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The Collected Poems of Miriam Waddington


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Miriam Waddington's verse is deceptively accessible: it is personal but never private, emotional but not confessional, thoughtful but never cerebral. The subtlety of her craft is the hallmark of a modernist poet whose work opens to the world and its readers. She details intoxicating romance and mature love, the pleasures of marriage and motherhood, the experience of raising two sons to adulthood, and the ineffable pain of divorce. As she moved through life, she wrote clearly and uncompromisingly about the vast sweep of Canada, her travels to new lands, the passage of time, the death of her ex-husband, the loss of close friends and, later, of growing old.



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Date de parution 08 mai 2014
Nombre de lectures 4
EAN13 9780776621531
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

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The Collected Poems
ARCHIVESThe Collected Poems
of Miriam Waddington%
The University of Ottawa Press acknowledges with gratitude the support extended to its
publishing list by Heritage Canada through the Canada Book Fund, by the Canada
Council for the Arts, by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences through the
Awards to Scholarly Publications Program and by the University of Ottawa. The
University of Ottawa Press also acknowledges with gratitude nancial and editorial
support from Editing Modernism in Canada.
Copy editing: Trish O’Reilly-Brennan
Proofreading: Johanne Muzak
Typesetting: infographie CS
Cover design: Johanna Pedersen
Cover art: Open Window, 1951, by Ghitta Caiserman © National Gallery of Canada,
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Waddington, Miriam,
The collected poems of Miriam Waddington / edited by Ruth Panofsky.
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
Issued in print and electronic formats.
ISBN 978-0-7766-2153-1 (epub)
I. Panofsky, Ruth, editor II. Title.
PS8545.A18A17 2014 C811’.54 C2014-902886-5
Reproduced with permission from Jonathan and Marcus Waddington from the Estate of
Miriam Waddington
© University of Ottawa Press, 2014
Printed in CanadaFor Seymour Mayne
friend to Miriam Waddington and my true allyC o n t e n t s
Chronology of Waddington’s Awards and Publications
Works Cited
Editorial Principles
Previously Published Poems
Previously Unpublished and Uncollected Poems—Selected
A c k n o w l e d g e m e n t s
he preparation of a critical edition is always a large, collaborative undertaking
and this edition of Miriam Waddington’s verse is no exception. I welcome theTopportunity to acknowledge the invaluable aid I have received in support of this
editorial project. I have bene ted greatly from the community of scholars associated
with Editing Modernism in Canada (EMiC), a Strategic Research Network Project
funded under the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s
(SSHRC) Strategic Knowledge Cluster. Since April 2008 under the direction of Principal
Investigator Dean Irvine, professor of English at Dalhousie University, EMiC has brought
together textual scholars from across Canada, as well as England, France, and the
United States. EMiC’s mandate is directed primarily toward the production of critical
editions of texts by modernist Canadian authors. My work on this edition of Miriam
Waddington’s collected poetry has been carried out under the aegis of EMiC, and I am
grateful to Dean Irvine for inviting my communal participation in this necessary and
laudable project.
Support for this edition has come from EMiC, in the form of two research assistant
positions, as well as from my home institution, Ryerson University. Ryerson expedited
my work on this edition with a SSHRC Institutional Grant and by providing me with
research assistants who, over a number of years, have interned as editorial assistants. I
would like to express my sincere gratitude to these funding bodies for facilitating
student training and the production of this edition of Miriam Waddington’s poetry.
Marcus Waddington and Jonathan Waddington, Miriam Waddington’s literary
executors, graciously granted me permission to consult the Miriam Waddington fonds,
housed at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), while literary archivist Catherine J.
Hobbs gave me access to the extensive Waddington materials I consulted over the
course of my research at LAC. I also relied heavily on the tireless e6orts of Ryerson
University Library’s interlibrary loan sta6 to procure copies of many of Waddington’s
more elusive poems.
