundane consciousness and know life for what (when distractions and illusions are overcome) it is. To set the stage for this discussion, it has been deemed necessary to demonstrate that, in key poems pre-dating and post-dating Lyrics of Earth, it was very much Lampman's purpose to show that beauty was everywhere and at all times present in nature, meaning that there existed in nature an infinite potential for heightened awareness or "dream" consciousness. This is the subject of Part I. Part II deals with the inception and evolution of the sequence in Lyrics of Earth, as revealed in Lampman's correspondence. In Part III it is argued that the entirely positive view of nature in all its seasonal manifestations evident in the poems discussed in Part I may be seen to inform, as well, the sequence in Lyrics of Earth. The point is not, it should be emphasized, that the sequence is meant to be viewed as an intricately structured extended single work. On the contrary, that position is disputed. The point is simply that for Lampman to construct of poems already written a sequence following the seasons the idea of such a sequence is, itself, significant in the manner just described. Thus the main argument of this paper rests, as it only can, on external evidence, although internal evidence the fact that the poems included in Lyrics of Earth reflect Lampman's belief that beauty in nature is a year-round phenomenon provides corroboration.
That the concept of beauty was central to Lampman's thinking about human beings and their relationship to nature will be obvious to anyone familiar with his work. In the sonnet "Beauty" (PAL, p. 258), he sees his subject as "the lost goal, the unsought cure" of human misery, defining beauty figuratively in relation to goodness and truth as "the perfect ring / That circles and includes the other two" (ll. 13-14). In this figure the supremacy of beauty in Lampman's outlook is apparent. In the closing sonnet of "The Largest Life" (PAL, pp. 300-01), he depicts the process of human melioration in the following terms:
The advancement of humanity through the ages is here conceived as the flower-like accretion of beauty. Finally, in "Man and Nature" (ALS, pp. 13-14), a poem in which he bemoans the failure of human beings of the industrial or, possibly, Christian era to maintain contact with nature and so dispose themselves (since the flower will not grow by itself) to contributing to human progress, he declares,
Lampman does not specify what he means by "Beauty's firm law". His descriptions earlier in the poem of the false and unhappy faces he observed in "yonder city streets", however, make clear what is no surprise, namely that, according to him, contact with nature would produce in the wayward people of the city a renewed sense of purpose (based on "truth") and, at the same time, make them happy. In the first and third passages referred to, beauty is clearly linked to nature, while in the second a human equivalent to the beauty of nature is imagined as existing in the future at "the goal of life".
Given the importance of beauty and its association with nature in Lampman's poems, it is appropriate that, before reaching for Keats, we consider what Lampman has to say on the subject elsewhere. In his "At the Mermaid Inn" column for February 6, 1892 he writes as follows:
Certainly Lampman did not intend this portion of a familiar essay to stand as a statement of his poetic creed. Nevertheless and perhaps because of not trying to he succeeds in touching on several crucial aspects of his world view. He notes that the appreciation of beauty (clearly associated with nature) leads to happiness, that beauty in nature is characterized by "variety", and that nature (except where it has been "perverted by the hand of man") is entirely beautiful.
The last of these points is elaborated in a passage from "Poetic Interpretation", the essay in which, perhaps more clearly than in any other place, Lampman outlines the principles underlying his own poetics. Comparing the effects of several different examples of nature's beauty on the consciousness Lampman uses the word "soul" of the receptive individual, he states,
Here, the idea that "there is nothing fashioned by nature herself that is not beautiful, either in itself or in its relation to its surroundings" is expressed in terms of seasonal change and variety within nature. Of particular relevance to Lyrics of Earth is the reference to seasonal change, for what it implies is that, for Lampman, the quality of beauty may change with the shifting of the seasons, but the extent to which beauty is present in nature remains unaltered over time. Since the appreciation of beauty gives rise to happiness in the observer, it follows that the potential for happiness is limitless, contact with nature (at any time of year) being the only requisite. This idea later to serve as the underlying theme of Lyrics of Earth, as will be seen is already evident in Lampman's first book, Among the Millet (1888). To examine the form it takes, we will begin by looking at two of Lampman's most successful poems, "Heat" and the sonnet "In November".
In the closing stanza of "Heat",7 the poet makes an important observation about his own attitude to experience and, specifically, contact with nature:
The meaning of these remarkable lines, of which numerous far-reaching interpretations have been put forward, is, perhaps, not very obscure. It is that, despite the apparently inhospitable condition of nature, the speaker not only finds comfort but also experiences a transformation of consciousness which clears or purifies his mind, making him one, in terms of his awareness, with his surroundings. (This experience, typically associated with the word "dream" in Lampman's poems, is essentially that of the mystic who attains perfection by eliminating, through meditation or by some other means, the distinctions between subject and object, self and other, the one and the all.)Throughout the first five stanzas of the poem Lampman has evoked, with consummate skill, a sense of the heavy, oppressive heat of a midsummer's day at the height of noon. Such heat, as described, might be enervating, but ("And yet") for the speaker the opposite proves to be the case. For one thing, resting and with his face (his eyes) protected from the sun, he is able to "drain the heat". The point is not merely that he is free of discomfort, however. On the contrary ("Nay more"), he has been blessed with the richer experience of heightened awareness, the change being described metaphorically in terms of in the biblical phrase a refiner's fire. As gold is distilled from dross in the fire of a forge, so the speaker's consciousness has been purified by his experience of nature subject to the influence of midsummer heat. The landscape dominated by heat, accordingly, has had an inspirational rather than a debilitating effect on the speaker's mind. That one should, on such a day, fall heir to the experience of heightened awareness achieved through involvement with landscape instead of merely suffering from the heat, the speaker himself implies, is ironic. However, the significance of the statement
is that the speaker's response is not the obvious or conventional one and, further, that in the seemingly sharp (oppressive heat in nature) may lurk the sweet (heightened awareness), and vice versa. Most people, Lampman felt, found the game of whist enjoyable; he detested it. Most people, in the setting "Heat", might be expected to complain to long for a cool drink in the shelter of a well-insulated room with the curtains drawn; Lampman discovered the subject of a hymn to nature.
