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collector's library shows that the should be deposed, and the hope of a number of persons in Canada who distinctively Canadian literature may publish verses is very large. A fur- be made one step nearer its realization ther glance at the uneven row of thin than it now seems to be. volumes shows that the poetic impulse How, then, shall we know if Canadoes not last. Many a writer who has dian verse deserves the name of poetry, in his few timid pages given promise or even estimate its merit ? Every of good work is heard of no more. reader, of course, settles for himself the There are, doubtless, many causes for worth of a volume of poems when he this lack of sustained enthusiasni. It throws it aside as uninteresting or unmay be that, taken up with a great ma- productive of pleasure. If he be a terial development, we have no appre- reader of no refinement, his uncritical ciation of the fine arts, or that we lack judgment may be of no value. If, historic associations, or that our cul- however, most readers do not cast a ture is still provincial. Open, how. volume aside, but peruse it with pleaever, volume after volume of these sure, it is strong evidence that the poet abandoned ambitions, and one will be has produced good poetry. Whatever convinced that these writers are servile the purpose of the poet may be, we imitators; there is no sense of uncon- may assume the purpose of poetry to scious effort, no evidence of a free be the production of pleasure, and it hand. A closer study of later publi- would seem to be proper in order that cations discloses the fact that poetic we may criticise poetry, to enquire inspiration runs fairly in the narrow what subjects give pleasure when dealt channels made by a small coterie of with in poetry-whether some subjects writers, the chief among whom are are in their nature productive of mor , Campbell, Carman, Lampman and Rob- pleasure than others, and then to enerts. These poets, having won the quire whether the poet has used the ear of a generous and patriotic, though most effective means to th end which uncritical
have been raised to an he has in view. imposing authority, which restrains all The subjects with which poetry may originality and all determined devo- deal are buman action, ideas of univertion to poetry as a fine art.
sal human interest and scenery, using It is, therefore, important that these scenery broadly to include objects aniwriters should be critically examined. mate and inanimate, as well as outdoor If they be found to be not true poets, effects. Of these, human action is by
far the most important, though ideas, osity to know what it will be. The if they be sane ideas of the great prob- interest which holds breathless the lems of human life, readily lend them- spectators of a horse race, though not selves to the art of poetry. Scenery, so laudable in its object, owes its inon the other hand, is the most barren tensity and its vulgar pleasures to the topic of poetry. Aside from human same conditions as those which keep associations, the pleasures of scenery an audience eager to know whether are forced and affected. At most, it Juliet will rise in living beauty from does not do more than excite feelings the tomb. On the other hand, succesof sublimity and repose. Its other sion in time does not enter into the effects are, doubtless, merely physical. contemplation of scenes and objects. But, as the representation of action in A single vision is a complete presenpoetry is limited only by æsthetic tation to the mind, and its artistic taste, the poet of action may range effect lies in the whole effect of a mothe whole field of human experience ment. Such an effect even Scott was and find matter to appeal to every unable to produce. human emotion. If, therefore, poetry But language is not adequate to the be weak in action or ideas, and strong detail description of in scenery, it will make but a limited altogether from its limited interest, appeal to human interest and play and its meagre power to appeal to huupon a narrow range of feeling. It man feeling, it cannot be represented may be safely said that no poetry of in detail by the poet as vividly as acla-ting merit is possible which does tion. The presentation of objects to not base its claim to our attention on the mind is the proper work of the action or reflection concerning action. painter or sculptor. The painter pre
The relative importance of the sub- sents his subject in detail, and it project matter of poetry inay be made ducis its whole effect at one flash of still clearer: Why do we skip Scott's vision. The poet, attempting detailed prolix descriptions when reading his description and not merely suggestion, prose or poetry? The answer is plain. produces on the mind of he reader We are more interested in action and only a confused and distracted effect. ideas of human interest than in scen- The mind of the reader attempts to ery. Our interest in action never grasp the first detail by calling up flags. Consciously or unconsciously, from memory the image most like the reader sees always in the action that suggested by the poet's words. r presented a reflection of his own, This is a'i effort of some difficulty, and there is thus provided a constant and will produce some sense of pain, motive of interest on which the artist destructive of the pleasure which may rely. Detailed description is an it is the purpose of art to awaken. effort to represent not the universal Having got one detail of the picture, idea in the poet's mind, but some he seeks to recall another and another, particular vision of his imag nation. until the whole has been attempted. Hence the effect produced on the read- But, at each succeeding attempt, he er, if he should make an effort to re must drop the images which have preconstruct the poet's vision, will le void ceded, and at the end he will have of human association and fail in artis- a confused impression of details and tic effect. Moreover, interest in action not the vivid representation of a is more intense than interest in scen- whole. ery, because of the element of suspense While scenery is in itself relatively in action; and the pleasures of repre- indifferent as subject matter, and the sented action are, t e efore, more vi- elaboration of it in detail impossible vid. Action takes place in time: one in poetry, it may yet be made to play action suggests another, arouses curi- a most important part.
ly artistic purpose of poetry is to ex- forty sonnets and a similar number of cite pleasant feeling; its method is what he terms poems, and closes with not to imitate nature but the idea ex- “Ave; An Ode for the Centenary of isting in the mind, to call up images- Shelley's Birth.”