For research assistance I owe special thanks to a team of energetic and dedicated
students who helped me at every stage of this project: Marlee Kostiner gathered
photocopies of the previously published poems that form the core of this edition;
Stephanie Perrin drafted a working manuscript of those same poems; Melissa Dalgleish
transcribed a selection of previously unpublished and uncollected poems; Michael
Green transcribed historical radio interviews with Miriam Waddington, housed at the
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Archives; Mimi Choi helped prepare the
explanatory notes to the previously published poems and previously unpublished and
uncollected poems in this edition; Anne Dmytriw, Emma Renda, and James Tanner
helped assemble the nal manuscript; and Catherine Jenkins prepared the database of
variants and emendations in previously published poems (available on the University of
Ottawa Press website), which supplements this print edition. I could not have brought
this project to fruition without the cooperation of these indefatigable editorial
Scholarly papers on my work in progress were presented at two annual conferences,
the Association for Jewish Studies and the University of Toronto’s Conference on
Editorial Problems. On 16 June 2009, I discussed my editorial practice with the
graduate students enrolled in Textual Editing and Modernism in Canada, the annual
EMiC seminar held at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Members of each
audience kindly shared their valuable comments, stimulating critique, and research
Miriam Waddington herself inspired this edition. I met Miriam Waddington when I!
was a graduate student in the Department of English at Toronto’s York University and
we went on to form an enduring connection. The subject of my rst scholarly work was
Waddington’s earliest verse, and its lasting impression has led to the present critical
edition of her poetic oeuvre.&
I n t r o d u c t i o n
I went out into the autumn night
to cry my anger to the stone-blind fields
just as I was, untraditional, North American,
Jewish, Russian, and rootless in all four,
religious, unaffiliated …
from “Fortunes”
… as time goes on I do know that my organic physiological home is Canada—the
wintry Manitoba prairie, to be speci c. But my spiritual and cultural home is at
least partly in Eastern Europe and partly in Jerusalem, metaphorically speaking.
from “Outsider: Growing Up in Canada” (41)
iriam Waddington published fourteen volumes of verse during her lifetime and
participated in the rise and 4owering of modernist Canadian poetry during theM1940s in Montreal where she was associated with the little magazines First
Statement (1942–1945), Preview (1942–1945), and Northern Review (1945–1956), and
their coteries of writers and critics, which included poets Louis Dudek, A. M. Klein,
Irving Layton, P. K. Page, F. R. Scott, and A. J. M. Smith. Waddington was a trailblazer.
She was the rst Jewish Canadian woman to publish poetry written in English and her
work was groundbreaking for its conversational tone, stylistic play, and its focus on
female lived experience.
Waddington’s poetry has not received the critical attention it warrants. Unlike her
female contemporaries Dorothy Livesay and P. K. Page, for example, who are
recognized as important modernists and whose poetry is widely acclaimed and studied,
Waddington’s work remains largely unexamined, as the paucity of scholarship devoted
to her oeuvre confirms.
The earliest sustained responses to Waddington’s poetry were review essays of The
Season’s Lovers (1958) by Desmond Pacey and Ian Sowton respectively, issued in 1959.
Nearly two decades later, in 1978, L. R. Ricou published the rst critical overview of
Waddington’s verse. Ricou’s comparative essay on the poetry of Livesay, Page and
Waddington followed in 1983. In the 1980s, pro les of Waddington appeared by Maria
Jacobs (1980), Cathy Matyas (1982), and Peter Stevens (1985). More recently, Laura
McLauchlan’s 1997 doctoral dissertation examined the early poetry and life writing of
Livesay and Waddington. In 2003, McLauchlan published a critical essay on
Waddington’s Green World (1945) and her early life writing. Shoshanna Ganz’s 2004
article discusses Waddington’s English translation of Rokhl Korn’s Yiddish verse. Dean
Irvine devotes considerable space to Waddington in his 2008 study of women and
littlemagazine cultures in Canada. Finally, the latest sign of scholarly interest in Waddington
as a modernist writer is Candida Rifkind’s 2009 essay on Waddington’s published
criticism. Waddington’s substantive body of work continues to beg further critical
Waddington’s literary career spanned six decades. Her rst collection, Green World,
was published in 1945, and her nal volume, Canada: Romancing the Land, appeared in
1996. Waddington’s verse, in4ected by the “intimate tone” (Binder 90) of the Yiddish
language, bore the seminal in4uence of her secular Jewish upbringing and sensibility
and probed the underexamined lives of the disenfranchised and the dispossessed, with
an emphasis on the experience of women. Her work was further in4uenced by the rise&
of modernist poetics, an intellectual approach to writing, as well as an emotional
engagement with the social tenor of her time.