The sonnet "In November" (AM, p. 144) presents a similar encounter between observer and landscape, only now the time of day is dusk and the time of year late autumn. The speaker begins (as in "Heat") by providing a description of his immediate surroundings, thus involving the reader in the imaginative world of the poem:
Not only is it almost dark, but a storm is building. From where he stands, the speaker can see the "woodmen's carts go by" as "homeward wheeled" they abandon the bleak landscape. The general impression created by the images of falling snow, the gathering darkness, and the departure of the men from the woods is one of a forbidding world of the out-of-doors from which human beings would be wise to take shelter. Rather than join the "woodmen", however, the speaker (not made of wood) remains behind, observing his surroundings. He notes "the thin fading stubbles . . . sowed softly through with snow" and, in a particularly evocative passage, the presence of the "last ploughman" who "follows still his row, / Turning black furrows through the whitening field". The contrast between the blackness of the freshly turned soil and the whiteness of the snow has a visual quality about it which serves to emphasize the bleakness of the scene. The entire octave is strongly atmospheric, an impression of actual perception being keenly evoked.
In the first three-and-a-half lines of the sestet, the idea that the present scene is inimical to human involvement is reinforced:
The light and the warmth with which one associates the gleaming village lamps "[f]ar off" contrast the darkness and cold of the speaker's more immediate surroundings. That the hills are "wintry white", that the winds are "bleak" (as if the bleakness of the landscape could be carried through the air) and their sound is a "moan", and that the "uplands" are "naked" and thus unprotected all these factors strengthen the impression of a hostile environment. The sound of the winds, it might be added, is effectively evoked by the numerous repetitions of the vowel sound "o" in sequence, "slowly", "snow", "go", "homeward-", "golden-", "sowed", "snow", "follows", "row", "furrows" , "snow" , "no" , "grow" , "moan" , "alone" throughout the poem. The winds, by this device, are made to seem a constant presence, pervasive and unrelenting.
The impression created throughout most of the poem, then, is one of a harsh and forbidding landscape. What the closing lines reveal, however, is that the speaker's reaction to this landscape, unlike that of his fellows, is positive and affirming. "I alone", he states,
Other people, he implies, might be rendered "sad" or "shelterless" or "gray" by exposure to the elements in their present state, but he, as is true of the speaker in "Heat", has a different response. Indeed, the words "I alone" perform precisely the same function as does the statement
In both cases the speaker emphasizes that, despite the extremity of the weather conditions, nature is conducive to the experience of dream. There is a beauty in the chill November landscape just as there is a beauty in the overheated countryside of a mid-summer's day.
A similar comparison may be drawn between two additional poems from Among the Millet, "April" and "In October" (pp. 2-5 and 23-24). In the former, certainly, the prevailing atmosphere is one of cheery good spirits, as is evident in stanza three:
. . . .
The light-hearted optimism of these lines contrasts sharply with the grievous tone of "In October" where the red of the sunset is deemed "dolorous" (l. 3), both the "wet winds" and the "wet woods" are heard to "moan" (ll. 4 and 19), and even the pines are reduced to serving as "priests of storm" (l. 2). In both poems, however, the speaker responds to the beauty of nature in much the same way. In "April", having "wandered with unwearied feet, / All the long sweetness of an April day" (ll. 50-51), he succeeds in making his "spirit free / With the blind working of unanxious spring" (ll. 72-73), while in "In October" he sits upon a "naked stone" (l. 17) and, having sent his "heart out to the ashen lands" (l. 20), feels
Whether near in time to the vernal or the autumnal equinox, the speaker identifies with nature as he finds it. Thus, though his mood changes, as is consistent with the shifting of seasons, his involvement with nature is virtually the same. The reason for this is that beauty in nature is not a relative but an absolute presence. While the "sweetness of an April day" may be vastly different from the sweetness of "sombre lands" in bleak October, yet both are sweet.
Despite its harsh and forbidding aspect, nature was for Lampman as he said it was entirely beautiful. In both "Heat" and "In November" his point is to show that, notwithstanding the influence of apparently inhospitable weather conditions, his own response to nature is positive, indicating that beauty in nature may be found where least expected. What the similarity of his responses to nature in such poems as "Heat", "In November", "April", and "In October" demonstrates, moreover, is that time (understood in terms of seasonal change) alters only the face of nature and does not diminish its essential beauty. Accordingly, while spring may be gay and autumn gloomy, to Lampman the beauty of both is equally pure, just as, to draw an analogy, the seasons of Christmas and Easter are equally holy in the Christian calendar. Nature in all its aspects, he believes, is worthy of human veneration, and since the cycles of nature are endless (nature does not stop), there exists in nature a limitless potential for the kind of immediate involvement through identification evident in, for example, "In November".