Shelley's Birth.” A few titles of these not the particular image of the poet's verses show fairly the method and mind, but general images in the inind content of Mr Roberts' work. The of the reader, such as that of a brook, Furrow, The Sower, The Cow Pasa waterfall, or the face of a beautiful ture, Frogs, The Cicada in the Firs, woman. This the poet does by sug- The Night Sky, Rain, Mist, Moongestion, by naming the most striking light, and The Night Hawk, do not element of the image desired, by the suggest either ideas or action. One addition of apt metaphor, striking epi- or two feeble attempts at dramatic thet, or by any one of a hundred well- interest are made in “The Tide on known means.
Such description, as it Tantramar,” and “A Christmas Eve can scarcely stand alone, must attend Courtin',” the latter in dialect, and on a theme of human interest, whether after the style of Carleton. But the of action or reflection.
whole is overwhelmed by description, Little need be said of the means of not the suggestion of general images the art of poetry. The main theme nor literary impressionism but descripmust be human life. Poetical form, tion so minute that a painter, without as well as the choice of words and the reflection, might well repeat any scene use of figures, may be left to each upon his canvas in every detail of writer's judgment. The unerring test form colour. “The Sower” will always be the effect produced given in full as a fair sample of his upon readers of refined feeling. work.
Tried by these tests, Canadian poetry of the day fails. Campbell, Car. A brown, saul-coloured hillside, where the soil,
Fresh from the frequent harrow, deep and fine, man, Lampman and Roberts can hard- Lies bare; no break in the remote skyline, ly be said by the most generous to
Save where a flock of pigeons streams aloft,
Startled from feed in some low-lying croft, have written anything of lasting mer
Or far-off spires with yellow of sunset shine ; it. The reader who can twice strain And there the Sower, unwittingly divine, his imagination to the contemplation Exerts the silent forethought of his toil. of their
painfully wrought miniatures Alone he treads the glebe, his measured stride would indeed be a curiosity. They Dumb in the yielding soil ; and, though small are not without virtues, and it may
Dwell in his heavy face, as spreads the be fairly said that they are all men of
blind, great talent. They have mastered the Pale grain from his dispensing palm aside, mechanics of versification. They have This plodding churl grows great in his emmusic and a flowing rhythm. They
God-like, he makes provision for mankind. have great elevation of diction, and their patriotic zeal well befits the As description, this is well done. honourable enterprise in which they The language is direct, the metaphors are engaged. Action they scarcely natural. The climax of reflection is, attempt, unless it be action to strut however, extremely tame before impossible landscapes. Their or two expressions are effective to repworks are singularly barren of ideas resent the object which the poet had of universal human interest, although in mind, there is little to appeal to the there is a constant recurrence to reader's emotion. Mr. Roberts inverts Wordsworth’s idea of kind mother the relation of poet and reader. The earth.
poet should awaken general images in “Songs of the Common Day” is the the reader's mind, not force upon him title of Mr Roberts' latest work, pub- the poet's own particular images. The lished in 1893. It contains about particular scene here pourtrayed, may
have for the author the tenderest the true scope of art had he pondered associations; for the reader there will these lines of Wordsworth: be suggestion only in individual
For I have learn'l phrases—in the universal elernents of
To look on Nature, not as in the hour the scene attempted.
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes The Summer Pool” may be com The still, sad music of humanity,
Not harsh, nor grating, though of ample power pared with Tennyson's lines in “The
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt Miller's Daughter:”
A presence which disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts.
The music of colour and scene, or of The sleepy pool above the dam,
empty, jingling words, may please The pool beneath it never still.
some ears, but the music of humanity · Ave; An Ode for the Centenary
is the only inusic which the world
will hear from poets. of Shelley's Birth,” is an ambitious
What has been said of Roberts is poem of some length. It opens with il long and painful description, in the also true, in the main, of Lampinan. poet's best style, of Tantramar, a
He writes of April, An October Sunlocality, in the neighbourhood of the set, The Frogs, Heat, Winter, and Bay of Fundy, where Mr. Roberts the like. Though his descriptions seems to have spent his youth. The are fatal to his merit as a poet, he marshes of Tantramar are like Shel- does not indulge in so much detail as ley's.“ compassionate breast,” wherein Roberts. He has a habit of broadly dwelt “dreams of love and peace, suggesting scenes which is very effectand the ebb and flow of tides from ive, and of going on to treat them in the salt sea of human pain hissed a way that is very tiresome. He does
One of his along the perilous coasts of life and not know when to stop. beat his brain.” Thence he pur
most interesting poems is entitled upon
Freedom.” The first thrce stanzas the storm-strained
Shelley through many stanzns of turgid dec. bring us from the unnatural and unlamation, replete with the same un beautiful life of the city into the joy natural metaphor. But the poem lacks and peace of the country: interest.