Throughout her career, Rifkind argues, Waddington as poet/critic was attuned to
“the conditions of modernity” and sought to interrogate “the formal aesthetics of
modernism” (Rifkind 260). The central “problem” of modernity—“to accept that not
everything can be uni ed, or even should be” (Waddington, “Form” 160)—was a
notion Waddington embraced. In her poetry, she struggled to locate “meaning in
language without destroying the shimmer of ambiguity; perhaps even … to see the
ambiguity more clearly and to face the chaos, for chaos is still another condition of
modernity. It is important to remember that chaos contains not only nothingness and
what is negative; it also contains hope and the possibility of new discoveries”
(Waddington, “Form” 160). Rifkind’s analysis of this core statement asserts that
Waddington tried “to navigate these oppositions in ways that confront the complexities
of the modern experience and its representation in modernist cultural forms” (Rifkind
269). The range of in4uences on her work, her close attention to poetic form and the
breadth of her thematic concerns show the depth of Waddington’s interest in the
cultural nuances of modernism.
Waddington’s oeuvre re4ects the degree to which she was consistently engaged in
the human drama unfolding around her. First and always a Jewish writer, her literary
sensibility was informed by her secular Judaism and immersion in Yiddish culture. In
her editorial introduction to Canadian Jewish Short Stories, she outlined several themes
that preoccupy Jewish Canadian writers and which are evident in her own work: “the
continuity of Jewish tradition containing religion, ethics, and culture that includes two
languages besides English and French—namely Yiddish and Hebrew”; “the individual’s
sense of belonging to a marginal group and being part of that collective”; “the
knowledge that always, in some other place on this earth, distant or near, Jews are
being oppressed and persecuted”; and “exile and problems of uncertain or divided
identity” (Waddington, Introduction, Canadian xii). Waddington further believed that
the “moral dimension” of much Jewish writing was rooted in a “quest for knowledge”
(Waddington, Introduction, Canadian xiii) and the “Jewish dichotomy … between
justice and injustice” (Waddington fonds, box 3, file 6).
One corollary of Waddington’s Jewish inheritance was a poetic preoccupation with
“diLerence in all its forms” (Rifkind 253) and, to a greater or lesser degree, her outlook
from the fringes of society aLected the broader themes that dominated her work. Jewish
customs and traditions were invoked in conjunction with Waddington’s intersecting
linguistic, cultural, and national ties: Yiddish and Hebrew, French and English, Russian
and Canadian. She was at once an outsider, raised in the teeming immigrant
community of North End Winnipeg, and Canadian-born, most at home on the beloved
prairie landscape of her childhood and youth. Historically, Jews lacked the security and
stability of a homeland and she appreciated the protection and privilege aLorded by
her Canadian citizenship. At the same time, she never fully reconciled her complex
identity as a Jewish Canadian who was further marginalized by virtue of her gender. A
gendered social consciousness drove the moral questing for knowledge and
understanding that lay at the heart of her poetic practice.
Waddington wrote layered verse from a gendered position, rst as a young social
worker who recognized aspects of herself in her most vulnerable clients. She detailed
intoxicating romance and mature love, the pleasures of marriage and motherhood, the
experience of raising two sons to adulthood, and the ineLable pain of divorce. As she
moved through middle age, she wrote clearly and uncompromisingly about the vast
sweep of Canada, travel to new lands, the passage of time, the death of her ex-husband
and loss of close friends, and later of growing old. Her poems of modern urban life in
Montreal and Toronto, visits to London, Berlin, Jerusalem, and Moscow, of art and
writing, probe irreconcilable diLerences of space, place, and identity, ideology, politics,&
and work that all eschew resolution. Waddington’s verse is deceptively accessible: it is
personal but never private, emotional but not confessional, thoughtful but never
cerebral. The subtlety of her craft is the hallmark of a modernist poet whose work opens
to the world and its readers.
Waddington placed tremendous value on her “work … in the end that’s what lasts
and that’s the only thing that doesn’t betray you. Work may disappoint you sometimes,
you may not do it as well as you would like to, but who ever does that? What artist is
ever satis ed, or nished? … Do the creating, that’s the important thing” (JenoL 12).
This statement, made late in Waddington’s career, conveys the wisdom of a poet who,
having found both subject and voice, validated the act of writing and the “work” it
produced, above all else. The verse collected here, much of it deeply satisfying, some of
it unfinished, will neither disappoint the attentive reader nor betray the poet.
