The Poet-Impressionist: Some Landscapes by Archibald Lampman
by Anne Compton
The development which L.R. Early notes in Archibald Lampman's poetry is from "an almost obsessive interest in landscape to a greater concern [in his last years] with ethical and social questions" (Archibald Lampman 45), and these later poems have not received "their proper share of attention" ("Archibald Lampman," New Canadian Anthology 22). Ralph Gustafson cautions us, however, against forcing upon Lampman the identification of socialist poet: "Lampman was not cut out to be a socialist poet; he was a nature poet" (5). Misguided or insufficiently informed, our estimate of Lampman's socialism remains suspended. His best work, it is generally agreed, is his poetry of natural description. Lampman himself thought so: "`The contents of my book [Among the Millet] are very varied, but those that are devoted to nature description are certainly the best . . . '" (Doyle 39). The superiority of the nature pieces derives from what is unique in Lampman's vision, what is distinguishable from, yet complementary to, the Romantic heritage. Making excursions into the country, Lampman was, W.J. Keith writes, "preparing himself for both thought and dream" (18).
Escape, companionship, recovery of innocence, and spiritual regeneration have all been offered as motives for these excursions. All or any of them might be true, but what exactly, I want to know, was gathered in the tilled or in the fallow field as preparation for "thought and dream." Lampman himself speaks of poetry as the second harvest, following the farmer's, of the rural field ("Poetic Possession"), but one wants to feel, touch, smell the second harvest as one does the former, the farmer's. For A.J.M. Smith, "Sensation, rather than idea, is what Lampman derives from landscape" (182). Sensations, inflected by consciousness, synthesized into an impression, make up the harvest. Impressions---the immediately conscious effect resulting from sensations---are offered to us in his poetry. What we experience of landscape is entirely refracted through the temperament of Archibald Lampman. Impressionism, according to Raymond Cogniat, is "Nature seen through the eyes of the individual" (6). The emphasis here is on the individualism of visual perception. The statement is literal not metaphorical. Claude Monet, for example, paints the effect of landscape as it actually exists before his eyes (Blunden 162). He relies on immediate sensory perception, the experience of the individual. As distinguished from the Romantic, who also places the individual, his attitudes and feelings, at the center of artistic expression, the Impressionist is always attentive to the actual, never transcendent. Truth to the object or scene---to the actual---is fidelity to one's own sense experience. Disclaiming anything beyond the actual, Impressionism also discountenances a priori assumptions. Quite apart from their technical innovations, the French Impressionists shocked their public because, in their paintings, they insisted that there was no common normative view of things. "`We must render the image of what we see, forgetting everything that existed before us,'" writes Cezanne (Nochlin 95). Absolutes, either transcendental or normative, are inconsistent with the impressionist view of reality as changeable. Nothing more than momentary truths can be established. "Impressionism is a realistic style of description," argues Rodney O. Rogers, "precisely because reality is ephemeral, evanescent, constantly shifting its meaning and hence continually defying precise definition" (265). Lampman shares with the Impressionists an attention to fleeting effects, and he is similar to them in his emphasis on visual experience. "Visual perception," Early writes, "remains the dominant sense in Lampman's body of poetry" (Archibald Lampman 74). Moreover, light, changeful light, is the optical phenomenon which predominates. Lampman is the poet of light, the effects of light, and of the mobility of landscape in light.
Lampman, we are told, is descriptive, "pictorial" (Connor 154), achieves "picturesque realism" (Daniells 398), provides "a picture gallery of the seasons" in Lyrics of Earth (Unwin 87), has a "painter's eye" (Keith 20)---but what kind of painter?---and "He made trim little etchings of snowcapes [sic], crows in flight, and hepaticas in season . . . " (Kennedy 123). Identifying poetry as a symbol-making art, Barrie Davies defends Lampman against the charge of being merely descriptive (Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose 7-8) and rightly so since as early as 1896 Lampman was castigated for his "vicious habit of description" (Waldron 104), but to be really, rather than "merely" descriptive is to describe what is actually there---light, or to be subjective, the sensations caused by light (Bell 8).
Lampman's impressionism has been remarked upon most fully by Louis K. MacKendrick, but also by others, including Early who speaks of the "impressionistic method that generally shapes Lampman's nature poetry" (Archibald Lampman 76), but it is usually the case in Lampman criticism that attention to the impressionistic method quickly gives way to an exploration of symbols and emblems, visions and dreams. Just as A.J.M. Smith has been dubbed a metaphysical poet, so Lampman has been described as an impressionist but without much investigation of the term and without showing what exactly makes his work impressionist.
In the 18 June 1892 Mermaid Inn column, Lampman writes, "You do not need to go to the Rocky Mountains or the Yosemite Valley in order to find the beautiful; it is in the next field; it is at your feet" (94). Man need only, Lampman adds, "accustom himself to the intelligent use of his senses." Like the Impressionists, Lampman lauds the adequacy of the ordinary and the sufficiency of sensation. Clive Bell describes the common aim of the French Impressionists: "No need for the artist in search of subjects to go to history or mythology or literature; no need to ransack the gorgeous East or the mysterious North . . . let the artist walk into the street or railway station . . . there he will find beauty galore" (7). Their techniques enabled them to record their visual sensations so that the spectator sees not the normative but the sensational truth of things. Between 1874 and 1886 there were eight French Impressionist exhibitions. The label derives from a journalist's derisive reference to Monet's Impression: Sunrise, 1872, which appeared in the first exhibition. The first word in Monet's title draws attention to an essential factor---the beholder's fidelity to the unique moment. Around the same time as the Impressionists were distinguishing sensation in this way, Walter Pater, in the "Conclusion" to The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (1873), was similarly anatomizing objects and exalting sensation. The experience of an object, according to Pater, dissipates the solidity of the object in a "swarm" of intense moments: "each object is loosed into a group of impressions" and "those impressions of the individual mind to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual flight . . . " (248). Pater was theorizing what the Impressionists were practising. For the visual artists, light is responsible for the "perpetual flight" of the impression. The Impressionists aimed to represent the appearance of the world out of doors as it is affected by light, the reflection of light, and by atmosphere (Murray 8), all of which had to be conveyed with the freshness of the initial sensation. As a result, their work had the vigorous and spontaneous appearance of a sketch and an incomplete, unfinished look (Cogniat 47). The techniques which they developed---the restriction to pure colours and the application of colour in thick flecks and short, small brush strokes---put into practice what they believed: colour is not in objects but in the light (Kronegger 42).
Although Lampman tried outdoor sketching only a little, "many of his poems," Carl Connor observes, "were like pictures . . . and he was much interested in the pictures and the progress of art in the Dominion" (154). In the Mermaid Inn column (24 June 1893), Lampman urged the Dominion government to increase and to improve the "so-called national gallery" (337). Reviewing an Academy exhibition (16 April 1892), Lampman and D.C. Scott deem the landscapes most successful, and of the landscapists, Homer Watson is especially praised: "He has so thoroughly mastered a certain kind of landscape under definite conditions of atmosphere. . . . [H]e reproduces the landscape under the presence of those cool, half-stormy days when the fields are darkened by great shadows and swept by splendid gleams and he conveys a delightful impression of the reality" (54-55). Watson is commended not for reproducing reality but for conveying his impression of reality. The finished presentation, they concede, can deliver no more than the impression as experienced by the painter.
When Lampman speaks about poetics in "Poetic Interpretation," there is a similar emphasis on the individuality of the impression. Distinguishing the great poet from the perfect poet (whom he prefers), Lampman says that the great poet because of his style---his settled method and tone---has "failed to render the pure and absolute impression produced by the phenomena of material nature, and the movement and emotion of human life." Without this impeding style, the perfect poet will "arrive unerringly at the perfect rendering of everything" (Selected Prose 88-89). In the poetic soul there exists an "answering harmony" to a received impression; each separate impression will register its "musical value" on the poetic soul, and the perfect poet will reproduce not only a "vivid picture" and "accurate description" but also through the "subtle arrangement of word and phrase," a "marshalling of verbal sound," he will communicate the "stir in the soul" wrought by the impression (87). What is remarkable about this essay is the pre-eminence which Lampman gives to the impression. Not only is the distinctiveness of every phenomenon---May day sunrise or October sunset---to be exactly rendered but it is to be rendered as it registers on the "answering harmony" of the poet's temperament. Working out his aesthetic, Lampman presciently proposes a theory of literary impressionism. Successive critics---as early as Arthur Symons in "The Decadent Movement in Literature" (1893) and as recently as Peter Stowell in Literary Impressionism, James and Chekhov (1980)---have continued to explore the fruitful hybridization of literature and painting in literary impressionism. Although each medium has its own techniques, the impressionist writer and painter share a view of the nature of reality. Commenting on the novel, James Nagel writes, "As a total aesthetic, the themes and techniques of Impressionistic fiction derive their coherence from the assumption that human life consists of the interaction of an individual intelligence with a world apprehensible only in terms of sensory experience" (21). And for Elizabeth Kronegger, "the interplay of the individual's consciousness and the surrounding world," what Lampman is describing above, constitutes the impression (13).
The fundamental characteristic of the "surrounding world" for the painters---and the one which led to their particular techniques---was the instability of atmosphere and light in nature. Recognition of that instability required, in the observer, a continual adaptability---a flexible responsiveness to light and atmosphere wed to scrupulous observation. Fleeting change, in impressionist painting, had to be incorporated into the representation of nature. Lampman, in his essay "Poetic Interpretation," prescribes for the poet the same flexibility in response to the "phenomena of material nature" and recognizes that "pictures" so produced will be deeply inscribed with the "stir of the soul" which the perceived phenomena produces. Impressionism, therefore, combines the changeability of natural phenomena and the "answering harmony" of the individual temperament. Like the French Impressionists, Lampman extols the ordinary, recognizes the sufficiency of sensation, and prescribes a flexibility which would answer to nature's changeability.
It is my contention that Lampman arrived independently at an impressionist presentation of landscape. His poetry, and his remarks in prose on poetics and painting, reveals premises and procedures analogous to those of the French painters. Whereas in Europe and England, the painters exerted an influence on the French Symbolists, the Aesthetes and Decadents, the stream-of-consciousness novel, and eventually on the Imagists, Lampman is not in that line of inheritance. He arrives at impressionism not by way of these literary developments but out of his own close relationship to landscape, a relationship shaped to a large degree by his interest in painting. As an impressionist, Lampman is closer to the painters---Monet, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, and Pissarro---than he is to Impressionist poets such as Arthur Symons and Lionel Johnson. Particular landscapes, notes Early, suggest "the art of Monet or Renoir" (Archibald Lampman 51). Lampman's landscapes correspond to early Impressionist landscapes by Manet, Monet, and Renoir rather than to their later figural work, and to Sisley, in particular, he bears resemblance. Both poet and painter were interested in the effects of light on snow.
It is likely that there were no impressionist canvases in the Academy Exhibition of 1892 which Scott and Lampman reviewed. Their remarks do suggest, however, their sensitivity to the painters' handling of light. In Canada in the 1890s Canadian artists adopted impressionist methods; Lucius O'Brien's Towing Barges on the Hudson River 1895 is usually identified as the first Canadian Impressionist painting. Lampman was well acquainted with O'Brien's work; Lampman and Scott speak of the excellence of O'Brien's exhibits in the 1892 Academy Exhibition, commenting particularly upon The Mill Pond at Blair, a painting of a "misty cataract with the light upon it [which] is a delicious surprise" (At the Mermaid Inn 57). They are appreciative of the sudden shock---the "delicious surprise"---with which light so rendered invests its object. What the report on the Academy exhibition tells us is that Lampman approached painting, as he did landscape, attentive to the values of light, to the way in which light creates landscape. Impressionism arrived in the U.S.---in Boston---a decade earlier, in 1883. The chief proponent of Impressionism in America was Lampman's friend Hamlin Garland, the novelist and essayist: "the literary articulation of the movement in painting came largely through the efforts of Hamlin Garland, who . . . lectured on Impressionism and wrote about it in Crumbling Idols . . . . [H]is ideas were an important influence throughout the 1890s" (Nagel 14-15). Garland knew Lampman for ten years; their correspondence was established in 1889, and they met in 1892 when Garland visited Ottawa. Enthusiastic about "Heat" (shown to him by an editor at the Boston Transcript) (Doyle 38), Garland initiated the correspondence with a "fan letter" to Lampman. Two key letters from Garland to Lampman---one in response to "Heat," one critical of Among the Millet---have not survived (Doyle 38-39). It is likely, however, that Garland's comments on Lampman's work were governed by his zeal for Impressionism. Although lacking the benefit of direct contact---viewing impressionist canvases---Lampman may have become acquainted, through this correspondence, with impressionist theory. Other occasions of contact are possible.