In considering Lampman's attitude to beauty in nature over time it has been necessary to make comparisons simply because Lampman's typical response to nature is one of immediacy, of the present. There are, however, two poems with a broader temporal focus "The Lesson of the Trees" and "The Old House" in which the point is made that nature is entirely and in every season beautiful.An analysis of these poems is presented on the assumption that the ideas they embody as single works can be applied to the sequence in Lyrics of Earth as well, Lampman's purpose in writing them and his aim in constructing the sequence being essentially the same.
Written according to Early's chronology of Lampman's poems circa 1891 and first published in the Ottawa University magazine, the Owl, in January 1894, "The Lesson of the Trees" dates from the period when the sequence in Lyrics of Earth conceived in 1891, assembled in 1892, and dispatched to various publishers over the next few years (see Part II) was prominent in Lampman's mind. The poem reads in its entirety as follows:
The message here, in part, is the same as that of many other of Lampman's non-descriptive nature poems "An Old Lesson from the Fields", for example in which it is recommended that people emulate in human terms the purity and simplicity of nature. In "The Lesson of the Trees", however, the additional point is made that life is valuable ("gain") at all times, this idea being put across in terms of the contrast between the condition of nature in the summer and winter. The point is not that winter is not harsh or, as Lampman has it in the "Mermaid Inn" for April 9, 1892, "our severest test".9It is despite apparent cause for "fear" and "pain" in the loss of summer that the trees remain dignified, undespairing, and aloof ("free"), these qualities reflecting a kind of beauty that does not diminish as the seasons change. As the speaker interprets their existence, the trees abide by the precept that "life is a thing to be lived", that is, that one should enter fully into the experience of the present at all times. For Lampman, the way to become alive to the moment is to identify with nature, and this is achieved through the contemplation of a particular aspect of nature's beauty. Thus, even though "the bounty of June" and "the winter's snow" may be, on one level, analogues of good fortune and adversity in "The Lesson of the Trees", the significance of these images in the context of the present discussion is that the positive value of nature is an absolute, not subject to atrophy with change. Summer is pleasant (except on scorching days such as the one described in "Heat"); winter is harsh; but beauty may be found in both.
The first person plural in this poem, it should be noted, refers to human beings in general.This usage is consistent with Lampman's view that society, preoccupied with material and other worldly pursuits, has cut itself off from the regenerative influence of nature. Its members are the "children of mankind" who "[a]bandoned nature and sought other light" referred to in "Man and Nature". The same usage occurs in the sonnets "An Old Lesson from the Fields", "A Prayer", and "Sight" as well as in the opening stanzas of "Winter-Store". In all these poems the speaker is representative of his race. By contrast, the "we" of "Freedom" and "The Frogs" designates those people who, at odds with their fellows, are pleased to turn to nature for both comfort and inspiration. A friend of these hale nature lovers, but a more intimate because solitary individual, is the familiar "I" of such characteristic evocations of human contact with nature as "Heat", "Solitude", "A January Morning", and the two poems entitled "In November". It is this "I" who is the primary speaker in Lyrics of Earth. (In at least one Lampman poem, "Morning of the Lièvres", the intimacy of "Solitude" is maintained despite the presence of another person. This poem, however, is an early one, dating from a wilderness canoe trip taken by Lampman and Scott in the summer of 1885. As time goes by, the "we" in Lampman's nature poems all but disappears as the poet becomes increasingly the lone observer of nature so well portrayed in the sonnet "In November".) There exists no contradiction between the recalcitrant "we" of "The Lesson of the Trees" and the receptive "I" of Lyrics of Earth because the perspective in the two works is different, even while the underlying principle is the same.
The theme of "The Old House" (PAL, pp. 321-24), completed on March 18, 1898, less than a year before Lampman died, and first published in Poems (and never reprinted), is essentially the same as that of "The Lesson of the Trees". The method by which it is put forward, however, is different. The poem consists of four stanzas descriptive of the house itself, representative of life in nature or the human experience of nature, during the four seasons, framed by one stanza each of introduction and conclusion in which people's involvement in the life of the house is described. Thus the natural world of cyclical time is seen to exist within, as it were, the human world of linear time. In all four middle stanzas nature is seen as being beautiful.This means that the experience of heightened awareness or "dream", linked to the perception of beauty in nature, is never out of reach. Implied by the structure of the poem, then, is the paradoxical idea that, while all life is both mortal and time-bound, to live is (potentially) at all times to dwell in the old house, that is, to experience the nowness and the sense of oneness with the eternal presence of all life inherent in dream.
Like several other of Lampman's nature poems, including "The Sweetness of Life" (discussed in Part III), "The Old House" is notable for the sustained serenity with which the containment of the dream world within mortality is presented. In the opening stanza, people's attitude to the house (to life) is expressed:
. . . .
