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CANADIAN ANTHOLOGIES, NEW AND OLD A. J. M. SMITH THE publication, in Canada, the United States, and England, of a compact anthology of Canadian poetry in the widely circulated Penguin Books1 is an event of more than literary importance . For quite apart from its merit the new book seems, as one of the reviewers in the Toronto press put it, "foredoomed" to have a big sale not only in Canada but throughout the whole English-speaking world. People in England and America who want to know whether Canada has an intellectual and spiritual identity are going to seek an answer in the hundred and twenty pages of this book. That they may perhaps be a little disappointed is not Mr Gustafson's fault. His scope was hardly large enough, and he has wisely avoided attempting the impossible. There is refreshingly little in his introduction-as there is much in the prefaces of previous anthologists-about Nationhood, Empire, the Canadian Spirit, and abstractions of that sort. Instead he merely tells us that he has tried to make a small collection of good poems written by Canadians since Confederation. "I have measured anq judged my material," he writes, "not by historical significance nor by 'Canadianism' but in terms of vitality. . . . I am hoping that the poems herein will become synonymous with pleasure." This is admirable, for it enallles us to discuss the book as poetry and to discover why, although it is much slighter than many previous Canadian anthologies, it is one of the best that has ever been made. Such a statement is not in itself, alas, very high praise, and there is much more to be said in favour of the new collection than that, just as there is something to be said also about the weakening· effect of the limitations imposed upon the compiler. The book is so good that we are surprised and a little annoyed that it isn't better. It is the purpose of this article to examine the new antho1ogy in the light of some of the more important anthologies which, from 1864 to the present, have given us a series of views of Canadian 1Anthology of Canadian Poetry (English), compiled by Ralph Gustafson, Penguin Books, 1942. 457 458 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY poetry at various stages of its development and have helped to establish a tradition of ideas and values that are now in the process of being modified under the impact of criticism like that- of Mr E. K. Brown and Mr W. E. Collin, and poetry like that of the younger writers represented in the final pages of Mr Gustafson's collection. One of the most surprising things about Canadian anthologies is the number of them. In addition to the inclusive major worksEdward Hartley Dewart's Selections from Canadian Poets (1864), W. D. Lighthall's Songs of the Great Dominion (1889), Theodore Harding Rand's A Treasury of Canadian Verse (1900), Wilfred Campbell's Oxford Book of Canadian J/erse (1913), and John Vv. Garvin's Canadian Poets (1916 and 1926)__:_there have been a number of small fastidious selections of short lyrics-Mrs S. Frances Harrison's A Canadian Birthday Book (1887) and Lawrence J. Burpee's Flowers from a Canadian Garden (1909) and A Century of Canadian Sonnets (1910) are the best of these-and a fairly large number of books designed for use in schools and colleges. Among these one of the best was E. A. Hardy's Selections from Canadian Poets (1906), though the most useful to the student today is Carman and Pierce's Our Canadian Literature (revised 1935). A. M. Stephen's Golden Treasury of Canadian Lyrics (l928) is mainly maple fudge, while the explanatory notes are on an appropriately puerile level. One of the most useful functions of an anthology is to introduce the work of young or unknown writers or to present new developments in technique and feeling. The last pages of the new collection concern themselves with this task, but there have been two significant little books, one published as early as 1893 and one as recently as 1936, which were mainly occupied with this pioneering work. These were J. E...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 457-474
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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