* * *
Miriam Waddington (née Dworkin) was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 23 December
1917 to Jewish Russian immigrants. Her father, Isaac (Itcheh) Dworkin, had emigrated
from Russia to Canada in 1907 when he was twenty. Her mother, Masha Dobrusin,
arrived in North America earlier; she lived rst in Chicago and then moved to Moose
Jaw, Saskatchewan where she worked as a nurse’s aide. Waddington’s parents met and
married in Winnipeg where her father opened a sausage-making and meat-curing
factory. Miriam was the only girl, and favoured daughter, of four children. She had an
elder brother, Alex, and younger twin brothers, Dave and Sol.
The Dworkins were secular Jews “deeply involved in the vivid intellectual life of
Winnipeg’s Russian Jewish community” (Moritz 5), which was concentrated in the city’s
North End, a vibrant enclave of Jewish, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants and one-time
centre of Jewish life in the West. Today, Winnipeg’s North End enjoys the same
legendary status as St. Urbain Street in Montreal, immortalized in large part by novelist
Mordecai Richler as the former Jewish heart of that city. The Dworkins may not have
attended synagogue, but their circle of friends and acquaintances included Jewish and
Yiddish writers and lecturers, poets, musicians and actors, some of whom were Zionists,
socialists and anarchists (Moritz 5). Literature and music were held in high esteem and
Waddington’s mother especially loved opera. Her children did not understand Russian,
but she often recited Pushkin, and a portrait of I. L. Peretz hung in the Dworkin dining
room, a sign of the family’s regard for the Yiddish writer. Isaac Dworkin also owned an
impressive library which included the complete works of Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter
The language spoken at home was Yiddish and Waddington absorbed its familiar
tone and “conversational directness” (Stevens, “Miriam” 279), qualities that would
come to characterize her own verse in English. She learned the value of Yiddish from
her parents who maintained its cultural significance:
My parents made a conscious eLort that we should speak only Yiddish at home,
because they felt like many secular Jews that a language was a culture … a
spiritual home. So my parents felt that language was very important, and since
they were not religious they perhaps transferred their religious feelings to the
language and literature and to the Yiddish culture. I think it must have been my
first language. (Binder 83–84)
Waddington attended the I. L. Peretz Folk School (established 1914), a small,
permissive Yiddish language school that sought “to instill a progressive Jewish identity
in its students” (Menkies). Under the direction of illustrious principal Yaakov Zipper,
music and literature were taught as important subjects and Waddington’s nascent love
of poetry was nurtured.&
Waddington’s childhood and youth were characterized by tension between her inner
and outer lives. She recalled that her “inner life, my really freer life was the one I had in
the Jewish parochial school” (Binder 83), which she attended until grade four. In 1927,
she left the liberal atmosphere of the socialist-oriented parochial school and transferred
to a public school. Much “more authoritative” (Binder 83) than the Peretz Folk School,
Machray School served students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Students were of
Jewish, Polish, Galician, English and Scottish heritage, and the majority of the teachers
were of Scottish origin. Although Waddington had fond memories of her teachers—they
“were very nice, [and] I think they had a strong moral sense” (Binder 83)—her fellow
students were less congenial. During her years at Machray, she regularly heard the
racist slur “dirty Jew” (Binder 84) and once she was asked by a streetcar conductor if
her father was a Bolshevik. She soon learned that “it wasn’t good to be Jewish, but … it
was really good to be English” (Binder 84). As a result, she developed ambivalent
feelings for her Yiddish-speaking parents and their friends. Her ambivalence ran deep:
“The injustice of being excluded from certain things because I was Jewish often
embittered my life” (Waddington, “Outsider” 40).
It was as a grade six student at Machray School that Waddington rst tried her hand
at poetry. She wrote a poem “about spring. I was ten or eleven. For some reason I
discovered that I liked writing in rhymes and meter. The teacher praised it, and I wasn’t
such a great student. It was great to be praised for a poem. She also … told me that I
would have to write more poems” (Binder 86). Despite their intellectual interests, her
parents were less appreciative of their daughter’s 4edgling achievement. Regardless,
Waddington was suS ciently encouraged to write more poems: a ballad entitled
“Mermaids” and a narrative poem about “a knight and his lady … . They came to a
river, the knight and [a] dragon had a battle, the knight was killed. The lady was
wearing a mauve dress and she lay down and died of grief. Her dress became … violets”
(Nickel 185). When her teacher read the poem aloud in class, Waddington’s muse was
given a boost and she determined to write more poetry.