Lampman's friend and correspondent Edward William Thomson left Toronto for Boston in 1891 to become editor of the Youth's Companion. Lampman visited Thomson in Boston in August 1891 and again in April 1893 (Bourinot 9, 18). Perhaps there, or perhaps at home, Lampman encountered this revolution in the visual arts, and even if he didn't, he anticipated it. Lampman is remarkable not because he applied to his poetry an emerging theory and practice but because out of an extraordinary relationship to landscape, he came to it on his own.
In his Mermaid Inn column, 18 February 1893, Lampman speaks of the "wonderful painting to be done" by the Canadian painter who takes as his subject the midwinter landscape. Perceiving this potential, Lampman predicates the transformation in Canadian painting, in the late 1890s,1 from Academicism to Impressionism.
On some of these splendid February mornings it cannot but occur to one that there is some wonderful painting to be done, which has perhaps not yet been even attempted. In the winter dawn, with every gradation of red and gold and blue; even in the early forenoon, when the towers of our northern capital stand westward, pale luminous, touched with rose, against a pale, greenish-blue sky, when every roof fronting the sun is a sheet of dazzling cream . . . and every shadow a patch of the clearest crystalline violet; in the coming of the winter night, with its gorgeous changes of colour, subtle and indescribable, what an infinite variety of choice there is for the hand of the painter. . . .
Everywhere Lampman looks, he sees colour in light. His imagined canvases celebrate light's range, "its infinite variety"---luminous, dazzling, crystalline---in Canadian midwinter landscapes. If midwinter provided "indescribable" changes in light, high summer heat translated the visual into visceral terms so that the poet reporting on heat's effects is himself charged with those effects ("Heat").
In "Heat"2Lampman records his experience of a landscape in noontime heat as a series of intense moments. The poem registers the successive impressions wrought on the speaker's temperament moment by moment as the objects on the hill, of the field, and in the shade of the trees flash upon the eye and the sounds "spin" into the ear. His intense engagement with the scene is presented not as a narrative but as a record of impressions which are passed on to the reader and from those impressions, the reader construes the scene, much as the spectator of an impressionist painting, led on, as it were, from one local area of colour activity to another, fuses the blobs of colour in the painting into a unified field. "Heat" invites a similar participation to link what Desmond Pacey calls the "sequence of emotional impressions" (179). The sensory experience is directly rendered; no expository comment punctuates the consecutive sensations. Visual, auditory, and tactile, the poem is predominantly visual. The eye travels "From plains that reel to southward dim," follows the road "up the steep hill" where the road seems to "melt into the glare." In other words, objective data are combined with subjective apprehension to yield an impression of just that place in a specific moment of time, what is for the perceiver the "one and unique occasion" (Nagel 28). Glare and blur modify sight; gloom---"The cool gloom of the bridge"---and the shadows of the elm-tree, in the foreground, further affect sight, giving the impression of "Dark patches in the burning grass." The scene is interpreted in colour and form, light and shadow: "The woods far off are blue with haze: / The hills are drenched with light." The sensory effect of the scene, not the scene itself, is Lampman's project here. Perhaps this is what Early means when he says, "If Lampman escaped anywhere, it was into nature poetry, not nature" ("Archibald Lampman," Canadian Writers 146). Roy Daniells compares Lampman to Cezanne (398)---"he has his own little sensation in the face of nature"---and it was Cezanne who said, "`Art should not imitate nature, but should express the sensations aroused by nature'" (Nochlin 95). What especially determines the sensory effect here is the heat. James Nagel, in Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism, writes:
Of particular interest is the obscuring of vision in Impressionistic painting, a systematic limitation of the sensory reception of the essentials of scene. Such obscuring is generally the result of natural phenomena (trees, fog, snow, darkness, distance) or, less often, problems arising from human civilization (smoke, flags, buildings, crowds). (12)
Heat, and its effects, is the obscuring medium in Lampman's scene. A disturbance-free stillness pervades the scene. The moment is "windless." The stillness enables an acuity of perception; the marguerites are numbered "one by one," yet the heat, because of its "glare," seems to melt object and scene. Heat casts a haze over the wood, colouring the line of wood blue. Sunlight saturates flora and drenches the hills in light. Heat, like an obscuring film, suffuses the scene. Not only does heat create the visual swimming effect---the impression that the plains "reel"---but also the natural result of intense heat, the dust, further obscures vision. Movement stirs dust, and the wagoner is "Half-hidden in the windless blur / Of white dust puffing to his knees." The "puffing" dust augments the impression that in the heat the scene swims. Lampman establishes the impressions which the scene and its objects make upon him as seen through, and in, heat. Acuity of perception is qualified by the intervening heat, the heat that falls between the eye and the object, affecting the eye. None the less the poet---it is a visual exertion---discriminates exactly, "Upward half-way, or it may be / Nearer the summit," the position of the wagoner. He does not offer a normative common vision of the scene; "Heat" is how this landscape is seen by precisely this temperament in a single passing moment. Had Lampman been interested in anything other than the impression which the scene had upon him, he would have elaborated on the thoughts promoted by this visual moment, but even of these thoughts he speaks sensually. "In the full furnace of this hour / My thoughts grow keen and clear" remains at the level of sensation. The inward sensation---the invigoration---differs not at all from the beneficence of sensory effects provoked by the scene.
Heat textures ("melts," "soaks") the scene and deepens the space. The appropriate reflection of the scene's depth is sound; the thrush's "revolving tune" (stanza four) slides, it would seem, "leisurely" towards the poet from an indefinite "somewhere on the slope" although the slope is "near by." The heat, which obscures visually, contributes a depth to the landscape so that sound reaches the poet slowly, as across a great extent. The perceptions, inventory-like, of the active eye are suspended in the "sense-transference" (Ower 27), the shift to the auditory in stanza four. The thrush's "revolving tune" encourages the intervals of dreams during which other sounds "spin into mine ear," but the grasshopper's crackling, like the thrush's tune from "somewhere," is "A small innumerable," and therefore indefinite, sound, a spinning only. Either the poet could drift and dream in those mesmeric sounds or he could recharge in the blinding field of light: "I lift mine eyes. . . . " The colon-punctuated lines of description---simple, subtle and luminous---marshall the impressions received in the restored visual focus.
I lift mine eyes sometimes to gaze:
The burning sky-line blinds my sight:
The woods far off are blue with haze:
The hills are drenched in light.
The recharging enables the poet to reflect on his modes of perception and his pleasure in them: "And yet to me not this or that / Is always sharp or always sweet," and although the sensations, auditory and visual, do not always so distinctly precede dream and thought respectively, in this situation, there can be little doubt that the pre-eminently visual (veering to tactile) experience of the landscape has made a refining furnace of the brain. Merging impressionistically with the "surrounding world," the individual con-sciousness, the brain, takes on the furnace features of the landscape.
There is something appallingly lonely in the individual testament---whether in poem or painting---of the single passing moment. The impression is always a lonely affair. "I so utterly alone," concludes the speaker in "Winter Solitude" (ALS 21). Lampman's use of "the isolate `I' (eye)" (Steele 48) in the nature poems emphasizes the singular---the sole beholder in the unprecedented moment. No landscape is so congenial to the impressionist's lonely moment as the Canadian landscape in winter. For one who wanders into that landscape, there is always the sense of the single unique moment, a moment never to be experienced by another and never to be experienced again. The impressionist-poet is the only witness, and there is only one moment of witness. In poem after poem---"January Morning," "Winter Evening," "Winter Uplands"---Lampman records such moments. Often the singularity of the moment is heightened by the impending fall of darkness: "A little while / And night shall darken down" (PAL 117), or "Glittering and still shall come the awful night" (PAL 243). In "Evening" (PAL 199), "the great night comes on," and all "Shall be gathered into the night" (PAL 143). In these landscape sonnets, more than anywhere, Lampman establishes what "Soon, soon shall fly" ("Winter Evening"), the evanescent moment. Like Alfred Sisley, who was also fascinated by the evening sky, Lampman records "the charm of things which are going away" (Blunden 162). On the space framed by the sonnet form, he deftly and quickly strokes in the sense-data. In longer, more discursive poems such as "The Frogs," he is less of an impressionist. The sonnet and the short lyric were well suited to the paradox of impressionism---the arrest of the fleeting moment.
Just as the French Impressionists painted the same subject from the same perspective---Monet's Rouen Cathedral,West Facade,Sunlight, 1894 and Rouen Cathedral, Sunset, 1894 (Blunden 206)---but at different times and under differing conditions of light, so also Lampman repeatedly presents the same view---the horizon of the city as seen from a distant rural position---but seen in different climatic, atmospheric, and light conditions. Monet's presentation of the same subject, Rouen Cathedral, in different light conditions confirms that reality is a matter of perception (Nagel 13). In Lampman's "Winter Uplands" (PAL 299), the cityscape seen in evening is "The far-off city towered and roofed in blue / A tender line upon the western red," but in "A January Morning" (PAL 286) the "city towers up-borne / Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue." There is a perceptual shift in colour due to the effect of light (evening light, morning light) although the mass is constant and the subject remains the same. The distant city, the massing of the towers the same, is yet again different in "Winter Solitude": "I saw the city's towers on a luminous pale-grey sky; / Beyond them a hill of the softest mistiest green . . . " (ALS 21). Gazing upon the same scene, Lampman records how the sensory effect of the same varies; the scene is always different. Lampman illustrates that no two moments of perception are the same; for the poet-impressionist the reality of the city is in the perceiver's eye. Lampman is no more interested in the massiveness, the structural fixity of the city towers, than he is in the business going on in these towers. He is visually teased by the variable line. Facing the city, what he saw was an undulating and ever-changing line not a fixed and permanently contoured shape.
Since the variable line is a matter of perception, it occurs as a sensory perception whether one gazes upon a natural, a constructed, or a human subject. In the landscape sonnets, there is frequently, for instance, a line of carters, woodmen's sleighs "team by team," a line of wagoners. Sometimes it is a flight of swallows ("A Thunderstorm") or a file of animals ("Evening"). More often it is the human line: "The woodmen's carts go by me homeward-wheeled, / Past the thin fading stubbles, half concealed . . . " (PAL 117). The figures in a Lampman landscape, always on the verge of leaving, are not anecdotal. As in Monet's Cart on the Road Near Honfleur or Sisley's Snowscape with Huntsman, the figures are integrated into a natural, and changing, landscape. Closer to home, in Maurice Cullen's landscapes---The Ice Harvest or The Last Loads---one sees a similar flowing line of figures in a snowscene. The undulating line is Lampman's refusal to see a scene as fixed. Because the scene is ever-changing, nothing more than a momentary impression can be rendered. The momentary impression is, for Lampman, the truth of things.
