Queen's UniversittyDepartment of English
ENGL 215 (F)

 

"The Lonely Land" by A.J.M. Smith

“The Lonely Land” first appeared in the McGill Fortnightly Review on 9 January 1926. Smith continued to revise the poem, and the final, further improved version appeared in the American poetry magazine The Dial in June 1929 (Ferns 46). It later went on to be published in the first collection of modernist Canadian poems called New Provinces, which was edited by F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith.

Smith’s “The Lonely Land was inspired by both Imagist poetry and the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian landscape painters. This poem “has the same kind of place in Canadian poetry that Tom Thomson’s ‘Jack Pine’ has in Canadian painting. In fact ‘The Lonely Land’ was originally subtitled ‘Group of Seven’” (Ferns 46). The Group of Seven painted bleak but true-to-life Canadian landscapes. The paintings depicted the natural beauty of the land without romanticizing it. Smith’s poetry serves the same purpose through its Imagist influence. An imagist poem “abandon[s] conventional limits on poetic materials and versification [and] is free to choose any subject” and “undertakes to render as precisely, vividly, and tersely as possible…the writer’s impression of a visual object or scene” (Abrams 152).

Smith begins the poem in a bleak setting:

Cedar and jagged fir
uplift sharp barbs
against the grey
and cloud-piled sky (1-4).

John Ferns writes, “In the first stanza we are presented with a harsh, northern Canadian lakescape of the kind encountered in a Group of Seven canvas” (46). The description gives a sense of a distinct landscape, different from the landscape poetry of the Romantic and Victorian poets. Smith focuses on the landscape that can only be found in Canada. The poem breaks away from traditional form and works in free verse. This breaking away from traditional form mirrors the breaking away from the traditional descriptions of a beautiful, romantic landscape found in poetry before this time. Ferns writes, “In the second stanza a lonely bird sound intensifies the already bleak picture” (47). The stanza starts with the lines, “A wild duck calls / to her mate” (12-13), which calls in the wild nature of the landscape. Smith writes this poem about the untouched beauty of the Canadian landscape. The landscape is classed as beautiful because it does not rely on humankind to make it look that way. The natural, untouched beauty of the land is something that is by far more powerful than human-made beauty. “Having created his bleak picture and filled it with laconic sound," Ferns writes, "Smith tries to tell us in stanza three what kind of ‘beauty’ this landscape possesses” (47). For Smith, this landscape creates “a beauty / of dissonance” (23-24). The beauty of the landscape is found in the variety and difference that it holds. The bleak setting still allows for the duck to call her mate, showing that the dreary setting does not take away from the natural beauty.

Smith takes the influence of the Imagists and combines it with the influence of the Group of Seven. The true Canadian landscapes that the Group of Seven depicted are the pure Image of Smith’s poetry. The vividness of “The Lonely Land” speaks directly to its imagist influence and works together perfectly with the Group of Seven influence.

Jessica Langlois

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009. 152. Print.

Ferns, John. A.J.M. Smith. Boston : Twayne Publishers, 1979. 46-47. Print.