Lampman’s world-view was simple. Like many of his fellows he had lost his faith in Christian dogma and institutionalized religion; the shadow of the Cross does not lie upon his poetry. What is left is a burning idealism, a secular but lofty humanism which looks less to the glory of God than to the glory of man’s soul as it journeys towards peace and justice and freedom in a transcendent relation with nature, called in many poems the Earth Mother. Indeed, of all the strands of 19th-century thought that entered into Lampman’s make-up, transcendentalism was probably the most important. That mode of thought was in the air; it did not need to be specifically Emersonian. At the cutting edge of his mind, Lampman was acutely sensitive to social problems, and about these he wrote forcefully in an essay on socialism (not published in his lifetime) and in two visionary poems, “The city of the end of things” and “The land of Pallas.” But most of these concerns, as also the impedimenta of aphorisms and moral imperatives he inherited from a sententious age, were shed like debris from a comet when he entered his world of nature. Here the structure of attitudes and values becomes elementary and undogmatic as he moves from sensory exposure to mystical identification. He had picked up and nourished from his early reading of Shelley the idea of contemptus mundi, the rejection of the world. In many of the best Lampman poems the city is there, and it is evil, the haunt of materialism and greed and cruelty among men. But the city is characteristically at Lampman’s back. He faces nature, and nature, at first simply restorative to body and mind, becomes in the end sacramental, the means whereby the Soul (and the word is usually capitalized) “Feels upward to some height at last,” aching for union with “the Master Spirit of the world.” Thought there is, but it is of a certain transcendental order. In the concluding lines of the poem “Heat,” one of the best known of Lampman’s poems, the speaker says: “In the full furnace of the hour / My thoughts grow keen and clear.” What thoughts? We are not told. The short poem “The choice” begins with a rejection of the “conflict” and “pomp” of the world and ends with the lines: “I sit me in the windy grass and grow / As wise as age, as joyous as a child.” At the core of Lampman’s best, the thought is the poem.
There are several reasons for Lampman’s durability. The first, which may not have much to do with his poetry, is that he comes through to us as a thoroughly likeable person. The recent publication of his correspondence with Thomson has confirmed a picture, long ago projected by Scott, of a person of great integrity, wit, and charm; and, one must add for the record’s sake, considerable courage. He was above all, perhaps to his cost, always honest with himself. The second reason has to do with Scott’s role for almost fifty years as custodian and promoter of the Lampman record. For it was Scott who was the prime mover in bringing out the memorial edition of 1900 by means of which the extended Lampman œuvre in poetry was established; and it was Scott who brought out a handsome selected edition of the poems in 1925, and another edition, more rigorously selected, in 1947, the year of his death. Most important, Scott joined with Edward Killoran Brown* to bring out in
On July 1,