Lampman never delivers the fixed scene; there is always a slow shift in landscape due to snow or mist or dusk or tide. "Les Eboulements" is one of those silent scenes of slow shift. Even the title "A Sunset at Les Eboulements" (PAL 273-74), not "The Sunset . . . ," suggests the tentativeness of the scene and consequently the provisional quality of what is glimpsed there. The sonnet's emphasis on silence proposes that at any moment sound or shift will shatter the scene. The delicacy of the perceived moment is inherent in the image of the benign hay-carts, which homeward moving, disrupt and disturb the shallow coastal water: "Splashing the pale salt shallows." Silence and shadow, the auditory and the visual, invest the scene: the speaker perceives the objects---fragments of the scene---as situated in these conditions. The "dun rocks" are seen against the "Fawn-coloured wastes of mud," both wastes and rocks are undergoing change as the in-coming tide slips over and around them. Here, too, in the in-coming tide, the fishing apparatus is apprehended not as function but as pattern---"wattled fisheries"---its flexible withes interwoven. The slipping tide momentarily heightens, to the perceiving eye, the pattern of lines. Lampman is an impressionist not only because he renders pattern provisional, but also because the scene is presented as the impressions register on the observing eye as it moves from object to object. Interpretation, anecdote, meaning are suspended in the perceptual report on ephemeral phenomena. Fragments of the scene are focused as the eye sweeps from mountain side to hay carts on the beach (which have descended from the scythed mountain fields) to shoreline objects in change in the in-coming tide. The eye follows the crows, rising from the pooling tide, lifting into the sky where "Soon will the first star shine," but not yet because the surveying eye sees in the "pale-green distances," the "sun's last shaft" drenching the Kamouraska villages "golden." Scrupulously attentive to change in light and tide, "Les Eboulements" renders, in what Pater calls "the passage and dissolution of impressions" (249), the evanescent moment when shadowy dusk is streaked with light. It does so through an uncontaminated report from the visual sense.
For Lampman the flood-tide at Les Eboulements occasions a flood of everchanging sense impressions. For Charles G.D. Roberts, with whom Lampman is often linked as a painterly poet, "the tides vexing the Westmoreland shores" ("Tantramar Revisited"), occasions memory. Whereas Lampman's landscapes are drenched in light, Roberts' are drenched in time. This is particularly so in Songs of the Common Day (1893) where Roberts moves between "The Salt Flats," echoing with "the keels of centuries ago," and the "well-loved," long-established "Fields of Tantramar" ("The Pea-Fields"), spaces where lives---domestic and labouring---were spent. Roberts' "Sower," significant in his eternal provision for mankind, is a figure larger than the landscape he occupies. The figures in Roberts' landscapes, whether it is the single figure of the mower or the group, the "harvest-folk" ("The Potato Harvest"), are fully modelled, contoured, and realized. In Lampman's sonnets figures occur only in an undulating line. But what especially differentiates these poets as to their painterly qualities is the handling of light. In Lampman, light---radiant, qualified, or reflective---falls in an impartial manner over all. Even in a poem such as "Winter Hues Recalled," with its complex structuring of time (Early, Archibald Lampman 56), what is recalled is light. Remembering a February, southward journey by snowshoe, Lampman describes field, forest, and hill, a snow-bound waste, colour-created by sunlight.
I saw them in their silence and their beauty,
Swept by the sunset's rapid hand of fire,
Sudden, mysterious, every moment deepening
To some new majesty of rose or flame.
The whole broad west was like a molten sea
Of crimson. In the north the light-lined hills
Were veiled far off as with a mist of rose
Wondrous and soft. Along the darkening east
The gold of all the forests slowly changed
To purple. In the valley far before me,
Low sunk in sapphire shadows, from its hills,
Softer and lovelier than an opening flower,
Uprose a city with its sun-touched towers,
A bunch of amethysts.
The light which transforms the landscape---"Leaving no spot the same"---furnishes the memory, the "well-stored picture house," with moments "laid away," which will emerge later through "luminous doors." Memory is a place of pictures; the retrieval of pictures is "luminous." In Lampman's "Winter Hues Recalled," the Wordsworthian "spot of time" is generated by light. The recovered experience is similarly luminescent. "Winter Hues" indicates how Lampman, in the light of a Canadian landscape, adapted and refined a Romantic concept. Whereas Roberts, as he says in the prologue poem to Songs of the Common Day, aimed to make "familiar things divine" (45), Lampman celebrated the fleeting, and thus unfamiliar face, of familiar things.
The silence which pervades Lampman's landscape sonnets is connected with the solitariness of the impressionist moment. The low-toned "Solitude" (PAL 120), which anticipates the Imagists' clarification of the image and perfecting of diction, recreates the spell of a silent space through the visual suggestiveness of sound, about which Lampman speaks in "Poetic Interpretation," his essay on poetics. Silence and sound, octave and sestet, relate as background and foreground.
How still it is here in the woods. The trees
Stand motionless, as if they did not dare
To stir, lest it should break the spell.The air
Hangs quiet as spaces in a marble frieze.
Even this little brook, that runs at ease,
Whispering and gurgling in its knotted bed,
Seems but to deepen, with its curling thread
Of sound, the shadowy sun-pierced silences.
Sometimes a hawk screams or a woodpecker
Startles the stillness from its fix�d mood
With his loud careless tap. Sometimes I hear
The dreamy white-throat from some far off tree
Pipe slowly on the listening solitude,
His five pure notes succeeding pensively
The quietness is spatial ("quiet as spaces") and as in "Heat," sound is the index of depth; here the "curling thread / Of sound," from the brook, deepens the woods' "motionless" silence. Not so in the foreground. Just as sun shafts pierce the shadowy stillness, so sound "Sometimes" and "Sometimes" pierce ("screams," "startles") the solitude. Lampman's carefully chosen words as well as the natural sounds themselves contribute to the visual suggestiveness; the woodpecker's tap, appears sudden and "careless," like movement, in this motionless space. After that rupture, the lazier note of the white-throat---"five pure notes"---appropriately slows the poem to silence again.
The loneliness of the unique moment is nowhere more obvious than in "Winter Uplands" (PAL 299), a sonnet written, D.C. Scott says, fourteen days before Lampman's death. What tempers loneliness is the vivacity with which impressions are received. "Winter Uplands" is a composition of rapid notations ("The frost," "The long white drift," "The rippled sheet of snow," "The far-off city," and so forth, begin the lines: strokes of a scene sketched in). Lampman's tendency to move rapidly from point to point parallels the quick, fluent strokes in Impressionist painting. Fluency, in poem or painting, is a response to changeability. However different their media, poet and painter similarly devise techniques appropriate to their common conception of reality as shifting. The first quatrain positions the speaker in the snowscape---
The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound---
anticipating the coming walk home, "And then the golden moon to light me home---. . . . " Sitting "as one bound," the poet is perfectly, passively receptive to his situation: the "answering harmony" of the poet's consciousness will, however, synthesize and modulate the sensations. As Kronegger points out
Just as light has come [in Impressionism] to invade matter, so the mood of the subject has come to invade and to transform the object. . . . Imperceptible transitions and dissolutions of subject and object reduce them to homogeneity, to a state of immersion.
A comment on "Winter Uplands" by Margaret Coulby Whitridge enables me to clarify this point: "This poem, ostensibly a description of a winter night in Ottawa, actually contains an intensely personal expression of self, superimposed upon the natural scene" (xxviii). Whereas the poet's temperament---specifically, his present mood and attitude---is a legitimate element in the tendered impression, to suggest that the scene is like a blank upon which the self is "superimposed," ignores what is most important to Lampman---the sensation-provoking possibilities of landscape and the need, in response, for "the intelligent use" of the senses. Lampman acknowledges, often in a poem's conclusion, the dissolution of subject and object: "I roam the glorious world with praise / . . . / Till earth and I are one" (PAL 127-28). What has often been taken as a Romantic declaration---his contiguity to nature---results, in fact, from his impressionist aesthetic. Not surprisingly, snow and frost, soft or sharp, are the predominant atmospheric elements in a Lampman winter scene. Fallen or falling snow is responsible for the merging of object into object, so that one sees not distinct contours but undulation: even land and sky appear merged, and sometimes, as in "Winter Uplands," the snowscape appears aquatic: "The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew / Across the open fields for miles ahead" (emphasis mine). In an Impressionist painting although contours are indistinct, and haze, fog, smoke, or whatever, blurs landscape, loci of colour occur. Similarly, in "Winter Uplands," in spite of the "long white drift" and the drift of landscape into sky, localities of colour occur; in fact, colour predominates over objects. The city is perceived as "A tender line [a blue line] upon the western red," and further skyward, stars are "jets of silver from the violet dome. . . . " The vivacity of "Winter Uplands" results from the discernment of colour, the "beauty everywhere," cast by the setting sun. For Lampman, as for other impressionists, colour is not in objects but in the light and light is what makes a scene transitory.
These are poems of the purest sensory perceptions. Impressions of this and that in heat, dusk, sunrise, are communicated with an exact fidelity not to the object but to the sensory experience. How different is a poem such as "In November" (PAL 158) where the sensations are subordinated to narrative or to myth. "In November" narrates the speaker's discovery of "scores of mulleins long since dead," which he instantly identifies as "some spare company / Of hermit folk," but what happens when narration eclipses sensation, when natural objects are humanized, is the attribution of character to light, a reversal of what in other poems is a sustained attempt to document poetically the effect of light on the perceiver. The light which "In November" is invested with "melancholy"---"So sere, so melancholy bright"---is inaccessible to the visual eye because it is already burdened with human or mythic reflections, "the half-reflected gleam / Or shadow of some former dream. . . . " This obscuring of light to the visual sense is quite different from the eye's work through, and with, a naturally obscuring medium, as in "Heat." In "Comfort of the Fields" (PAL 148), Lampman speaks of draining "The comfort of wide fields unto tired eyes," but rather often Lampman conflates the "mist of light" with the mist of dreams. Actually, Lampman didn't much like his "Comfort of the Fields." Writing to Thomson (28 Oct 1891), he says, "It is called `Comfort of the Fields.' It is written out in six or seven long heavy stanzas. I do not know what they [Scribners] took it for. They have refused and sent back many a better piece of work . . . " (Bourinot 11). One suspects he preferred his "transcripts from nature" (Bourinot 12). There is, however, in the otherwise prescriptive "Comfort of the Fields"---"Drink, and be filled, and ye shall understand!"---the lovely line: "Far violet hills, horizons filmed with showers. . . . "
Lampman's poetry is quite simply at its best when he limits himself to the jubilance of the senses, but when what is heard or seen is attributed to Nature "in her common rounds" ("Voices of Earth") or to the "earth our mother" ("The Frogs") or to the residue of "some former dream" ("In November"), Lampman loses, or sacrifices, precision to platitude. The meteorological "A Thunderstorm" (PAL 214-15), focused on a pivotal atmospheric change, has a great deal more to say about "nature's altitude" than the platitudinous "Outlook" (PAL 107-08) where the mind broods "On life's deep meaning, nature's altitude / Of loveliness, and time's mysterious ways. . . . " Depth of atmosphere, which usually interests Lampman, is concentrated in "A Thunderstorm" into frontal force. Nature's mustering and deployment of force is expressed in a military metaphor (MacKendrick 57), one which has, what T.E. Hulme thought requisite in a metaphor, the effect of a direct impression (Gage 19). There is little figurative language in these landscapes; there is, however, more "brooding" than this analysis has so far indicated.
The preponderance of dream in Lampman's poetry has frequently been remarked upon, but how, one might wonder, can the dream-state co-exist with the empirically based nature poetry of sensation and perception. Certainly there is in Impressionist novels, by Conrad and Woolf for example, a similar emphasis on sensation co-existing with dreamlike qualities. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness opens with a breath-taking impressionist sweep of sky over Thames, the setting for Marlow's narration of his very specific sensations in the Belgian Congo, yet the narrator knows the experiences whereof he speaks can have no more solidity for his listeners than a dream. Indeed, even for the narrator recalling them, those experiences have a dream-like quality: "It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream---making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation . . . " (57).