The house seems a kind of ancient castle, but the opening statement and the use of the present tense throughout make clear that its existence is ongoing. In stanzas two through five, as already noted, the beauty of nature throughout the year is evident in the descriptions of the house and its inhabitants and environs during the four seasons. Significantly, this beauty is described in specific rather than general terms. Autumn, for example, is represented by "the golden long October days", while "the winter nights" are allowed to stand for their season (ll. 49 and 65). By having specific images epitomize the beauty of the season, Lampman emphasizes the importance of actual involvement to dream consciousness. While beauty in nature may be everlasting, it is only through the full appreciation of a specific instance of it that the perfection of the whole can be realized by human beings.
In the closing stanza of the poem, the demise of the house is anticipated. Having stated that the house is "a home of friendly pilgrimage" (l. 82), that "Beauty grows upon its stones with age" (l. 84), and that
the speaker goes on to give the following account of its ultimate fate:
According to Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald, the only critic to have commented on the poem, this ending detracts from the poem's integrity. MacDonald, writing in 1919, accurately describes the house of the poem as "a serene abode of dream with all the beauty of day and night, of changing seasons and of lasting happiness". To this she adds, "I wish, though, that [Lampman] had not written the last verse, fine though it is; the poem is complete without it, and it brings a jarring note of mortality into an atmosphere that is otherwise all radiantly immortal, and above the assaults of change and time."10Surely, however, the "note of mortality" does not lessen the impact of the earlier stanzas but, rather, enhances it. What the lines just quoted imply is that the atmosphere "that is otherwise all radiantly immortal, and above the assaults of change and time" exists, and only can exist, as a function of life. The same point is made in the closing lines of "The Frogs" (AM, pp. 6-9) where, in the same breath, mortality is acknowledged and the validity of dream consciousness affirmed. For each individual, the opportunity of experiencing the sense of oneness with all things inherent in dream must end with death, but death itself becomes inconsequential for the person who, alive to the moment, is free of the pessimism and despair to which thoughts of mortality might give rise. As Lampman has it in another dream consciousness poem, "Amor Vitae" (PAL, pp. 250-51), "I care no jot for death" (l. 24). Admittedly life is brief the old house lives only "for its day" but life supplies, for the dreamer, its own salvation.
In both "The Lesson of the Trees" and "The Old House" Lampman gives expression to his belief that nature in its entirety, and nature as it really is, is replete with beauty. This belief is conveyed specifically in terms of seasonal change and, in "The Old House", largely through Lampman's handling of structure. The structure of "The Old House", it will be observed, closely resembles that of Lyrics of Earth. Given the presentation in Lyrics of Earth of an image of nature as a whole, that is, the year, and Lampman's concern with the same subject in "The Lesson of the Trees" and "The Old House", it seems reasonable to infer that Lampman's purpose in assembling a collection of poems following the sequence of the seasons" was to convey what these poems convey. Accordingly, the underlying theme of Lyrics of Earth may be understood as being that the potential to experience dream consciousness through the perception of beauty in nature is never lost as the seasons shift: that life (properly seen) is only sweet. This position is consistent with the view of nature evident in "Heat", "In November", "April", and "In October", taken together. In Part III of this study, an analysis of both the structure and contents of Lyrics of Earth is provided to show how internal evidence supports this interpretation of the sequence. Before considering the design and component parts of the book, however, it is important to establish as precisely as possible how the sequence in Lyrics of Earth came about.
It was not until March of 1896, almost five years after it was originally conceived, that Lyrics of Earth was published by Copeland and Day of Boston. (The date on the imprint is 1895, but the actual production of the book was delayed.) During these years the collection was altered several times. According to Bentley, it was only after Thomson became involved in revising Lampman's manuscript, and through his intervention, that the sequence of the collection took shape. As he states, "Lyrics of Earth differs, not only from Among the Millet, but also from Alcyone in being an attempt by Lampman and Thomson to organize an entire volume of poems as if it were in itself one extended poem."11 Bentley goes on to suggest that certain poems inconsistent with the sequence were excised on Thomson's recommendation, thus emphasizing that without Thomson's participation Lyrics of Earth would not have been "a collection of poems following the sequence of the seasons". There exists, however, evidence to show that Thomson's involvement was not as far-reaching as Bentley suggests and that, from the start, the book took the form of a sequence based on the cycle of seasons, even though the precise make-up of the collection was altered as individual poems were dropped and added.
In his account of the pre-publication history of Lyrics of Earth, Bentley traces the origins of the book back to a letter dated December 9, 1891, in which Lampman informs Thomson that he is "in the process of consolidating ideas for a second volume of poetry".12 Four months later the poet writes to Thomson of his intention to submit the volume to Houghton, Muffin and Company, a publisher in Boston. As Bentley explains, "Evidently, Lampman was encouraged to consider Houghton-Mifflin as a potential publisher by one of the firm's readers, H.E. Scudder, who had put the idea forward to him in a letter dated May 6, 1892."13 The letter from Scudder does not survive. Its contents can be inferred, however, from Lampman's reply, dated May 19, 1892, in which the poet thanks Scudder for his "suggestion" as well as for his "considerateness in making me fully aware of the uncertainty of the result". The nature of the "suggestion" is implied by two additional statements made by Lampman in this letter. In the first he says, "I know quite well how difficult it is to induce a publisher to take up a volume of miscellaneous poems by an unknown writer." In the second he adds, "I shall of course gladly follow your suggestion, though it will be some little time before I can get a collection of my best verses into a condition for publication."14
From this evidence it would seem that Lampman's original plan was to prepare for publication a diverse collection of poems similar to Among the Millet. Certainly the phrases "a volume of miscellaneous poems" and "a collection of my best verses" suggest this. In a letter predating by six weeks the first letter cited by Bentley, however, Lampman makes a statement which puts this conclusion into question. Writing to Thomson on October 28, 1891 he states, "I think if I can ever get a certain other poem or sequence of poems I am working at finished I shall try what steps can be taken towards getting out another book not yet for some months however."15 It was not until after February 1893, when the collection he did eventually submit to Houghton-Mifflin in 1892 was rejected by that firm, that Lampman began to consider bringing out another volume of poems.16 Up to that point his publishing efforts were focused entirely on what was ultimately to become Lyrics of Earth. It stands to reason, therefore, that the statement just quoted from Lampman's October 28, 1891 letter to Thomson applies to the same collection as do the later comments cited by Bentley, that is, the only collection Lampman had, to this point, thought to produce after publishing Among the Millet in 1888.