From the start, writing was both a private and public act for Waddington and her
interest in poetry—even as a youth—became a source of solace and pride. Although she
relished her early success, her poetic skill did not impress her fellow students who
favoured scholastic achievement, sports, drama and fashion over writing and whose
disdain for verse was palpable. Waddington sought “refuge” in writing and whenever
she felt uncomfortable she would retreat “to my room and write a poem” (Binder 87).
The “act of writing that relocates the inner feelings and outer experience” (Waddington,
“Form” 159) soon became a source of pleasure, too, a special talent that she developed
and honed as a high school student in Ontario.
In the fall of 1930, her father’s business failed due to partnership diS culties and, in
the midst of the Great Depression, at age twelve, Waddington moved with her family to
Ottawa. Her father opened the Satisfactory Groceteria in Centretown and she attended
Lisgar Collegiate Institute where she studied the poetry of Byron, Shelley and Tennyson
alongside that of lesser known Canadians, including William Wilfred Campbell and Bliss
Carman. Neither she nor her family members were content in Ottawa, however, a
“provincial town” (Binder 83) of 80,000 people with a small, dispersed Jewish
population. Waddington relates that there were few non-observant Jews in Ottawa
“who had, like my parents, made Yiddish language and culture their home and
community” (Waddington, “Mrs.” 1). Although they welcomed visitors to their new
home, as they had done previously in Winnipeg, the Dworkins never fully adjusted to
life in Ottawa. Soon they began to travel beyond the city’s circumscribed borders in
search of a larger, more familiar, and certainly more vital Jewish community.
The proximity of Montreal, a comfortable two-hour drive from Ottawa, would prove
a boon to the budding poet. At apartment six, 4479B Esplanade Avenue, a third-4oor
walk-up in the heart of Montreal’s dense Jewish quarter, lived the Yiddish poet Ida&
Maza. Maza’s husband, Alexander, was a travelling salesman for a haberdashery based
in Montreal, and he visited the Dworkins whenever he travelled to Ottawa. When he
learned of young Miriam’s literary aspirations, he oLered to introduce her to his wife.
Having emigrated from Russia as a child, Ida Maza had lived in Montreal most of her
life. In Maza’s home, which served as a salon for Yiddish writers and painters based in
Montreal and New York, Waddington began her literary apprenticeship; she was
fourteen at the time.
Under Maza’s private coaching and tutelage, Waddington wrote and shared her own
poems—at rst “hesitatingly, and with fear” (Waddington, “Mrs.” 3)—and listened to
“poetry being read out loud” by senior writers who also tried “out new ideas for
publishing a magazine or a manifesto … discussed new books and gossiped”
(Waddington, “Mrs.” 4). Through Maza she met prominent cultural gures, including
the Yiddish poets N. Y. Gotlib, Kadya Molodovsky, Shabse Perl, J. I. Segal and his sister
Esther Segal, M. M. ShaS r, Yudika (Yudis Tsik) and the painter Louis Muhlstock. Ida
Maza and the Yiddish writers who gathered at her Montreal salon made a profound
impression on the young Miriam, who absorbed the group’s “humanist” valuing “of
community, of responsibility for other people, [and] a sense of obligation [to society]”
(Binder 90).
For several years, Waddington visited Maza in Montreal during school holidays and
the Dworkin and Maza families summered together in St. Sauveur, a resort town in the
Laurentian Mountains north of the city. Maza “radiated a sybilline and mystical
quality” (Waddington, “Mrs.” 7) and her love of literature inspired a similar passion in
Waddington. Maza encouraged her protégée to read the verse of Conrad Aiken, Emily
Dickinson, Vachel Lindsay, W. B. Yeats, and early feminists Edna St. Vincent Millay and
Sara Teasdale, and taught her to give “herself entirely and attentively to the poem”
(Waddington, “Mrs.” 4). Maza’s emotional verse did not appeal to Waddington, but the
extent of Maza’s artistic commitment left a profound mark on the aspiring writer. In
fact, Waddington’s early con dence as a poet was due, in no small part, to the heartfelt
support she received from Maza. Moreover, her sustained interest in Jewish literature,
especially her scholarly investigation of the work of Canadian poet A. M. Klein and
career-long commitment to translating the work of Yiddish writers, can be traced to
Maza’s formative influence.