For the impressionist, reality is visual and the visual is ephemeral, evanescent, and transitory---is, in fact, fleeting as a dream. The impressionist's project---to render the one and unique moment---parallels the dreamer's effort to convey the dream. The dreamer does his utmost to reproduce the sensations of the dream experience, an experience of discontinuities, of seemingly unconnected but significant images, which combining bequeath to the waking consciousness the dream's effect. The dematerialization in the dream parallels the dissolution of landscape in ever-changeful light. The seeming impossibility of recording things just as they are in the one and unique moment is analogous to the effort of narrating the dream. The dream in Lampman's nature poetry appears frequently concluding the effort of rendering an experience and acknowledges, in spite of the effort involved, a reality as elusive as dream. Moreover, as Kronegger explains it, the impressionist experiences, in this effort, a dissolution, a merging into his subject. There are very good reasons why Lampman might have recourse to the metaphor of the dream to describe his experience.
The distinctly other kind of dream in Lampman's poetry envisions or prescribes an ideal relationship to nature and occurs in poems such as "An Old Lesson From the Fields," "A Prayer," "Comfort of the Fields," and "The Frogs," hymns to nature's putative majesty, simplicity, and opiate-effect. Nature seems in these poems "muffled"; images are marshalled to serve prescription. In such poems, as Sandra Djwa points out, Lampman sees "into a fixed plan or `dream,' which he hypothesizes as underlying the active surface motion of nature and the universe" (29). The difference between the two kinds of dream parallels the difference aesthetically between Impressionism and Symbolism: "`[impression-ism] holds to the real, stabilizes the ephemeral; the other [symbolism] is turned toward the absolute, the dream and the ideal'" (qtd. in Kronegger 27, 119). In poems such as "Heat" and the "In November" sonnet, Lampman is not dreaming after some great truth, some underlying truth; he is content to stop with the reality apprehended by sensation. Although the landscape can be dream productive, the dream remains, in "In November," in content and in mood undefined: "I alone / Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray, / Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream" (PAL 117). "`A clean grasp of the facts . . . a succession of clear cut statements'" (Ball 96) characterizes, according to E.W. Thomson, "In November," a sonnet which arrives, through a fidelity to what is seen and heard, at dream. The poet's dream, as different from the idealist's dream or the visionary's, generates no world beyond the poem itself.
Sandra Djwa, in her comprehensive "Lampman's Fleeting Vision," explores as well as Lampman's dreams in relation to nature, those "dreams" which carry implications of religious or social vision (22-39), and Early, in his Archibald Lampman, provides a typology of Lampman's dreams: the dream as transcendence, the actual (nocturnal) dream, but in "most of Lampman's poetry, `dream' occurs as a metaphor . . . in two utterly contrary metaphorical senses"---"life-as-dream" and "Art as dream." In this last usage, Early continues, "the dream becomes identified with the poem itself" (41-42). In the impressionistic landscapes, the dream is part of the poetic process, often its conclusion. In these poems, the poet-impressionist acknowledges that what he has been doing---rendering transitoriness---is as impossible as narrating a dream. The metaphor of the dream appropriately renders "the stir in the soul" created by that effort. Such dreams refer to nothing beyond the experience itself.
The poet-impressionist is selective rather than inclusive in presenting landscape. The eye sweeps a scene---distant, near-at-hand, distant again---selects only the essential elements and ruthlessly shears away, like a mower, all else. In "Among the Timothy" (PAL 13-16), the speaker places himself in "A circle clean and gray," a mower-made circle, where at least initially, "it is sweet to lie" lethargically, "Nor think but only dream," an enterprise which in its nature seems little different from "the drifting hours" spent in the city, which he is avoiding. The city is antipathetic to "A sweeter world"---a dream world---"where I in wonder strayed" among "dreams that moved through that enchanted clime," not, it would seem, a very profitable expenditure of time since it "beareth nought." The poet turns himself over, in this clean circle, not to dreams but to the effects of wind and sun: "so I lie and feel the soft hours wane / To wind and sun and peaceful sound laid bare. . . . " This passage of time registers as tactility of wind and as "bare," distinct, sound. This sensory experience is inspiriting and activating: "I bid my spirit pass / Out into the pale green ever-swaying grass / To brood, but no more fret." He is "surely," writes D.M.R. Bentley, "indicating the power of nature to awaken fully the faculties of even the most `sleepy' and `languid,' the strayed revellers, among us" ("Watchful Dream" 22). The boon of this attentiveness is "an eye made quiet," as Wordsworth describes a similar effect ("Tintern Abbey"), regardful, now that fret has passed, and capable of impressions.
And hour by hour among all shapes that grow
Of purple mints and daisies gemmed with gold
In sweet unrest my visions come and go;
I feel and hear and with quiet eyes behold;
And hour by hour, the ever-journeying sun,
In gold and shadow spun,
Into mine eyes and blood, and through the dim
Green glimmering forest of the grass shines down,
Till flower and blade, and every cranny blown,
And I are soaked with him.
The locus of the poet's passage from dream-nostalgia to sharp attentiveness---"I feel and hear and with quiet eyes behold"---is the "circle clean and gray," a space which presages (see Early's dating, "Chronology" 78-79), the "full furnace" of the "heat-held land" ("Heat"), where thoughts "grow keen and clear."
The "sweet unrest" of this active/receptive state is contrasted with his earlier, early afternoon, lying about: "it is sweet to lie / . . . / Nor think but only dream." The "unrest" is produced by the sights, which "come and go," of shapes "that grow" in colour. Responsible for perceptual shift, light is also is an integral principle of organic change, and of human change. The light of "the ever-journeying sun" viscerally affects the poet. The full impression of this scene comprehends, beyond the surface of the scene, a change wrought deep within place and speaker: "every cranny brown, / And I are soaked with him." One of the titles which Lampman considered for his second volume, Lyrics of Earth 1895, was "A Gift of the Sun" (Bentley, "Introduction" 8). Landscape for Archibald Lampman is really an account of light, and the changeful effects of light are cognate with the transforming power of the sun. The report from the mowed field, "Among the Timothy," celebrates the light that touches and transmutes. The "immersion," which occurs in impressionist literature, results in change not in transcendence.
For the sake of his harvest, the mower shears away what has grown up. "Dead daisies" are mixed with harvest swathe. The poet, like the mower, must shear away those "high moods of mine that sometime made / My heart a heaven, opening like a flower" so that he can gather the second harvest in the field---the sensations "I feel and hear and with quiet eyes behold." As rigorously attentive as the painters, Lampman, in these poems, establishes the instability of landscape in light which leaves "no spot the same," and like other writers in the impressionist manner, his fidelity to impressions as they occur moment by moment results in "a thing most keenly real" ("Winter Hues Recalled").
If we take seriously Lampman's impressionism and do not apply the term casually as a synonym for descriptiveness, we begin to appreciate his realistic and relativistic world view. The spokesman for the adequacy of the ordinary and the sufficiency of sensation is neither a transcendentalist nor an apologist for a late, lost golden age. Nor is he a pessimist. Against the notion of Lampman, the troubled prophet of urban and industrial malaise, we must place Lampman, the poet of light.
1 Of the thirty artists represented in the exhibition Impressionism in Canada: 1895-1935 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1973, twenty-four of them studied in Paris between 1890 and 1920. All of them, with the exception of Robert Harris and William Brymmer, came back to Canada influenced by Impressionism, and Harris and Brymmer later, in Canada, assimilated the style (Murray 10).
2 The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At the Long Sault), intro. Margaret Coulby Whitridge (Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974) 12-13. All Lampman poems are quoted from this collection. Those from At the Long Sault, included in Whitridge's text, are indicated ALS. For the dating---composition and publication---of this and other Lampman poems, see L.R. Early, "A Chronology of Lampman's Poems," Canadian Poetry 14(1984): 75-87.
Ball, Eric. "Thomson's Review of Among the Millet." Intro. Eric Ball. Canadian Poetry 20 (1977): 90-99.
Bell, Clive. The French Impressionists. London and New York: Phaidon, 1951.
Bentley, D.M.R. Introduction. Lyrics of Earth (1895): A Working Text. Ed. and intro. D.M.R. Bentley. Ottawa: Tecumseh P, 1978. 1-20.
------, "Watchful Dream and Sweet Unrest: An Essay on the Vision of Archibald Lampman" Part II. Studies in Canadian Literature 7(1982): 5-26.
Blunden, Marcia and Godfrey. Impressionists and Impressionism. Documentation by Jean-Luc Duval. Geneva: Editions d'Art Albert Skira, 1979.
Bourinot, Arthur S. Archibald Lampman's Letters to Edward William Thomson (1890-1898). Ottawa: The Editor, 1956.
Cogniat, Raymond. The Century of the Impressionists. Trans. Graham Snell. New York: Crown P, n.d.
Connor, Carl Y. Archibald Lampman. 1929. Ottawa: Borealis P, 1977.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1902. London: Penguin English Library, 1983.
Daniells, Roy. "Lampman and Roberts." Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English. Gen. Ed. Carl F. Klinck. Toronto, U of Toronto P, 1965. 389-405.
Davies, Barrie. Introduction. Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose. Ed. and Intro. Barrie Davies. Ottawa: Tecumseh P, 1975. 1-9.
Djwa, Sandra. "Lampman's Fleeting Vision." 56 Canadian Literature (1973): 22-39.
Doyle, James. "Archibald Lampman and Hamlin Garland." Canadian Poetry 16 (1986): 38-46.
Early, L.R. Archibald Lampman. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
------, "Archibald Lampman." Canadian Writers and Their Works. Poetry Series, Vol. 2. Eds. Robert Lecker, Jack David, Ellen Quigley. Intro. George Woodcock. Toronto: ECW Press, 1983. 135-85.
------, "Archibald Lampman." The New Canadian Anthology. Eds. Robert Lecker and Jack David. Scarborough: Nelson, 1988. 22-23.
------, "A Chronology of Lampman's Poems." Canadian Poetry 14 (1984): 75-87.
Gage, John T. In the Arresting Eye: The Rhetoric of Imagism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1981.
Garland, Hamlin. Crumbling Idols: Twelve Essays on Art. 1894. Ed. Jane Johnson. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
Gustafson, Ralph. "Life and Nature: Some Re-Appraisals of Archibald Lampman." The Lampman Symposium. Ed. and intro. Lorraine McMullen. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1976. 1-8.
Keith, W.J. "Archibald Lampman," Profiles in Canadian Literature I. Ed. Jeffrey M. Heath. Toronto and Charlottetown: Dundurn P, 1980. 17-22.
Kennedy, Leo. "Canadian Writers of the Past: Archibald Lampman." Canadian Forum 13 (1933) 301-03. Rpt. in Archibald Lampman, Critical Views on Canadian Writers 3. Ed. and intro. Michael Gnarowski. Toronto: Ryerson, 1970. 119- 25.
Kronegger, Maria Elisabeth. Literary Impressionism. New Haven, Conn.: College and University P, 1973.
Lampman, Archibald. At the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell, Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott in The Globe 1892-93. Intro. Barrie Davies. Literature of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1979.
------, Selected Prose. Ed. Barrie Davies. Ottawa: Tecumseh P, 1975.
------, The Poems of Archibald Lampman. 1900. Intro. by Margaret Coulby Whitridge. Literature of Canada: Poetry and Prose in Reprint. Gen. Ed. Douglas Lochhead. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974.
MacKendrick, Louis K. "Sweet Patience and Her Guest, Reality: the Sonnets of Archibald Lampman." The Lampman Symposium. Ed. and intro. Lorraine McMullen. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1976. 49-62.
McMullen, Lorraine. The Lampman Symposium. Ed. and intro. Lorraine McMullen. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1976.
Murray, Joan. Impressionism in Canada 1895-1935. Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1973.