It does not strike home. Into the arms of our mother we come, There is not a phrase which the reader
Our broad, strong mother, the innocent earth, carries away to ponder, as the Scotch Mother of all things beautiful, blameless, man ponders his humour. The
Mother of hopes that her strength makes poem
blameless, attempts Shelley's style, and fails be- Where the voices of grief and of battle are cause Shelley's style died with him.
dumb, Mr. Roberts also draws inspiration
And the whole world laughs with the light of
her mirth. from Wordsworth. How well he has caught Wordsworth's tone may be Here he might have stopped, and he judged by reading together " Tantra- would have produced a poem of much mar Revisited,” and Wordsworth's beauty, but yielding to the vicious “ Lines Composed a Few Miles above habit of description, he goes on for Tintern Abbey.” In the latter the seven or eight stanzas to describe the scenery is general, and always subor- scenery of the country in detail after dinated to the affecting moral theme the moral proposition, the human inwhich prevails in every line. “Tan- terest, bas been announced. Though tramar" opens and closes with reflec- his description is detailed, his scenes tions of no mean intı-rest, but the in- are larger than those of Roberts, and termediate lines run on at great length he is, therefore, enabled to put more in an utterly ineffective twaddle of suggestion in each line. His diction is description. He would have learned more simple, and his metaphors are
natural. Though the range of his ideas tive than Roberts or Lampman. As is not very wide, there is an earnest for example: tone in his poetry which, in itself, wins
Outside a yellow maple tree, our sympathy, and makes us hope that
Shifting upon the silvery blue he will do more than any of the writ With small, innumerable sounds, ers mentioned. But this everlasting
Rustles to let the sunlight through. plague of description among our Can- Throughout his verse, it must be said adian poets, how tiresome and oppress- in his favour, there is a voice of human ive it becomes ! From bombast to interest, vague and limited though it doggerel, it runs through everything. be. Open any volume, at any page, and the And all the world is but a scheme golden haze, the rock-ribbed coast, the Of busy children in the street, sighing south wind, the grey monot
A play i hey follow and forget,
On summer evenings, pale with heat. ony start upon us. Human associations which alone can make descrip “ Behind the Arras” is a later pubtion an avenue to the heart are for- lication, which shows his style to have gotten in the affected joys of colour become more defined. There is the and landscape.
same weird and grotesque vagueness, Low Tide on Grand Pré, a Book of the same slipping of persons into Lyrics” is the title of a volume pub- shadows, the same incongruous conlished by Mr. Bliss Carman. The poems junction of the limits of time and in this volume, he tells the reader, have space. Such a fantastic style is not been collected with reference to their to be imitated. It cannot possibly be similarity of tone. They are varia- made the means of a great utterance. tions of a single theme. They are in The human voice of Shakespeare, or the same key. The words, tone, theme, Milton, or even Tennyson, could hardand key are terms of the language of ly struggle through it. And yet most music, and their use implies a similar- readers will turn from Roberts and ity between the range of the human the others to Carman for relief. He feelings and the musical scale. The is a greater artist; he writes to affect tone of his poems is weird. The feel- our imaginations, not to teach them ings excited are subdued feelings of the images of his own He deals with gloom and foreboding. Although they life, vague and fantastic though it be. respond readily, they are of a very " The Dread Voyage " is one of the limited range and afford a very slight latest publications of William Wilfred foundation for a great reputation. It Campbell
. If description be the crownis possible, of course, to produce a ing effort of poetry, he is entitled to masterpiece in a minor key. An am- take his place beside Ariosto and bitious composer one would expect to Bombastes. A new order of beings play upon a wider range of feeling. must be created to appreciate him, for, There is nothing definite about Mr. surely, there is not in all the stores of Carman's verse. His themes are vague. imagination the material of his fancy. His narrative must be largely supplied He is always at full steam; everyby the reader, and with painful effort. thing is in the superlative degree or His scenes are quite unlike those of at the point of climax. His chief enRoberts and Lampman. They are per- dowments are of the eye and ear. The sonified outlines, stalking shadows, most striking characteristic of his which suggest vague and threatening work is the want of refinement of presences. It is perhaps safe to say taste, the inability to discern fine that the chief artistic effect of his shades of feeling or to know when he writing lies in the ghostly suggestions pleases or offends. In his description of dark corners. Although he is a he continually mars his effects by descriptionist, he is often more effec- using words and comparisons which