Measured against the earlier statement of his intention to complete for publication "a certain other poem or sequence of poems", what the references to a "volume of miscellaneous poems" and a collection of his "best verses" suggest is one of two things. The first is that Lampman dropped his plans for a sequence, perhaps because he felt that a miscellany would be more likely to find favour with the readers at Houghton-Mifflin. The second possibility is that Lampman did not abandon his initial plan; that his idea of a "sequence" implies only an ordered overall compilation of poems concerned with nature while his notion of a miscellany is functional, in this instance, within the confines of that structure; and that, according to these loose definitions, the two phrases "poem or sequence of poems" and "a volume of miscellaneous poems" are consistent.
It seems likely that Lampman did, indeed, stick to his original plan. For one thing, the idea of the sequence survives in the published version of Lyrics of Earth. In a letter to Scudder dated December 11, 1893, moreover, Lampman implies that the contents of the collection he submitted to Houghton-Mifflin in 1892 were restricted in a way that would be consistent with the sequence as we have it in Lyrics of Earth. He writes, "I have mailed today to Messrs. Houghton, Muffin & Co. another volume of verse", adding, "This new collection contains nothing that is in the book I submitted last year, and I have made it up as far as I could with reference to the publisher [sic] criticism, that 'the appeal was not to the general lover of poetry but to lovers of poetry of the descriptive and reflective order'."17 Evidently the first collection submitted by Lampman to Houghton-Mifflin his "volume of miscellaneous poems" was judged to be of limited appeal for the very reason that it was made up of poems "of the descriptive and reflective order". Finally, the two titles Lampman considered for the collection under discussion, "Pictures and Meditations" and "A Gift of the Sun", could well describe the sequence in Lyrics of Earth.
Against the idea that Lyrics of Earth was from the start and through its various revisions a collection of poems following the cycle of the seasons, and therefore that Lampman was entirely responsible for the sequence, is Bentley's point that it was only through Thomson's intercession that certain poems inconsistent with the sequence were omitted from the final compilation. What a careful consideration of the relevant letters reveals, however, is that, in all likelihood, these poems were never intended for inclusion in Lyrics of Earth. We will examine, first, Bentley's account of the correspondence as it relates to the poems in question, and following this, the letters in which the information relevant to these poems is presented.
Having traced the course of Lampman's manuscript as it was rejected first by Houghton-Mifflin and then by a series of other publishing houses until finally, and largely as a result of Thomson's influence with the firm, it was "accepted for publication, in the Summer of 1895, by Copeland and Day", Bentley tells us that, on May 30, 1895, Lampman sent his manuscript to Thomson.18 Included with the manuscript was a letter to Thomson in which Lampman made the following statement: "If you are good enough to take the trouble you may make whatever selection you choose and I shall be content."19 Here is Bentley's account of Thomson's response to Lampman's letter:
Of the five poems mentioned here as having been dropped from the collec tion, three "Vivia Perpetua", "Ingvi and Alf", and "Chione" are not descriptive of nature. If Lampman meant to include these poems in what was to become Lyrics of Earth, he could not have been thinking of compiling a sequence of related poems such as we find in the published version of the book. What the relevant passages from Lampman's letters suggest is that such was never his intention.
Writing to Thomson on May 20, 1895, Lampman states,
Ten days later Lampman wrote to his friend again, informing him that he was sending him his "other collection of short pieces, the one Stone and Kimball rejected".22 The first passage refers to an early version of Alcyone that Lampman had recently prepared for publication, while the second refers to the manuscript version of Lyrics of Earth with which we are presently concerned. Writing again on June 6, 1895 Lampman responds to Thomson's recommendations for changes to the Lyrics of Earth collection. (The letter in which these recommendations are made does not survive.) As Bentley suggests, Lampman agrees to "leave out the 'Ode to the Hills' " and concedes that " 'A Midwinter Phantasy' is better out", but argues for the retention of the first eight stanzas of "Favourites of Pan", convinced that "the beginning of the poem would be abrupt without them".23 (In fact, only seven of the eight were included. Evidently Lampman removed one of the stanzas himself.) He adds, "Your notion of putting 'The Sweetness of Life' first is an excellent one. It would never have occurred to me."24 There is no mention in this letter of the three narrative poems.