Nagle, James. Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism. University Park and London: Pennsylvania State UP, 1980.
Nochlin, Linda. Impressionism and Post-Impressionism 1874-1904: Sources and Documents. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
Ower, John. "Portraits of the landscape as poet: Canadian nature as aesthetic symbol in three confederation writers." Journal of Canadian Studies 6 (1971): 27-32.
Pacey, Desmond. "A Reading of Archibald Lampman's Heat." Culture 45 (1953): 292-97. Rpt. in Archibald Lampman, Critical Views of Canadian Writers 3. Ed. and intro. Michael Gnarowski. Toronto: Ryerson, 1970). 178-84.
Pater, Walter. Conclusion. The Renaissance Studies in Art and Poetry. London: Macmillan, 1894. 246-52.
Roberts, Charles G.D. Poems: New Complete Edition. Toronto: Copp Clark, 1907.
Rogers, Rodney O. "Stephen Crane and Impressionism." Nineteenth Century Fiction 24 (1969). Rpt. Stephen Crane's Career: Perspectives and Evaluations. Ed. with intro. Thomas A. Gullason. New York: New York UP, 1972. 264-77.
Smith, A.J.M. "Archibald Lampman." Book of Canadian Poetry. Ed. with an introduction and notes by A.J.M. Smith, Chicago, U of Chicago P, 1943. 182-83.
Steele, Charles R. "The Isolate I (Eye): Lampman's Persona." Essays on Canadian Writing 16 (1979-80): 62-69.
Stowell, Peter H. Literary Impressionism, James and Chekhov. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1980.
Symons, Arthur. "The Decadent Movement in Literature." Harper's New Monthly Magazine (November 1893). Rpt. Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890's. Ed. and intro. Karl Beckson. New York: Random House, 1966. 134-51.
Unwin, G.H. "The Poetry of Archibald Lampman." University Magazine 16 (1917): 55-73; Rpt. in Archibald Lampman, Critical Views on Canadian Writers 3. Ed. and intro. Michael Gnarowski, Toronto: Ryerson, 1970. 80-100.
Waldron, Gordon. "Canadian Poetry: A Criticism." Canadian Magazine 8 (1896): 101-08.
Whitridge, Margaret Coulby. Introduction. The Poems of Archibald Lampman (including At the Long Sault). Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1974. vii-xxviii.
WATCHFUL DREAMS AND SWEET UNREST:
AN ESSAY ON THE
VISION OF ARCHIBALD LAMPMAN
D. M. R. Bentley
Subtly conscious, all awake,
Let us clear our eyes, and break
Through the cloudy chrysalis,
See the wonder as it is.
(Poems, p. 165)1
These are the opening lines of "Winter-Store," the long poem with which Archibald Lampman intended to conclude his second volume of verse, Lyrics of Earth (1895).2 In context, it serves as prologue to Lampman's condensed version of Wordsworth's "Immortality Ode," his meditation on the process by which men "forego the power to see/The threads that bind us to the All,/God or the Immensity. . ." and become "blind ... /[To] the magic pageantry ... Issuing in perpetual change/From the rainbow gates of Time." The opening lines of "Winter-Store" are quoted at the head of this essay because, like the poem from which they come, they throw into sharp relief some important, and all-too-often ignored features, of Lampman's visionary verse. It is not my aim here to name and to castigate, yet again, the critics who have seen Lampman as a mere dreamer, an escapist, a functionary who sought solace from the city and from himself in an external nature, detailed descriptions of which are his major claim to be that the best of nineteenth-century Canadian poets.3 Rather, it is my intention to demonstrate that in the visionary poems that must be considered central to Lampman's canon there is present the subtle and alert consciousness, the clarity of vision, the unclouded focus on things as they are, that the Canadian poet sets down in "Winter-Store" as the requisites for a rational, realistic, and comprehensive understanding of man's relation to the world, to the "All," and to "Time." Specifically, the essay will examine such poems as "Heat" and "Among the Timothy" in relation to such pieces as "The Frogs" and "Freedom" as a means of demonstrating that, for Lampman, true insight meant seeing and understanding the world, with all its tensions and oppositions, comprehensively. For him, the only acceptable reason for leaving the world of men was to return to it regenerated, with a reformed and reforming humanitarian vision.
Before proceeding to examine individual poems and particular passages in Lampman's oeuvre where vision plays a paramount role, account must be taken of the fact that the Canadian poet's best and most central poems obtain much of their energy and detail from a coherent cosmology or "world view." Derived both from Lampman's experience of previous literature (his extensive reading of the classics, of Milton, and of numerous nineteenth-century authors for example) and from his experience of the Canadian environment (his attentive observations of the flora and fauna, as well as the meteorological and climatic conditions, in the environs of Ottawa) Lampman's cosmology consists of a series of circular and cyclical correspondences radiating outwards from a still centre, a standpoint, which is emphatically his own, of the late nineteenthcentury, and of Canada. The cosmology is best envisaged as a series of concentric circles, of temporal cycles, revolving around a point of no movement, a point paradoxically in and out of time from which vision is possible. In their increasing circumferences these temporal cycles embody the diurnal movement of the sun, the annual round of the seasons, the ontogenetic movement of individual man's life, and the phylogenetic "progress" of Western civilization, with the whole anchored geographically in the four cardinal points of the compass as conceived, in their associations, from a standpoint in the Northern hemisphere. The wheels within wheels of Lampman's system served him well, providing a lens to focus the energy of his imagination and furnishing a series of correspondences for each quarter of the day or season of the year which he could either ignore or draw upon for purposes of resonance and metaphor. Lampman did not, of course, invent the associations and correspondences which comprise his system; rather, he seems to have subsumed several quite traditional organic, cyclical, and linear analogies (such as those which link the human lifespan with the cycles of the day and year and the classical Greek conception of the Ages of Man) into an intelligible and hieratic, but not Procrustean, pattern which is rendered tangible and individual by being rooted in his own personal experiences of a Canadian nature that is relatively extreme in its daily and seasonal variations.
The concentric circles of Lampman's cosmology divide readily into quadrants, two of which were of special significance to him and, hence, will be of special importance here. The first, and most important quadrant, is that which radiates outwards from the period surrounding noon, through Summer and youth-manhood, to what, mythologically, is the Golden-Silver age of Man and, geographically, is the South, the region of the most intense light and heat in the Northern hemisphere. This is the quadrant in which Lampman's most celebrated poem "Heat," where the time of day is "noon," the season is clearly summer, and the poet is facing "southward" (Poems, pp. 12-13) is emphatically located. It is the quadrant in which positive visionary experiences -- epiphanic insights in to man, nature, and human life -- are most likely to occur because, to Lampman, sunlight is poetentially and metaphorically the source of both physical and spiritual illumination, For the Canadian poet conceives the "marvellous sun" (in the classical tradition the emblem of Apollo,4 in the Christian tradition the type of God's radiance) as the source of a creative and spiritual light which at once clarifies, harmonizes, and regenerates the common-day and common-place world, bestowing on the poet lucid and rational insights to the way of that world -- making his "Thoughts grow keen and clear" in the fullest senses of each of those words.
Those words, of course, comprise the famous concluding line of "Heat," a poem which, as Desmond Pacey has shown, is "constructed on the principle of balanced opposites" (such as hot/cold and light/dark) that are reconciled in the poem's dominant image of "the turning wheel," the "revolution," the "cyclical movement."5 Pacey's analysis of "Heat" need not be replicated here; however, there are some features of the poem which Pacey does not mention but which do need briefly to be discussed. The first is that the effort to comprehend the place of "balanced opposites" within a dynamic circle that is significant and revelatory of the organic unity of all nature requires on the part of the poet very considerable mental and perceptual powers. That is why in "Heat" the poet, intent on making intelligent use of his senses, bends his thoughts and his perceptions to such activities as observing the "idly clacking wheels" of a "hay-cart," counting " marguerites one by one," and listening to the "thin revolving tune" of a "thrush" (Poems, pp. 12-13). In his search for a comprehensive vision of a unity that includes man (the "wagoner" and the poet himself), Lampman must seek to discover in the particulars of the world evidence of the (cyclical) design of his cosmos, must set his mind and senses to find reflections of the organic cycles that, ideally, govern nature and man. If he is to achieve these ends he must see what is through what only seems (significantly the words "seems" is used twice only in "Heat," both times in the first two stanzas, where the poet is struggling to clarify his thoughts and perceptions); moreover, the poet must experience a sensation of being a part of external nature while yet remaining apart from it and conscious of his rational, human self. The conditions for achieving such a state of equipoise are that the body be stationary -- a still centre -- in the natural (as opposed to urban and non-organic) realm and that the mind be active and, hence, able to balance close observation (watchfulness) with coherent reverie (dream). So it is that in the penultimate stanza of "Heat" the poet states (italics added):
In intervals of dream I hear
The crickets from the droughty ground;
The grasshoppers spin into mine ear
A small innumerable sound.
(Poems, p. 13)
The very fact that the sound is "innumerable," and, moreover, that "The burning sky-line blinds [the poet's] sight" later in the stanza, serves to indicate the formidable proportions of the struggle to retain rational coherence and perceptual clarity in "the pale depth of noon." But the "And yet. . ." with which the final stanza of "Heat" opens shows that the poet has won his struggle, albeit conditionally and with difficulty:
And yet to me not this or that
Is always sharp or always sweet;
In the sloped shadow of my hat
I lean at rest, and drain the heat;
Nay more, I think some blessed power
Hath brought me wandering idly here:
In the full furnace of this hour
My thoughts grow keen and clear. (Poems, p. 13)
While the perception of the other ("some blessèd power) is here, so is a consciousness of the self ("to me," "I lean" and so on); and while the senses are represented ("sharp or ... sweet") so, insistently, is the rational mind ("I think," "My thoughts"). Indeed, the carefully unspecified "thoughts" that "grow" as if organically under the intense light of the sun suggest that the poet has achieved communion with the world of nature, not by allowing his reason to become impaired, but, on the contrary, as a means of having it sharpened and clarified.
Finally it must be said of "Heat" that for the reader the recreation of the steps to illumination that comprises the poem functions as a simulacrum and a rehearsal for what the human mind can gain through a proper -- which is to say rational -- approach to and understanding of external nature. Very likely, Lampman would have allowed Roberts' description of the animal story as a "potent emancipator" that "frees us for a little from the world of shop-worn utilities and ... leads us back to the old kinship of earth"6 to stand as a description of the social-aesthetic function of his own 'nature poetry.' He would have wanted it clearly understood, however, that, in Arnold's words, ". . . man hath all which Nature hath, but more. . ." and "Man must begin ... where Nature ends ...."7 The implications of this suggestion that in "Heat" and elsewhere Lampman was concerned, not merely to acquaint his readers with the beneficial aspects of nature, but also to teach them the correct response to her, will be taken up again later, after the remainder of the poet's cosmology has been placed on view.
The intense light and heat of midday are not always beneficent and illuminating, productive of positive visionary experiences, in Lampman's work. In the realm of the city, the assaults of heat and light contribute to the sense of oppression and lassitude which Lampman saw as negative aspects of urban life. For instance, in "The Poet's Song," a poem which probably owes a debt of imagery, including noon imagery, to Rossetti's "The Bride's Prelude,"8 the unremitting heat has parched the "burning plain" and driven the city's inhabitants "half-mad." It has also rendered the "Dark-browned" poet "mute," "listless," and cantankerous to the extent that he has lost his creative energy, his powers of observation, and his sympathy for his fellow men:
Sometimes with clank of hoofs and cries
The noon through all its trance was stirred:
The poet sat with half-shut eyes,
Nor saw, nor heard.
And once across the heated close
Light laughter in a silver shower
Fell from fair lips: the poet rose
And cursed the hour.