Waddington once declared that she was “unambitious” (Binder 88) as a young
writer, but the record of her early achievement undermines this claim. At the age of ten
or eleven, for example, she was awarded a prize for a poem she submitted to a
Winnipeg newspaper. At sixteen she won Lisgar Collegiate Institute’s annual Arts and
Letters Club poetry competition, judged by poet Duncan Campbell Scott, for her poem
“The Returner.” E. J. Pratt accepted two of her adolescent poems, “Magic” and “The
Night Wanderer,” for publication in Canadian Poetry Magazine. That she wrote regularly
from an early age is evident in the many notebooks and journals she kept during the
1930s. Held in the Miriam Waddington fonds at Library and Archives Canada, these
private books contain early poems and the prose musings of a young person intent on
becoming a writer. Waddington’s manuscripts, which fortunately are extant and
available for scholarly use, serve as the foundation for this critical edition. They provide
ample evidence of an early and sustained writerly commitment and refute the poet’s
claim that she was a “passive” (Binder 88) writer who did not seek public recognition.
While she lived in Ottawa, Waddington’s interest in social issues intensi ed and she
attended meetings of an anti-Fascist group where she met her future husband, Patrick
Waddington, a British-born writer and journalist with the Ottawa Citizen. Her father was
not pleased that his daughter was dating the son of Christian Scientists. He sought to
intervene in their developing relationship, but their romance blossomed. In 1936,
Waddington left the shelter of her family and moved to Toronto to attend university.
During her rst year studying science at the University of Toronto, she lived in a yellow&
brick house on Hazelton Avenue owned by sisters Birdie and Angela Donald and was
given room and board in exchange for grocery shopping and cooking.
In her second year of university, Waddington transferred out of science into the arts.
Undergraduate studies in English opened the literary vault for Waddington. Among her
“literary discoveries” (Pearce 181) were American poets Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens
and Walt Whitman; British poets W. H. Auden, C. Day-Lewis and Stephen Spender; and
Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales she regarded as the work of a moral writer.
Toronto also oLered valuable literary opportunities. She worked on the Varsity, the
campus newspaper; befriended other young poets, including Margaret Avison and
Raymond Souster; and studied under Miltonist A. S. P. Woodhouse and poet Earle
Birney. Although she never warmed to Birney—she disliked “his biting ironies and
sarcasms” (Waddington, “Apartment” 26)—she later developed a close relationship
with his dynamic wife, Esther.
Marriage to Patrick Waddington, who was converted to Judaism by Rabbi Harry
Joshua Stern of Montreal (Menkies), took place on 5 July 1939, soon after Waddington
had earned a BA in English. The couple resided in Toronto—they rented a three-room
4at on the top 4oor of 632 Church Street, “an old limestone building on the corner of
Church and Charles [Streets]” (Waddington, “Apartment” 15)—while Waddington
pursued further studies. She chose social work since she “disliked routine” and her
“sympathies” lay with “ordinary, anonymous people who will never make the
headlines” (Waddington, “Apartment” 19, 32). Waddington earned a diploma in social
work from the University of Toronto in 1942, and for the next two years was a case
worker with Jewish Family and Child Service, while her husband worked as a reporter
for the Toronto Daily Star.
In 1944, Waddington enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social
Work as a master’s student and became a case worker with the Philadelphia Child
Guidance Clinic while she studied toward her degree. In Philadelphia, Waddington was
mentored by Jessie Taft and Virginia Robinson, two in4uential professors who helped
her through the professional and personal crises she experienced during her year as a
graduate student, when she felt “vague misgivings” (Waddington, “Apartment” 33)
about her career and her marriage. She describes her transformation “from a child into
a woman who was at last ready and grown-up enough to take on the responsibilities of
marriage and children” (Waddington, “Apartment” 34), the result of her stimulating
and successful year of advanced study.
