Sunday, October 12, 2008

If you're on the hunt for examples of bad-tempered poetry, look no further. 

from The Emigrant [Winter in Lower Canada]

Standish O'Grady (1793-1841)

Thou barren waste; unprofitable strand
Where hemlocks brood on unproductive land,
Whose frozen air on one bleak winter's night
Can metamorphose dark brown hares to white!

Here forests crowd, unprofitable lumber,
O'er fruitless lands indefinite as number;
Where birds scarce light, and with the north winds veer
On wings of wind, and quickly disappear,
Here the rough Bear subsists his winter year,
And licks his paw and finds no better fare . . . .

The lank Canadian eager trims his fire,
And all around their simpering stoves retire;
With fur clad friends their progenies abound,
And thus regale their buffaloes around. . . .
Perchance they revel; still around they creep,
And talk, and smoke, and spit, and drink, and sleep!

Of course, some would argue with this point of view, preferring the robust optimism of Robert Hayman (c. 1575-1629), author of "The Pleasant Life in Newfoundland":

You say that you would live in Newfound-land,
Did not this one thing your conceit withstand;
You fear the Winters cold, sharp, piercing ayre.
They love it beste, that have once wintered there.
Winter is there, short, wholesome, constant, cleare,
Not thicke, unwholesome, shuffling, as 'tis here.

Both poems appear in The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English, edited by Margaret Atwood, an excellent anthology containing a wide variety of poems about snow, logging, slugs, crazy women, Bible reading, and other subjects common to cold lonely places.

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