(Poems, pp. 211-212)
The imagery of the opening section of "The Poet's Song," from which these two stanzas are quoted, represents an inversion of the positive associations of heat and light (and, for that matter, silver) in Lampman's work. A far cry this from the light and heat that provoke sharp, clear thought in "Heat" or, indeed, from "the noon" hour at which the Christians set sail South-East from Rome to the ascetic regions of revelation, the "fierce bare places" (Poems, p. 62) of the Holy Land, in "The Three Pilgrims." There are times when Lampman, having retired from the city to commune with nature in the Ottawa valley, discovers that the light and heat (and humidity) emanating from the sun, together with the dizzying optical effects that they produce, threaten to engulf the mind in a drowsy, almost narcotic, numbness that can subvert reason's rule and prevent active meditation. It is against such an impaired, unfocused, and torpid state that the poet struggles towards clarity in "Heat"; here now is the first stanza of that poem, with italics added to indicate the weakened powers of observation and thought with which the poet begins his meditation:
From plains that reel to southward, dim,
The road runs by me white and bare;
Up the steep hill it seems to swim
Beyond, and melt into the glare.
Upward half-way, or it may be
Nearer the summit, slowly steals
A hay-cart, moving dustily
With idly clacking wheels.
(Poems, p. 12)
Pacey is right in seeing an "implicit suggestion of the ancient cosmogony . . . whereby all creation is the result of the intercourse of the male Sun with the female Earth" (AL, p. 182) in "Heat." It is precisely because this is so that in Lampman's work communion with nature under the imminent, consummating light of the sun can either result, positively, in (re)generation or lead, negatively, to a torpor which it is tempting to describe as post-coital or, worse, anti-coital. For Lampman, the period surrounding noon is a time of great visionary potential but also of potential drowsiness, a fact which adds considerable dramatic and meditative tension to such poems as "Heat" and "Among the Timothy."
The second most important of the quadrants in Lampman's scheme is the one which radiates outwards from midnight, through Winter and death, to what, mythologically, is the Iron Age of man and, geographically, is the North, the region, needless to say, of least light and most cold in Canada. This is the quadrant in which the foundations of "The City of the End of Things," Lampman's nightmare vision of the dreadful spiritual consequences of the urgan-industrial age of materialism (of 'things'), are squarely sunk: the horrifyingly sublime city, it will be recalled, is glimpsed at midnight," constructed of "iron," inhabited by robot-like creatures of "iron," and presided over by a "grim Idiot" who looks "toward the lightless north. . ." (Poems, pp. 179-182). In "The City of the End of Things," Lampman casts himself in the role of the physician of the iron age, diagnosing for the purposes of healing the disease of his times in appropriately repetitive, circumscribing, and cross-rhymed octo-syllabic lines:9
With measured roar and iron ring,
The inhuman music lifts and falls.
Where no thing rests and no man is,
And only fire and night hold sway;
The beat, the thunder and the hiss
Cease not and change not, night nor day.
And moving at unheard commands,
The abysses and vast fires between,
Flit figures that with clanking hands
Obey a hideous routine ...
(Poems, p. 180)
As this passage shows, life in "The City of the End of Things" is characterized by its mechanical, and, therefore, inorganic, unnatural, and inhuman rhythms. The same is true of life in "The City," where the "curses of gold" perceived as demonic and soul-entrapping, have transformed the city into a factory-town that is obedient to the rhythms, not of nature, but of night (indeed, graveyard) shifts and perpetually-moving machines:
Through doors that darken never
I hear the engines beat.
Through days and nights that follow
The hidden mill-wheel strains;
In the midnight's windy hollow
I hear the roar of trains.
(Poems, p. 216)
Lampman's moralized cityscapes have parallels in the natural order in the cold river and bitter wind of "April Night" and "Winter Evening" which are "like steel" (Poems, pp. 185 and 243) -- i.e., reminiscent of the metallic but still obedient to natural rhythms. In the main too little attention has been paid by Lampman criticism to the ordering of the poems within his three published volumes, to why the poet might have printed one poem before or after another. But it is worth noticing that the "iron," yet transmutable "year" of "The Song Sparrow" -- the poem which, not fortuitously, follows "The City of the End of Things" in Alcyone (1899) -- the "doomed and broken" end of winter yields, as it must in the organic and seasonal cycle of regeneration, to the "silvery song and golden news" (Poems, p. 182) of bird song, to a rebirth that is hardly possible in the mechanical (and stoney) environment of the city.
As the very title "Winter-Store" suggests, the final seasons of the year and of life are also times for recollecting in the tranquility of diminished sensual stimulation the "images" and "thoughts" that have been gathered earlier. To Lampman, the "winter reveries" of a "sheltered mind" that is able to "feed" in comfort on a store-house of "unhurt remembrances" are potentially the source of deep and lasting happiness (see SP, p. 109). It is to be expected that Lampman's winter store of memories will contain "remembrances" gleaned through the observation of both nature and man: "grasshoppers" and "haymakers," "purple grass" and "crowded mills" (Poems, pp. 166-171). The winter-store also includes the bad with the good: remembrances of moments when "through this common air" the poet achieves perceptions that bring him closer to being "One with earth ... one with man" and "One ... / ... with the planets and the stars . . ." (Poems, p. 166) together with memories of times when his tendency to "stray" takes him "by many a stream" where drowsy, "half-shut lilies gleam" and "the bull-frog lolls at rest. . ." (Poems, p. 168). The "unwinnowed" contents of the winter-store must, therefore, be winnowed; they must be examined and sifted to separate the grain which sustains imaginative lift from the chaff which surrounds it. Although this process is anticipated in "Winter-Store" it is not undertaken. At the conclusion of the poem (and hence of the Lyrics of Earth volume, which "Winter-Store" concludes and chastens) the Lampman for whom, finally, the proper study of man is men, permits the potentially solipsistic contemplation of the mind's contents to be eclipsed by a vision akin to that of the poet figure in Arnold's "Resignation" of "the labouring world down there . . ." in the populous city. Lampman's sympathy for the agonies and strife, the pleasures and dreams of post-lapsarian man in all his "many conditions of ... happiness and pain" (SP, p. 95), forces him at the dark and wintry conclusion of "Winter-Store" to admit, reluctantly and wistfully, the deficiencies of the Romantic conservatism that has prompted him to contemplate gathering memories for future, solitary enjoyment and the insufficiency of the pastoral idealism that has allowed him to envisage a happy and "ruddy race of men ... All immortal, all divine" dancing "through a wood" (Poems, p. 173). What remains for Lampman to keep from the dark vision of "Winter-Store" is "A nameless hunger of the soul" -- probably the futuristic desire of the socialist to refashion and transform society -- which, though viewed ambivalently as so powerful as to be beyond control, nevertheless marks the poet as one of those for whom, in the words of Keats's Moneta, "the miseries of the world/Are misery and will not let them rest."10 This is as it must be for the poet who never sanctioned a fugitive and cloistered retreat from humanity but, on the contrary, harshly censured those other poets whom he saw as failing to pay sufficient attention to the human condition (see SP, p. 101) and who, in his own poems, attempted both to confront ("The City of the End of Things") and to ameliorate ("Heat") the problems of men living in the brazen prison of modern, urban society.
It must not be thought that winter and midnight were productive only of nightmarish visions for Lampman. On the contrary in the long poem "Winter" in Among the Millet (1888) he fancifully envisages winter as a grotesque figure of supernatural dimensions who torments and mocks man from his home "beyond the northmost woods. . ." (Poems, p. 24) and in "With the Night" in Lyrics of Earth he optimistically suggests that the "doubts, dull passions, and base fears/That harassed and oppressed the day . . are incompatible with "the earth, the nights, [and] the stars . . (Poems, pp. 139-140). Night, for Lampman, can knit up the ravelled sleeve of care (see "Midsummer Night," Poems, pp. 118-119) and, of more significance for the present discussion, can assist the poet in his efforts to pierce through the veil of quotidian reality and delusive dream, to achieve a sense of human dignity within a natural universe. In the sonnet entitled "Night" the poet, after glancing backwards to the "shallow day" when he was "A dreamer among dreamers" who "strove and fretted at life's feverish play,/And dreamed until the dream seemed infinite" (italics added), jubilantly asserts: "But now the gateway of the All unbars. . ." and "On the great threshold of the night I stand,/ Once more a soul self-cognizant and still,/Among the wheeling multitude of stars" (Poems, p. 263). In "Night," as in "Heat," regeneration comes to the poet as an affirmation of human self-awareness within a cosmic-design.
Perhaps it is the sheer length of winter nights and of winter itself in the Ottawa region that prompted Lampman to explore the relatively harmless but nevertheless escapist activity of dreaming beyond the present season. In "Indian Summer," he envisages that brief respite from the onset of winter as a senile and deluded dreamer who, in his "golden dream of ... /A second childhood fails to perceive the advance of the "polar armies" of winter (Poems, p. 225). And in "Winter-Break," the insufficiently and, perhaps, ironically optimistic sonnet that concludes the Alcyone volume, a mid-winter thaw produces illusions of Summer and Spring and prompts suspect dreams of "April woods," " silver-piping" swallows, "gurgling brooks," and "sprouting solitudes" where the poet, destructively and bathetically, fancies himself 'stooping,' 'laughing,' and 'plucking' "hapaticas" (Poems, p. 252). It appears that for Lampman any attempt to escape the cycles of time, to transcend the present through pretense, was suspect: only in time and with intelligence can visionary insight, in Lampman's work, be validly achieved. In the poem to which we shall now turn, "Winter Hues Recalled," Lampman remembers back to a moment of vision on an evening in February, a moment whose validity the reader must assess from its qualities and contexts.
Since "Winter Hues Recalled" is insistently Wordsworthian in both form and content -- its meditative blank verse is reminiscent of The Prelude and its focal point is a spot of time recollected in tranquility - there is good reason to suspect that Lampman intended the poem to be seen and judged as an exercise in Wordsworth's manner. Now it will be remembered that in The Prelude Wordsworth accords greatest value to those "spots of time" which "give/Profoundest knowledge to what point, and how,/The mind is lord and master -- outward sense/The obedient servant of her will" (XII, 11. 208-223).11 With this in mind, it becomes clear that the opening lines of "Winter Hues Recalled" -- "Life is not all for effort; there are hours/When fancy breaks from the exacting will,/And rebel thought takes schoolboy's holiday,/Rejoicing in its idle strength" (Poems, p. 27) -- do not augur well, in their suggestions of irrationality, immaturity, and irresponsibility, for the recollection of a moment whose vision will be firmly based in imaginative reason and clear perception. The reader should have further misgivings when the "Impetuous" moment that surfaces unbidden from the memory turns out to be one "when with feet/Arrested and spell-bound, and captured eyes/Made wide" in "joy and wonder" the poet beheld the "wintry land" both "Swept with the fires of the sunset. . ." and transformed into "A miracle of colour and of beauty" (Poems, p. 28, italics added). There is even ambiguity in the word "wide," which suggests a vision that is both expanded and (childishly) credulous, and in the fact that the landscape is at once ravaged and enhanced by the fiery sunset. Throughout the introductory verse paragraphs of "Winter Hues Recalled" the reader is pointed by ambiguities of diction and imagery towards the equivocal nature of the experience that the poet has retrieved from the "garner-house of memory" while passively "loitering in [his] dreams. . ." (Poems, pp. 27-28). Simply put, the question that the poem ask the reader to answer is whether the spot of time tranquilly recollected in it belongs with the wheat or the chaff.
