Landscapes: Shaping Identies

Introduction:

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity…and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself” (William Blake).

This anthology, of mostly Canadian poets, attempts to capture the landscapes of our lives. This is no small feat given the size and scope of this land and a life, but the hope is that in some way you will be able to relate to or connect with some of the perspectives of the landscapes that surround us. For the most part, physical landscapes are represented in these poems: the seasons, the locations, the elements of nature. “The Lonely Land” and “Lake” remind us of the strength and beauty of the natural world whereas “Summer Song” and “The Sound of Trees” reflect our thinking about our lives within the context of nature. “The Brown-eyed Dog” rounds out this small collection with imagery that contrasts the landscapes of natural world and the human world and demands that “we’ve got to find a new way/and it’s got to be true”.  I hope this anthology helps us, in some small way, find that path.

 

“The Lonely Land”

When considering “The Lonely Land” by A.J. M. Smith from a reader response perspective, it becomes clear that the reader will have to bring his or her experiences with the Canadian shield to the poem.  I grew up in northern Quebec where cedars and firs look nothing like they do here on Manitoulin Island. Trees struggle to survive where the soil is thin and the granite shield is dominant. And yet they are mighty and resilient standing the test of time against everything Mother Nature has thrown at them. Smith captures how I feel about the North when he writes “This is a beauty/of dissonance” (23-24). “This” is the tension that exists in nature between her violent storms (“Cedar and jagged fir uplift sharp barbs”) and peaceful moments (“in the lapping of water/on smooth, flat stones”). There is nothing pastoral about the North. No rolling drumlins, no unfolding prairie fields. This is, rather, the land that compels us to be resilient and rugged, and that is the beauty that “The Lonely Land” captures.


 

“Lake”

When considering “Lake” by Dale Zieroth from a reader response perspective, our experiences with water, especially those having to do with the lakes of this country are paramount. Although I currently live on an island, which by definition means that there is water nearby, I think the size of the lake is what is important here. Lake Huron is vast and it doesn’t give me “this view/ that is panorama” (8-9) that an inland lake does. My lake was called Black Bay. I grew up on this lake. It’s where I swam and fished and learned to paddle a canoe. It’s also where I day dreamed about my life. Zieroth awakens my memories of that time here:

In the morning, along the vacant shore,

when the water is still cool

and the trees bend down as if to drink,

there is a quietness like the deer who come for water (1-4)

I would not have seen deer in that part of northern Quebec, but I did see moose. The morning is a glorious time to be at water’s edge. There is so much promise in the day that sits before us; it’s reassuring. So too, does the water call to us at the end of the day. Now it’s not the promise of what lies ahead, but reflection and consideration of what has been.

and I

step back so  easily into

a void at the end of the day where the

calm is waiting and I can kneel down and let it touch my hands, let it

cool the palms and wash upwards over the shoulders (19-23)

Lakes are a quintessential part of the Canadian landscape. And beyond their use for transportation and recreation and as a source of food, lakes provide us with a connection to this place. The lake can be “company enough” (25).


Brown-eyed Dog

“Brown-eyed Dog”, a song by Blue Rodeo, articulates despair at the present and a longing for change. This may be about a personal relationship specifically, but it might also be a reflection of our world more generally. The song relies heavily on sensory imagery to set the scene. Colour is used to help create the mood in the poem. “Slate-gray”, “brown” and “blue” are clustered together, which conveys a depressive mood. There is nothing shiny or bright in this world. Other visual imagery includes the contrast of the natural world and the man-made world. “[This] beautiful crack in the pavement/where the grass grows tall” suggests strongly that something is not right in this place. The man-made world has been disrupted and the natural world is reestablishing itself. This is a world where the speaker has woken up to the obvious destruction around him, where he is journeying “all alone” on “an endless stretch of abandoned highway”, and where he “feels like a ghost”. And yet, there is a sense of hope. Love can save us if we can find a way to escape this bleak world, the ruins that lay at our feet. If we can “dig/a tunnel to the sun”, we can start again.


Works Cited

Blue Rodeo. “Brown-eyed Dog.” Nowhere to Here. Warner, 1995. CD.

Frost, R. “The Sound of Trees.” The Poetry of Robert Frost. New York:

Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1969. 156. Print.

—. “Spring Pools.” The Poetry of Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart

and Winston. 1969. 245. Print.

Lampman, A. “Winter Uplands.” Literature & Media 11. Toronto:

Nelson-Thompson Learning. 2001. 227. Print.

“Landscape and Poetry.” Art of the Imagination. Web. 10 May 15.

Lee, D. “Summer Song.” The Gods. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart

Limited. 1979. 25. Print.

Smith, A.J.M. “The Lonely Land.” Classic Shade. Toronto: McClelland &

Stewart. 1978. Print.

Zieroth, D. “Lake.” Clearing: Poems from a Journey. Toronto: House of

Anansi Press Limited. 1973. 62. Print.

The Lonely Land

This is where I grew up.

The Jack Pine  (1916-17) by Tom Thomson 

The Lonely Land (1926) by A. J. M. Smith

Cedar and jagged fir

uplift sharp barbs

against the gray

and cloud-piled sky;

and in the bay

blown spume and windrift

and thin, bitter spray

snap

at the whirling sky;

and the pine trees

lean one way.

A wild duck calls

to her mate,

and the ragged

and passionate tones

stagger and fall,

and recover,

and stagger and fall,

on these stones —

are lost

in the lapping of water

on smooth, flat stones.

This is a beauty

of dissonance,

this resonance

of stony strand,

this smoky cry

curled over a black pine

like a broken

and wind-battered branch

when the wind

bends the tops of the pines

and curdles the sky

from the north.

This is the beauty

of strength

broken by strength

and still strong.

A. J. M. Smith, “The Lonely Land” from Classic Shade (McClelland & Stewart, 1978). Copyright © 1978 A. J. M. Smith.

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