On August 29, 1895 Lampman wrote the often-quoted letter to Thomson in which he rejects Thomson's assessment of his "greatness" as a poet. Having acknowledged that the writing in what he calls "my second book of poems" is inferior to his earlier work, he goes on to take issue with some of Thomson's criticisms, referring specifically to the three narrative poems assumed by Bentley to have formed a part of the Lyrics of Earth manuscript. "I do not agree with you about some of the pieces", he declares, adding,
Further on in the same letter he comments,
The reference here is to Lyrics of Earth, the contents of which had been written and assembled apart from the changes made on Thomson's recommendation in the spring of 1895 long before the time of this letter.
Let us now consider what these passages reveal. There is a certain ambiguity in Lampman's reference to his "second book of poems" in his August 29, 1895 letter. What seems likely, however, is that it is his second unpublished collection to which Lampman refers. For one thing, the manuscript of Lyrics of Earth was already at the printers at this time, as his comment that "proof of my book will be along soon" in the same letter would suggest. Presumably, the contents of this collection had already been decided on, making any discussion of what to delete or retain redundant. Moreover, Lampman makes a point of distinguishing between the poems in the Lyrics of Earth manuscript, which he dismisses as a thing past and gone, and the collection criticized by Thomson, about which he is evidently vitally concerned. Clearly, the collection to which Lampman's despondent remarks for example, his comment that "what you expect from me is impossible" pertain is the one he sent Thomson on May 20, 1895, about which he said, "It has my latest out-pourings in it some things you have not seen."
From the assumption that it is his second unpublished volume with which Lampman is primarily concerned in his letter to Thomson of August 29, 1895, it follows that the poems referred to in this letter belong to that collection and not to Lyrics of Earth. Three points support this conclusion. First, "Vivia Perpetua", "Ingvi and Alf", and "Chione" are, as Bentley suggests, "long narrative poems". As such, they can hardly be assumed ever to have occupied a place in Lyrics of Earth, which was decribed by Lampman on May 30, 1895 (that is, before Thomson had seen the manuscript) as a "collection of short pieces". Second, what Lampman's response to Thomson's criticism of the three narrative poems indicates is that these poems were not deleted from the collection to which they belonged, but rather were retained. It is only for the reason that they do not appear in Lyrics of Earth that Bentley concludes that Lampman "acceded to Thomson's judgement and allowed them to be omitted". Finally, there are clear indications that Lampman was interested in promoting the three poems under discussion, not only at the time of his letter to Thomson, but afterwards as well. Two of these poems, "Vivia Perpetua" and "Chione", were published by Lampman in Alcyone, a book which may be said to include poems which continued to interest the poet up until the time of his death (not counting sonnets, of which only twelve were included). The third poem, "Ingvi and Alf", was one of two selections read by the poet to the members of the literary section of the Royal Society of Canada during a meeting held in Halifax on June 23, 1897.27 As works which Lampman was still promoting in 1897 and 1898, the three narrative poems are not likely to have formed part of the Lyrics of Earth collection, in which the poet was "not much interested" in 1895.
The main conclusion to which these arguments lead is, again, that the idea of a sequence, loosely defined, was not dropped by Lampman but maintained throughout the long and trying period during which he persisted in his efforts to get a second book into print. This conclusion is supported by concrete evidence from Lampman's papers. As Margaret Coulby Whitridge has observed, included in the manuscript book "Miscellaneous Poems" held by the Library of Parliament in Ottawa are the lists, in Lampman's handwriting, of three proposed volumes: "Afoot with the Year", "The Land of Pallas and Other Poems", and "A Century of Sonnets".28 The first of these, as its title suggests, was to consist of nature poems arranged to follow the sequence of the seasons from spring through winter, as does Lyrics of Earth. Indeed, twenty-eight of the twenty-nine poems published in Lyrics of Earth were to appear in "Afoot with the Year", the one omission being "Refuge", for which "Distance" was substituted. Also to be included in "Afoot with the Year" were "An Ode to the Hills" and "A Midwinter Phantasy", the two poems which, in the letter to which Lampman responded on June 6, 1895, Thomson recommended Lampman drop from the collection Lampman had recently sent him, together with "After Snow" and "A Snowshoer's Halt", poems which are not mentioned in the extant Lampman-Thomson correspondence. In addition, "The Sweetness of Life", which Thomson suggested Lampman include at the beginning of Lyrics of Earth, was to appear as poem number sixteen in "Afoot with the Year", while "The Sun Cup", not originally meant to occupy the final position in the Lyrics of Earth sequence, as Bentley has shown,29 was to be poem number nine in "Afoot with the Year". Finally, the three narrative poems referred to in Lampman's August 29, 1895 letter to Thomson were not to be included in "Afoot with the Year" but were to appear in "The Land of Pallas and Other Poems".
Clearly, "Afoot with the Year" was the "collection of short pieces", that is, the early version of Lyrics of Earth Lampman sent Thomson on May 30, 1895. At the same time, it should be noted that the contents of this manuscript cannot have been identical with those of the earliest compila tion of the collection. By October 12, 1892 Lampman had the original version of what was eventually to become Lyrics of Earth "very nearly ready", although he had not yet decided on a title, and by November 9, 1892 this collection was in the hands of Houghton-Mifflin.30 At least three of the poems identified in the list of the contents of "Afoot with the Year", however, were written after the last-mentioned date. As Early indicates, "Forest Moods", "The Bird and the Hour", and "An Ode to the Hills" are dated May 24, 1893, June 6, 1893, and August 11, 1893 respectively in Lampman's manuscript books.31 The contents of the collection must have been altered at some point between the summer of 1893 and the spring of 1895.