The central section of "Winter Hues Recalled" discovers the poet "Marching at ease" (an ambiguous, yet predominantly militaristic phrase) on snowshoes to "southward," which to say towards the region where even the winter sun would shed most light. The "air" is "bright," the "day" is "radiant," and the "snow-packed fields" are "gleaming" (Poems, p. 28). But against the possibility of the poet achieving illumination in and through external nature at this point in the poem there stand several facts. There is his militaristic and rough-shod "stride." There is his concomitant perception of a "great struggle," a "wavering contest," between "sun and frost" in the natural world ("passive minds" says Wordsworth in The Prelude, II, 11. 382-386, cannot observe "affinities"). There is his likening of some distant clouds to "streaks of ash" and of the land's stillness to "sleep," two similes that reflect his own denatured and unawakened consciousness. And, finally, there is the fact that he is virtually oblivious to time ("An hour has passed above me," he says) and that his senses are severely impaired: his ears, "covered" against the cold, cannot hear and his eyes, though "clear," are "unobservant, noting not/ That all the plain beneath [him] and the hills. . ." are taking on "a change of colour splendid, gradual,/ Leaving no spot the same; nor that the sun/ Now like a fiery torrent" is flaming over the western horizon (Poems, pp. 28-29). But just as he is about to turn "homeward," the poet, being, as he says, "heated" and "weary" from snowshoeing, seats himself on the "topmost log" of a "buried fence." Having thus assumed a position that is, potentially, the still point in the turning circle of time and nature, and, moreover, being alerted by the sun and wind to himself and the world, the poet seems ideally situated and prepared for a moment of illumination.
What happens, however, is that he fails to achieve the delicate balance between perception and intellection that was remarked in "Heat." Instead, he allows his mind and sight to be overwhelmed by the aesthetic spectacle of the sunset; dangerously losing his "memory of the frost," he becomes "Transfixed with wonder, overborne with joy," and contents himself with observing and describing the mere optical effects in a "flame" and "rose" tinted prospect which nevertheless includes a city:
In the valley far before me,
Low sunk in sapphire shadows, from its hills,
Softer and lovelier than an opening flower,
Uprose a city with its sun-touched towers,
A bunch of amethysts.
(Poems. p. 30)
This is the distance that lends enchantment, the dream that transmutes reality. Only in the poet's momentary illusions is the city either an (organic) flower or an (exquisite) jewel. That is why the phrase "A bunch of amethysts" does not ring true. More importantly, it is why the poet goes on to admit that, "Like one spell-bound," he has been "Caught" in an attractive and dream-like delusion, encircled and entrapped by a circumambient spectacle, which has rendered him dangerously and irresponsibly oblivious to the real world, to the "keen wind and the deadly air. . ." In Lampman's work enchanting spells must be broken and insufficient dreams shattered; so it is that at the conclusion of "Winter Hues Recalled" the poet is awakened, indeed humanized, by the "warning chill" of actuality and that the poem is followed in the Among the Millet volume by "Storm," a piece which remembers, not Wordsworth, but Shelley, as it explores the "Mad moods" when "We dream ourselves divine. . ." (Poems, p. 32).
It should now be evident that in Lampman's work the times of the day and the year when the sun's energy is waning (albeit spectacularly) or the immediate outlook is darkling are frequently the settings and components of delusive and inauthentic visionary experiences. Before the discussion proceeds, as it must in a moment, to the afternoon/Fall quadrant the summary point needs to be made that the midnight/Winter quadrant tends to associate itself in Lampman's poetry with diagnostic, futuristic and apocalyptic visions that confront the world with its condition of entrapment and, by implication, suggest that illusions are untenable and changes desirable. Needless to say, the very existence of such vision is predicated on the poet's retention, even as he looks into the metallic darkness of the iron age, of his sense that all life, whether animate or inanimate should properly be synchronized with the rhythms of the nature whose organic design not only provided Lampman with the basis for his cosmology but also offers to the excursive mind, the mind that seeks, possesses, creates, and communicates design, intimations of the cosmic rhythms, harmonies, and tendencies of "the All,/God or the Immensity..." Although the midnight/Winter quadrant of Lampman's schema most often associates itself with visions that provide an ironic, realistic, or prophetic commentary on an entrapped, ritualized, and denatured world, it can also, as the nadir of light and life, remember forward to what in the natural cycle is the new light of dawn and the new life of Spring but in the Christian tradition (in which Lampman was, of course, raised) is the resurrection and ascension of the faithful; indeed, the dramatic situation of "Easter Eve" turns on the fact that the "aging" speaker of the monologue was once told by Christ that "when bells at midnight sound. . .(Poems, pp. 69-70) he must "rise" and go with Him to eternal life.
While the quadrants radiating outwards from midday and midnight have a certain paramountcy in Lampman's cosmology, the quadrant emanating from the late afternoon (twilight, Fall, mature-old age, the West, the Bronze Age) also has an important and intelligible place in his poetry. In view of the importance of sunlight for Lampman's visionary poems, it is to be expected that in Fall, when rain and clouds obscure the sun, illumination will be achieved with more difficulty and less frequency. (Confirmation of the fact that clouds and rain militate against illumination for Lampman may be readily obtained from such poems as "After Rain" and "Cloud-Break" in the Lyrics of Earth volume). Since Fall in the Ottawa valley is also a season in which the showy spectacle of decay and death, with its attendant moods of melancholy and morbidity, will tend to make the poet introspective rather than excursive, it is also to be expected that the poems of the afternoon-Fall quadrant will be relatively lean on visionary insights into the human condition. So it is that the "In November" of the Lyrics of Earth volume finds the poet, under a "low ... sky" and after experiencing an empathetic sense of being at one with a stand of "long ... dead," "hermit-like" mullein-stalks, being granted a fleeting moment of illumination: "And as I stood, quite suddenly,/Down from a furrow in the sky/ The sun shone out a little space ... And lit the leaves that lay,/Level and deep within the wood. . ." (Poems, pp. 158-160). This unexpected cloud-break provides the poet, as he stands "shuddering betwixt cold and heat," with "A moment's golden reverie" whose effect, however, is ambiguous: it awakens his rational "thoughts," but in a self-protective manner (he draws them round him "like a cloak") and it produces "something in [his] blood" which is "nameless," "unnatural," "secret," and "austere" -- a response which is limited in value because it militates against communication, true creativity, and even the forces of life itself. The poem which follows "In November" in Lyrics of Earth, "By an Autumn Stream," also sees a "cloudrift" open to provide the poet with a moment of insight which, in this case, is deceptive and spellbinding:
All things that be
Seem plunged into silence, distraught,
By some stern. necessitous thought:
It wraps and enthralls
Marsh, meadow, and forest; and falls
Also on me.
(Poems, p. 161)
Entrapment is the state of the poem who allows the seeming melancholia of Fall to obscure the fact that, in the organic cycle of natural things, when Winter comes Spring cannot be far behind. In "By an Autumn Stream" and "In November," as in "A Vision of Twilight," where the poet achieves one of his rare glimpses of a good city, a celestial city whose "glamour" is "soft" with a pristine "gold" but concludes by asking "Which is real? The fleeting vision?/ Or the fleeting world of men?" (Poems, pp. 195-198), the short-lived light of evening and Fall produces limited, confusing, and relatively unilluminating apprehensions.
It is a matter of some significance that to the poet of "In November" the mullein-stalks "seem" to be, not merely "hermit folk," but "hermit folk" who have been struck dead in the midst of "their compline prayer," for surely to Lampman, the antisacerdotalist who detested the sorrowful and depressing rituals of the Church,12 little of value could come from a deluded participation in a dubious activity. Some credence is lent to this view by "In October," the poem in which the Wordsworthian cathedral of nature is depicted, not merely as a wasteland of sorrowful catholic ritual, but as a barrier ("bar") standing between the poet and the sky, itself the seat of the sun and stars, the emblem of infinity, and the focus of prescient and transcendant vision for Lampman. The first two stanzas of "In October" find the poet, as we would expect, facing the almost lightless "west" where "The pines/ Like tall slim priests ... stand up and bar/ The low long strip of dolorous red that lines/ The under west. . ." (italics added) (Poems, p. 21). (The blocking quality of the priest-like pines in the context is made all the more ironical by Lampman's more orthodox description, in his At the Mermaid Inn column, of the pine as "the priest of the forest, leading heavenward the thoughts of men and the flights of birds."13) The "windheaped traceries" of the leaves in "In October" are part of a dead landscape devoid both of life ("The cornfields all are brown. . .") and of life-sustaining elements (there is "no bloom for bees"), but not of the sounds of misery: the "sad trees" and dying leaves "murmur incoherently" from "pain-crazed lips ... low soft masses for the ... / ... leaves that live no more." The second, and last, two stanzas of "In October" find the poet locating himself within the landscape on a "naked stone" -- an image suggestive both of a Catholic altar divested of its trappings and of a sacrificial, Pre-Christian religion -- the "conquered creed" whose unintelligible (and sibylline) "markings [and] ... runes" he can sense in the "dry dead leaves. . ." of Fall. Once seated on the "naked stone" -- which is probably to suggest, not only that he had become the still point in the landscape, but also that he is rejecting the sacerdotal, and, perhaps, affirming the Pre-Christian -- he characteristically draws his "coat closer" about him with "numbed hands" against the cold. Through a willed act of empathy with the dead landscape -- "I will," he says "send my heart out to the ashen lands" -- he first realizes the limitations of the seductive but irrational "visions" of "golden madness" that had endeared themselves to him "last month" and then achieves a release from the "pain of ... lurid hue" that had coloured his perception of the landscape earlier in the poem. "In October" ends with the poet, "still and very gray and dreary" like the "Sweet sombre lands," having achieved a bitter-sweet harmony with the autumnal landscape but having learned little, if anything, from his melancholy experience in the ritualized and unilluminated landscape of Fall.
There is a sense in which both "In November" and "In October" are not merely poems of the Fall but also, consistent with the quadrant in which they locate themselves, poems of the late-nineteenth century, of the twilight of civilization, the "transit age, the age of brass. . ." as Lampman calls his own times in "The Modern Politician" (Poems, p. 277). In a well-known letter to his friend E.W. Thomson the poet permits us a valuable insight to his conception of the place of Christianity in the history of Western thought: "in the old days when men were children," he writes, "they were worshippers of light and joy. Apollo and Aphrodite and Dionysus were enough for them but the world is grown old now ... It is sad and moody and full of despair, and it cleaves to Christ, its natural refuge." Cardinal Newman's "Lead kindly light/ Amid the encircling gloom," he writes in the same letter, has "hit it exactly."14 As poems such as "The Three Pilgrims," "Easter Eve," and "The Martyrs" (Poems, p. 115) make abundantly clear, Lampman had moments of almost Hardean longing for the faith of the Early Christians. He could even write wistfully in "To Chaucer" (and notice his use of a seasonal analogue to describe the High Middle Ages): "Twas high midspring, when thou wert here on earth,/ . . . and the new world was just begun ... We believe/Neither in God, humanity, nor self. . ." (Poems, p. 271). There can be little doubt that the contrast between past and present, between the comprehensive faith of the Early Christians and the gloomy religion of the darkling plain, gave strength to Lampman's fear that his own age was a twilight zone on the edge of night, a "transit," brazen age which would soon give way to the dehumanized, iron world of "The City of The End of Things." In brighter moments, however, Lampman believed that "the main current of the human spirit, through many changes and many falls, is setting eternally towards a condition of order, and divine beauty and peace" (SP, p. 93); and he believed, too, that it was the task of the poet to assist that forward tendency, that movement towards a new Golden Age. But from his letter to Thompson, as well as from "In October" and, perhaps also, from "In November," it is clear that Lampman found the depressing Christianity of the nineteenth-century Church a hindrance rather than a help in his own efforts to achieve illumination, to write with a clear and happy intelligence, and, hence, to assist in the meliorization of mankind.
