dilluns, 27 de juliol de 2009

ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN (3)



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 1943 a final culling (as they thought) of hitherto unpublished texts, At the Long Sault and other new poems; and on this occasion, as on other occasions previously, he did not hesitate to make what he felt were improvements on the manuscript versions of the poems. Both Lampman the man, therefore, and Lampman the poet, as we know them, are in a real sense creations of D. C. Scott. Neither could have been in better hands. The third reason is more substantive. Lampman, at his best and in the chosen field of his concern, was a master of his craft. His many revisions between draft and final copy show this. The result was a poetry of precise yet evocative imagery and, overall, a kind of directness that was shorn of the sentimental and didactic trappings of much of the poetry of his time. He therefore survived handily the transition in Canada from traditional to modern poetry, which in the late 1920s led to heavy attacks on the frequent fuzziness of the so-called Maple Leaf school of poets of the confederation years. Lampman was all right. And with what great pleasure Louis Dudek and Irving Peter Layton, in their “social conscience” mood of the 1940s, discovered at least the glimmerings of a like conscience in Lampman’s “To a millionaire” and “Epitaph on a rich man”! In On Canadian poetry (Toronto, 1943), Brown had no difficulty in rearranging the pecking order for the “poets of the Confederation”: Roberts and Carman were dethroned; Lampman was ranked high with Scott. It was an important critical judgement, and it has on the whole been sustained. Finally, there are all the intangibles that are rewards in the presence of excellence in whatever age or place. Lampman’s sonnets, particularly those on the subject of nature, are among the best in the English language. Memorable lines may not be a reliable touchstone of fine poetry, but they tell us something; and Lampman is full of memorable lines. The concluding line of a poem on the autumn season stuck to Brown’s mind like a burr: “October with the rain of ruined leaves.” The Lampman flame is small, but it is clear and bright, and it will burn for a long time.

On July 1, 1867, a fledgling nation not only experienced a geopolitical birth, but a cultural one as well. The Confederation of the newly formed Dominion of Canada included Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. With the physical and political formation of a country comes the incarnation of a certain domestic mindset, and atmosphere. This mindset strives to identify, and subsequently express, the identifying characteristics unique to the environment in question. Throughout history, in any nation or other culturally exclusive group, forms of art such as music, literature, dance, painting, sculpture, etc. have served to give a voice to national identity.