On the basis of the available evidence, it is impossible to say with certainty when the changes to the original collection yielding "Afoot with the Year" were made. It seems likely, however, that Lampman revised the original collection in the spring of 1894. (For convenience, Lampman's first choice for the title of the original collection, "Pictures and Meditations", is used to identify that manuscript.) After it was rejected by Houghton-Mifflin in the winter of 1893, Lampman sent "Pictures and Meditations" first to Scribner's and then to Roberts Brothers. In a letter dated April 18, 1893 he informs Thomson that "Scribners have rejected my M.S.", and on July 5 of the same year he reports that "My book has been returned (of course) by the Roberts Bros."32 Following this last rejection there occurs a hiatus in Lampman's efforts to find a publisher for the collection. He considered having it published in Toronto, the advantage being that he could "at any rate do it there without paying for it", but there exists no evidence to suggest that he followed through with this plan. On February 26, 1894 Bliss Carman, serving as literary adviser to the newly-formed American publishers Stone and Kimball, wrote to him suggesting that he send a manuscript to this firm.33 Lampman's response must have been favourable, for by April 25, 1894 he had furnished Stone and Kimball with a manuscript.34 Given that a period of eight months intervenes between the references in Lampman's letters to the rejection of "Pictures and Meditations" by Roberts Brothers and Carman's proposal, we may conjecture that Lampman put the collection aside for a time in the summer of 1893 (when Roberts Brothers returned it) and then, with his enthusiasm rekindled, revised it before submitting it to Stone and Kimball, that is, in the spring of 1894.
This speculation is supported by the fact that, in a letter to J.E. Wetherell dated November 14, 1892, Lampman requested that Wetherell omit "Voices of Earth" and "Comfort of the Fields" from the soon-to-be published anthology Later Canadian Poets (1893) in part because, in Lampman's words, "if I withdrew them from my own volume it would mutilate it in a manner I should regret".35 Since the sonnet "Voices of Earth" does not appear in the list of the contents of "Afoot with the Year", as is consistent with the omission of sonnets from this collection, it may be assumed that the contents of "Afoot with the Year" had not yet been assembled. (It has already been observed that three poems intended for inclusion in "Afoot with the Year" "Forest Moods", "The Bird and the Hour", and "An Ode to the Hills" were written in 1893.) By Sepember 4, 1894, on the other hand, Lampman had compiled a collection of one hundred sonnets entitled "A Century of Sonnets", which meant that he had eliminated the sonnets from his other collections.36 The conjecture that "Afoot with the Year" was constructed in the spring of 1894 is consistent with the time frame thus established. As it happened, of course, having retained the manuscript for over a year, Stone and Kimball rejected "Afoot with the Year", and it was at this point that Lampman consigned it to Thomson, with a view to its being published by Copeland and Day.
Taking into account the disheartened state that Lampman was likely in at this time because of the many rejections his manuscripts had received from publishers, it seems believable that he was willing to hand over the task of choosing and organizing the contents of Lyrics of Earth to Thomson. In point of fact, however, Lampman was not as amenable to influence as his open invitation to Thomson "If you are good enough to take the trouble you may make whatever selection you choose and I shall be content" might lead one to suppose. What Lampman's letter to Thomson of June 6, 1895 suggests, indeed, is that the carte blanche he had written his friend was void. Lampman accepted Thomson's recommendation that "The Sweetness of Life" be moved to the front of the book because he liked the idea, meaning, perhaps, that it fitted in well with his plan for the collection. (In "Afoot with the Year" Lampman intended "An Ode to the Hills", a poem not confined to a particular temporal setting, to appear at the beginning. He obviously saw the virtue of having a poem with some sort of general application serve as an introduction to the sequence.) Similarly, the omission of "An Ode to the Hills" and "A Midwinter Phantasy" seemed to him to be well-advised, although he admitted to harbouring "a special liking" for the former.37 The idea of leaving out the first eight stanzas of "Favorites of Pan", however, as Bentley observes, gave rise to a different reaction. Not only was Lampman not "content" with this particular emendation; he was determined to disallow it. When he received the proofs of Lyrics of Earth he was provoked to discover that the eight stanzas had been deleted, as it were, behind his back. "I was not aware that Mr. Thomson had cut out 8 verses of the beginning of 'Favorites of Pan' ", he informs Copeland and Day in a letter dated September 26, 1895, "and I have decided to retain the verses. I send a copy of them herewith."38 This is not the comment of someone who has relinquished all authority over his own work but someone who has definite ideas of what he wants and is determined to see them through.
What the evidence of Lampman's correspondence suggests is that the sequence in Lyrics of Earth originated with Lampman in 1891; that the sequence itself was constant while its precise make-up was altered over time as it passed through at least two distinct compilations, identified as "Pictures and Meditations" and "Afoot with the Year", before taking its final form as Lyrics of Earth; and that Thomson's role in determining the composition of the sequence, while certainly not insignificant, was limited to the recommendation of from two to four deletions and the placement of "The Sweetness of Life" at the beginning of the book, Lampman having had the final word on all modifications to his manuscript. With these points in mind, we turn now to our examination of the structure and contents of Lyrics of Earth itself, our purpose being to show how internal evidence supports the interpretation of the sequence developed, on the basis of external evidence, in Part I.
