Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meet Archibald Lampman--Winter Poetry

I first met Mr. Lampman, a nineteenth-century Canadian poet, through the music of Loreena McKennitt. Her version of his poem "Snow" plays perfectly with the detail of his language, picking up the hollow, cold, breathtaking beauty of the winter months.

A video featuring the song--I didn't create this one, but I love many of the images!



So I started scrounging for more Lampman poetry. Archibald was a failed high school teacher and a low-grade Post Office clerk, which proves once again that you never know what secret genius might run beneath the surface of the ordinary folk you run into on your errands. And despite earning some success with his poetry, he worked as a low-paid postal clerk for the rest of his short life. He died at 37 years of age of a heart condition and was buried in a cemetery he had earlier immortalized in a poem.

I love Lampman's work, but I think he is at his brightest when he writes about winter.

This first poem holds a special significance for me--the reference to snowshoes makes me think of the hours I've spent tramping through snow-covered woods as evening began its descent.

Winter Uplands

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;
The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew
Across the open fields for miles ahead;
The far-off city towered and roofed in blue
A tender line upon the western red;
The stars that singly, then in flocks appear,
Like jets of silver from the violet dome,
So wonderful, so many and so near,
And then the golden moon to light me home--
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost, and beauty everywhere.

What I think really strikes me about Lampman is his ability to weave language--the poem's meaning is not only the textbook definition of the words, but in the sounds and rhythms he employs. "Golden moon to light me home"--there is a roundness and a richness there that speaks of being overwhelmed by the beauty in the familiar and the tenderness of home--a sentiment that resounds with me when I think of my own snowshoe hikes.

There's a hardness to the next poem, an edge that reminds the reader of the bitter side of winter:

Winter Evening

To-night the very horses springing by
Toss gold from whitened nostrils. In a dream
The streets that narrow to the westward gleam
Like rows of golden palaces; and high
From all the crowded chimneys tower and die
A thousand aureoles. Down in the west
The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest,
One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly
The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel
A mightier master; soon from height to height,
With silence and the sharp unpitying stars,
Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel,
Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars,
Glittering and still shall come the awful night.

I hope you enjoy Lampman--as a reader, I fall headlong into him, and as a writer, I take inspiration from his deft use of language. More of his work is available online if you'd like to read more.

Plus I love his many-hued and textured ways to describe winter--what word or words would you pick to describe winter?

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