The Confederation Poets I

The Confederation Poets is the first distinctly Canadian school of poetry. It includes the four writers in Malcolm Ross’s anthology “Poets of the Confederation” (1960): Sir Charles G.D. Roberts, his cousin Bliss Carman, Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott. Close contemporaries, all of them were born in the early 1860s and had prominence between 1867 and the Great War.

They share some common traits and background:

They had a Victorian education and were trained in the Greek and Roman classics, they blend cosmopolitism with Canadian nationalism, they draw from the Canadian landscape, the worship of nature is a main theme in their writing, they adopt Pan – the Arcadian fertility god of wild nature and patron of pastoral poets – as the centre of their personal mythology, they are linked to British Romantic-Victorian literary tradition and with American trascendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau).

Charles G.D. Roberts is the founder of this school of poetry. Roberts enjoyed a boyhood in close contact with the wilderness until his father accepted a post in Fredericton, away from the Tantramar region of New Brunswick. Once in Fredericton Collegiate School, he met his cousin Bliss Carman. Back in New Brunswick, he began writing poetry. He published over 21 volumes of poetry, among them “Orion & other poems” (1880), under the influence of Keats, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Arnold, “Diverse Tones” (1886), which includes his famous poem “Tantramar Revisited”. He is credited for inventing the modern animal story. In his famous work “Earth Enigmas” (1896) animals are victims of the laws of nature. It is based on direct observation and free of didacticism.

new brunswick

Bliss Carman faced serious difficulties throughout his life, all of them related to his incapacity for making decisions. He only left his parents’ house after their death. He worked for two years for a religious weekly in New York and then in journalistic positions and giving lectures. From 1892 on, he lived as a visitor with many friends and relatives, his income being never sufficient to support himself. From 1908 on, he lived with Dr. and Mrs. King. He produced over 50 books of light verse, nostalgic tone, pastoral theme and Edenic setting (more obscure in his later volumes). He had always been interested in quasi-religious philosophies, especially with Mrs. King’s pantheism. Throughout his life he suffered from bouts of depression interspersed with manic joy, process which is reflected in his most effective poetry.

Archibald Lampman read Roberts’ “Orion” in 1881 and got astounded by it, sending a “fan letter” to Roberts. He wrote nature poems in which the descriptions are minutely detailed, compared to those of Roberts’ poetry. He combined his poetry writing with his post as a Post Office clerk in Ottawa, where he developed a close friendship with Duncan Campbell Scott. Both of them disliked urban life and took trips to the countryside.

Duncan Campbell Scott was very skilled with lyric forms due to his love for music. His poems are full of alliterative lines. As a clerk in the Indian Branch, he was able to explore the Canadian wilderness & to come into contact with Native Canadians, whom he idealized in his poems, full of Christian imagery.

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