(Part 2 of "Life 'Only Sweet': the Significance of the Sequence in Lampman's Lyrics of Earth" will be published in the Spring/Summer, 1990 issue of Canadian Poetry [No. 26].)
Notes to Part I
(In passages quoted from Lampman's poems, spelling has been silently corrected and, in the case of "gray" and "grey", regularized to "gray". Inconsistencies between stanzas in terms of indented lines have been eliminated.)
Duncan Campbell Scott,
"Memoir", The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At theLong Sault),
intro. Margaret Coulby Whitridge (1900 and 1943; rpt. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto
Press, 1974), p. xix. Poems is referred to subsequently as PAL, and
At the Long Sault as ALS. [back]
Introduction, Lyrics of Earth: A Working Text, by Archibald Lampman, ed.
D.M.R. Bentley (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1978), p. 15. This edition of Lyrics of Earth is
referred to subsequently as LE. [back]
L.R. Early, Archibald
Lampman, Twayne World Authors Series 770 (Boston: Twayne, 1986), pp. 75-85. This
title is referred to subsequently as AL. [back]
Bentley, Introduction, LE,
p. 7. [back]
Lampman, untitled essay, in
"At the Mermaid Inn", The Globe (Toronto), June 18, 1892, rpt. in At
the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell, Archibald Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott in The
Globe 1892-93, intro. Barrie Davies (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1979),
p. 94. Davies' collection of "Mermaid Inn" essays is referred to
subsequently as AMI. [back]
Interpretation", Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose, ed. Barrie Davies (Ottawa:
Tecumseh, 1975), p. 87. [back]
Lampman, "Heat", Among
the Millet (Ottawa: J. Dune and Son, 1888), pp. 12-13. This original edition of Among
the Millet is referred to subsequently as AM. For an available text, see PAL.
Lesson of the Trees", "Twenty-Five Fugitive Poems by Archibald Lampman",
ed. L.R. Early, Canadian Poetry 12
(Spring/Summer 1983): 60. The date ("c. 1891") is given in Early, "A Chronology of
Lampman's Poems", Canadian Poetry 14
(Spring/Summer 1984): 81. [back]
Lampman, untitled essay, in "At the Mermaid Inn", The
Globe (Toronto), April 9, 1892, rpt. in AMI, p. 199. [back]
Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald, "A Little Talk About
Lampman", The Canadian Magazine 52 (March 1919): 1016. [back]
Bentley, Introduction, LE, p. 15. [back]
Bentley, Introduction, LE, p. 7. [back]
Bentley, Introduction, LE, p. 7. [back]
Reproduced in Peter E. Greig, "A Check List of Lampman
Manuscript Material in the Douglas Library Archives", 2nd inst., Douglas Library
Notes 16 (Autumn 1967): 13. [back]
An Annotated Edition of the Correspondence between Archibald
Lampman and E.W. Thomson (1890-1898), ed. Helen Lynn
(Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1980), p. 23. This edition of the Lampman-Thomson correspondence
is referred to subsequently as AEC. [back]
AEC, pp. 59 and 94. [back]
Reproduced in Greig, p. 14[back]
Bentley, Introduction, LE, pp. 8-9. [back]
Bentley, Introduction, LE, pp. 9-10. [back]
AEC, pp. 141-142. [back]
AEC, p. 143. [back]
AEC, p. 144. [back]
AEC, p. 144. [back]
AEC, pp. 149-50. [back]
AEC, p. 150. [back]
In the "Report of Section Two", Proceedings and
Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 2nd series, 3 (Ottawa: John Durie and
Son, 1897), p. lxxiv, it is mentioned that Lampman read "An Ode to the Hills"
and "Ingvi and Alf" to a meeting of that section which took place at some point
during the previous twelve-month period (the report was delivered at the general meeting
of the Royal Society of Canada held in June 1897). In a letter to his wife written in
Halifax and dated June 22, 1897, Lampman states, "Tomorrow I read my poems, and
attend a reception at the Lieut. Governor's in the evening." For the letter, see
"The Letters of Archibald Lampman in the Simon Fraser University Library", ed.
Carol Marie Sommers, M.A. thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1979, p. 118. [back]
Margaret Coulby Whitridge, "Annotated Checklist of Lampman
Manuscripts and Materials in Known Repositories in Canada", Diss. , University of
Ottawa, 1970, p. 26. The lists of poems are reproduced in Eric Ball, "'Amor Vitae':
An Integrated View of Lampman's Poetics", Diss. , Dalhousie University, 1985, pp.
Bentley, Introduction, LE, pp. 11-12. [back]
AEC, pp. 49-50 and 56. [back]
Early, "A Chronology" (see n. 8), p. 82. [back]
AEC, pp. 76 and 88. [back]
"The Letters of Archibald Lampman in the Simon Fraser
University Library" (see n. 27), p. 182. [back]
AEC, pp. 119-20. [back]
J.E. Wetherell Collection, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, Univ.
of Toronto. [back]
AEC, p. 125. [back]
AEC, p. 144. [back]
Reproduced in Greig, p. 16. [back]