Just as the midnight-Winter quadrant of Lampman's cosmology could inform poems in which a clarity of observation, a keenness of thought, and a sympathy for mankind are paramount, so the afternoon-Fall quadrant can occasionally spawn comprehensive visions of life. One such vision is to be found in the sonnet entitled "In November" near the end of the Among the Millet volume. There the poet is able calmly to accept the movement towards darkness and death in the diurnal and seasonal cycles because with eyesight informed by sympathetic reason, with learned and imaginative eyes, he achieves a vision that is cogniscent of men working happily in and with nature to assure survival through the winter and regeneration in the spring:
In shouting file
The woodsmen's carts go by me homeward-wheeled,
Past the thin fading stubbles, half-concealed,
Now golden-gray, sowed softly through with snow,
Where the last ploughman follows still his row,
Turning black furrows through the whitening field.
Far off the village lamps begin to gleam....
(Poems, p. 117)
The "golden-gray" is present in this grisaille to remember forward from the gray of death to the gold of the growth made possible by the labour of the ploughman and by the grace of the nature which, even now, has "sowed" the stubble "through with snow," with a source of fertilizing water. By the end of "In November" the poet, though solitary, is not an unaccommodated man; by seeing and understanding the organic cycles of nature and man's involvement in them, he has achieved a comprehensive or 'rounded' perspective on life, a contented equipoise in which watching and dreaming are in harmony:
Fast drives the snow, and no man comes this way;
The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan
About the naked uplands. I alone
Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray,
Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream.
(Poems, p. 117)15
Such lines show that in the twilight-Fall quadrant (though admittedly "In November" partakes generously of the Winter-Spring movement of the seasonal cycle) Lampman was able to achieve an ideal state of being "shelterless" but "content" because contained within an all-, and therefore self-, inclusive circle of tranquil thought.
At first it might seem strange that Spring, traditionally the season of "young lovers" (Poems, p. 137), birth, and rejuvenation, is the least important of the four seasons in Lampman's poetry. When it is remembered, however, that Spring in the Ottawa valley is not the extended process of regeneration that it is in, say, England or Victoria, B.C., but, rather, a brief phenomenon that comes late after a long Winter and yields quickly to full Summer, it becomes easier to understand why in Lampman's work the dawn-Spring-youth-East-Golden Age quadrant lies relatively fallow, why 'Spring' poems are considerably less in evidence than 'Winter' and 'Summer' poems, and why the associations of the Golden Age tend to accrue to noon-Summer in his cosmology. (Two further factors, one merely practical and the other more humanistic, could have discouraged Lampman in his use of the morning-Spring quadrant: as an employee of the Post Office he would, presumably, have had to concentrate his energies on getting to work early in the morning, and, probably more important, in rating the stages of human life he assigned "the season of youth" a position decidedly inferior to "early middle age" [SP, p. 109]). For Lampman, the experiences of Spring, the sowing of wild oats to be harvested as memories, and the hatching of poetic plans which do not always come to maturity (see "The Meadow," Poems, pp. 134-137), are a preparation for the more settled and less agitated period of full maturity. Nevertheless they could in themselves yield a mindless and merely sensual happiness akin to that of "young lovers" who "Deem that they have their utmost worship's worth,/ If love be near them, just to hear and see" (Poems, p. 137, italics added). And, as "April in the Hills" from the morning-Spring section of Lyrics of Earth indicates, Lampman could take advantage of the "lucid air" and fairly clear "noon" skies of April to "break the spirit's cloudy bands . . ., bathe [his] spirit in blue skies,/ ... taste the springs of life," and, by participating in the rejuvenation of spring, achieve a state of transcendental unity with all nature:
I feel the tumult of new birth;
I waken with the wakening earth;
I match the bluebird in her mirth;
And wild with wind and sun,
A treasurer of unmortal days,
I roam the glorious world with praise,
The hillsides and the woodland ways,
Till earth and I are one.
(Poems, p. 128)
The ecstatic happiness of this, the final stanza of "April in the Hills," is chastened by the ensuing poem, "Forest Moods" with its concluding image of "the pale wood-daffodil ... /Agloom with the doom of a sorrowful race" (Poems, p. 129); Lampman can allow himself to participate in the childlike innocence of a Spring in which even the wind is perceived as "romping" (Poems, p. 128), but, for him, consciousness of the dark, portentous side of life will not, cannot, be far behind if that life is to be seen steadily and whole.
For Lampman, then, the morning-Spring quadrant is a brief period of growth suspended in time before the inevitable movement towards the bright noon and dark night of mature life with their attendant potentialities and dangers. Like nature itself, Spring is to be enjoyed as a rejuvenating and regenerative period of happiness and tranquility, but not as an avenue of escape, a bower of bliss or a "land of Cockagne" (SP, p. 106), which divests the poet of purpose by rendering him oblivious to or unconcerned with the problems of mankind. The vacuum left by Christianity in Lampman's life was filled by Socialism, a fact which ensures that, for him, ecstatic experience in nature provides not an escape from but a context for activity in the world of men. To someone of Lampman's political persuasions, all past and all present experiences, be they in nature or not, are prologue to action in the social sphere, action which, if he is a poet, means writing verses that will "keep mankind in the gradual and eternal movement toward order and divine beauty and peace" (SP, p. 104). These are the reason why in the Keatsian "April," the second, and a key, poem in the Among the Millet volume, the poet rejoices in an almost epithalamic communion with the "unvexed ... Maid month" of Spring, a communion which is purgative and restorative in that it allows him utterly to forget the shallowness and unnaturalness of a work-a-day world that is hostile to communication (and hence to community) and to idealism, but then turns "homeward" to the "dissonant roar" and the "hot heart" of the city. What the poet has achieved through his communion with April is a renewal of "calm hope" and a freedom from "desire or fret" which will enable him to pour out a balm upon the world. This psychological state of hopeful equinamity enables him to transcend through acceptance the darker and less attractive aspects of life (as he makes his way towards the city he cleaves through "cedar shadows" and perceives a "Mist of gnats that cloud the river shore . . ." as "Sweet" and "Soft") and, hence, to offer the times and his readers "Gifts of meek song ... So that" -- in the concluding lines of "April" -- "we toil, brothers, without distress,/ In calm-eyed peace and godlike blamelessness" (Poems, p. 6), which is to say work as part of a fraternal community whose members, through the efforts of one of their number, the poet, have achieved a measure of tranquility and freedom from guilt within a fallen world. The fact that in the penultimate stanza of "April" the poet is "untroubled yet" (italics mine) by the city, and that, in Among the Millet, "April" is followed by "An October Sunset" with its closing image of ". . . the gray border of the night begun" (Poems, p. 7), indicates that, for Lampman, the humanitarian task of refashioning the world necessitates continual -- though not continuous -- contacts with the liberating and sustaining forces of nature, and, no less, continual returns to the work-a-day world of the city.
There is one more poem from the morning-Spring quadrant, "The Favorites of Pan" from Lyrics of Earth, which must detain the discussion for a few moments before it proceeds to examine in detail more of the major visionary poems in the Among the Millet volume. "The Favorites of Pan," as has been discussed elsewhere, 16 recounts a tale of how the "goat-foot Pan," identified by Lampman with the "sweet sound" of nature which, when heard especially "In April," "At noon and in the quiet of the night. . ." releases the tired "listener" from the cares of the world into a pristine vision of the unfallen world, bequeathed the power of his song, his "note divinely large," to the frogs of all lands. Listeners who are predisposed by their innocent and untroubled "love [of] life" are able, the poem concludes, to enter "again into the eternal mood/ Wherein the world was made" through the agency of the "Strange flute-like voices. . ." of frogs (Poems, pp. 131-133). There will be more to say about frogs and their power when the discussion turns to the sonnet-sequence which bears their name. The point that must be made'here is that the goat-god Pan, whose gift, whether direct or indirect, is to permit his listeners to participate in a Golden Age dream, a joyous and pristine vision that nevertheless enables them to "see, wide on the eternal way,/ The services of earth, the life of man. . ." (Poems, p. 132), represents for Lampman a type both of the poet and of the human nature from which and to which he speaks. "Human nature," he writes in "The Modern School of Poetry in England," "may be represented by the ancient Pan -- half human and half beast -- but the human is the mightier part, and the whole is ever striving to be divine" (SP, p. 93). And in "The Poets," the sonnet located near the end of Among the Millet, Lampman characterizes poets as the "Children of Pan" who are
Half brutish, half divine, but all of earth,
Half-way 'twixt hell and heaven, near to man,
Full of this human torture and this mirth:
Life with its hope and error, toil and bliss,
Earth-born, earth-reared, ye know it as it is. (Poems, p. 114)
Here, again, is the vision of human life which comprehends all its dualities, its polarities, its dreams (heaven) and its fears (hell), and which affirms, uncompromisingly, the poet's alignment with "earth" and "man," with the world "as it is." Lampman criticism has not always paid sufficient attention to the fact that his vision, even when focused on nature, is "near to man" -- humanitarian, and so vitally concerned with bettering the human condition. Without that realization, a full understanding of Lampman's major poems and of their place in his canon is impossible.
To be continued.
1 This and subsequent quotations from Lampman's verse are taken from The Poems of Archibald Lampman (Including At the Long Sault), ed., and with an Introduction, by Margaret Coulby Whitridge (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974) and are cited as Poems in the text.
2 See the Introduction to Archibald Lampman: Lyrics of Earth (1895), ed. D.M.R. Bentley (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1978), pp. 11-14.
3 My debts to and departures from previous criticism will be everywhere evident in this essay; the work of Desmond Pacey, F. W. Watt, and Barrie Davies is especially present in the background of the essay, however, as are conversations with several colleagues and friends at the University of Western Ontario.
4 See Poems, p. 311 and Archibald Lampman: Selected Prose, ed., and with an Introduction, by Barrie Davies (Ottawa: Tecumseh, 1975), p. 125, hereafter cited in the text as SP.
5 'A Reading of Lampman's 'Heat'," in Archibald Lampman,ed., and with an Introduction, by Michael Gnarowski (Toronto: Ryerson, 1970), pp. 181-184. Hereafter this volume will be cited in the text as AL.
6 "Introductory: The Animal Story," in his The Kindred of the Wild: A Book of Animal Life (Boston: L.C. Page, 1902), p. 29.
7 "In Harmony with Nature," Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold, ed., and with an Introduction, by A. Dwight Culler (Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1961), p. 27. Hereafter cited, in the text, as MA.
8 For a discussion of the function of light imagery in this poem see "Rossetti's Bride-Chamber Talk," Wascana Review, 11 (Fall, 1976), 83-97.
9 A more detailed discussion of the forrn of "The City of the End of Things" can be found in "A New Dimension; Notes on the Ecology of Canadian Poetry," Canadian Poetry: Studies. Documents. Reviews. 7 (Fall/Winter, 1980), 1-20.
10 "The Fall of Hyperion," 11. 148-149 in Keats Poetical Works, ed., and with an Introduction, by H.W. Garrod (Oxford: O.U.P., 1956), p. 406. Hereafter cited in the text as JK.
11 The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth. ed. E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (Oxford: Clarendon, 1966). This and subsequent quotations from Wordsworth's poetry are taken from this five-volume editionand are designated in the text.
12 See SP, p. 124 and Poems. p. 138. "Life and Nature," it may be noted incidentally, is a poem which presents two simple-minded and deluded notions of "Life" -- the first, achieved in "the midst of the city," that Life is merely "sad" and the second, achieved "on the earth's quiet breast," that Life is merely "sweet" (Poems, p. 139).
13At the Mermaid Inn: Wilfred Campbell. Archibald Lampman. Duncan Campbell Scott in The Globe, 1892-1893, ed., and with an introduction, by Barrie Davies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), p. 37. Hereafter cited as MI.
14 See SP, pp. 124-125.
15 It is possible that Lampman's "I alone . . ." refers wittily to Arnold's "Resignation": "From some high station [the poet] looks down,/ At sunset, on a populous town;/Surveys each happy group, which fleets,/ Toil ended, through the shining streets,/Each with some errand of its own -- / And does not say: I am alone" (AM, pp. 40-41).
16 See "Pan and the Confederation Poets," Canadian Literature, 81 (Summer, 1979), 59-71.