Waddington once described herself as a “divided person … . I have this side of me
that is practical, that is realist, rational and is interested in ideas. And I have a social
side and … an individual side. I feel guilty, if I don’t do something in a societal way”
(Binder 91). Although she completed an undergraduate degree in English, Waddington
chose a career in social work. Her rm belief in social responsibility and community—
that to “love humanity takes courage, daring, and faith” (Waddington fonds, box 2, le
15) and that “one should [not] be too individual” (Binder 90)—drove her altruism. Her
rational side, however, responded to the theories of psychoanalyst Otto Rank and the
pedagogy of Jessie Taft and Virginia Robinson. Waddington was especially in4uenced
by Rank’s Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality Development (1932), which
argues for a balance between “creative and cognitive processes” and contends that the
artist unconsciously “searches out and nds … the experiences he needs for his art”
(Waddington, “Form” 158). Rank’s view that the artistic impulse is an attempt to
reconcile individual and collective tendencies held great meaning for Waddington and
was central to the training she received from Taft and Robinson, her “spiritual mothers”
(Binder 93) who “played a crucial role in my psychological awakening and professional
development” (Waddington, Afterword 412).
Waddington’s experience at the University of Pennsylvania was “liberating, painful,
and growth-producing” (Waddington, “Apartment” 33) and had a lasting eLect on her&
life and work. She went on to serve as advisory editor for the Journal of the Otto Rank
Association and maintained correspondence with Robinson. Moreover, her rst three
volumes of verse were concerned explicitly with the social conditions of urban life and
invoked the experiences of actual individuals she counselled through the Philadelphia
Child Guidance Clinic and various social work agencies in Montreal. As she recalled, in
“poetry the relation between myself and the client somehow became closer and more
intimate, and I could not help writing many poems about my experiences in
childguidance clinics, adoption and family agencies, hospitals, courts, and prisons”
(Waddington, “Apartment” 20).
Waddington earned an MSW in 1945 and that summer returned to Toronto for a
brief time. In the interim, Patrick Waddington had accepted a job in Montreal with the
International Service of the CBC. In July 1945, after packing up their belongings,
Waddington left Toronto to join her husband in Montreal. Between 1945 and 1960, she
pursued a career in social work, balancing part-time case worker positions and lecturing
at McGill University’s School of Social Work while she raised her two sons, Marcus
(born in 1946) and Jonathan (born in 1951). She also enjoyed entertaining friends and
colleagues at her Montreal home. Although “the physiological and social demands of
being mother, wife, and household manager dominated” (Waddington, Afterword 412)
her life, Waddington continued to write in the evenings. She once confessed to having
“always been a poet, before I was anything else and more truly than I was anything
else” (Waddington, “Apartment” 19).
In Montreal, Waddington’s writerly ambitions were roused and she joined the city’s
vibrant literary community which had formed in the early 1940s around John
Sutherland, the writer, critic and founder of First Statement and First Statement Press.
Waddington and Sutherland rst met in Montreal in March 1943, formed an immediate
connection based on personal compatibility and shared literary interests and soon
developed a romantic relationship. Waddington recalled meeting
Sutherland in the spring of 1943 [when] my emotional needs were great. Our
rapport was instantaneous and he seemed to be the one person who would
understand and respond to my literary and personal problems. That spring we
began an intense daily correspondence about literature, love, life, and our hopes
and ambitions. Undoubtedly I projected my own needs and problems on John and
he did the same with me. Neither was prepared or able to face the reality of the
other. (Waddington, “Apartment” 33)
Sutherland and Waddington were tied psychologically and intellectually. Sutherland,
for example, was intrigued by Marxism and hoped to be schooled by Waddington, but
her understanding of Marxist theory was “shaped by emotion” and her “Jewish socialist
background rather than by thought” (Waddington, Introduction, John 8), and she was
not a reliable tutor.
Prior to their meeting, Waddington had published individual poems in First
Statement. She had hoped to place her rst volume with Ryerson Press, a
longestablished, highly regarded publishing house that issued the work of Canadian poets.
Twice rebuLed by Ryerson editor Lorne Pierce (in 1943 and 1945), however, she
overcame her initial reluctance to align herself with a small press and accepted
Sutherland’s oLer of publication (Irvine 290). Green World was issued by First
Statement Press in November 1945 in an edition of 200 copies, and Sutherland himself
was responsible for soliciting, assembling and editing the volume and ushering it
through the publication process.
Sutherland merits recognition for his early encouragement of Waddington and for
launching her literary career, but as Dean Irvine argues in Editing Modernity: Women
and Little-Magazine Cultures in Canada, 1916–1956, Sutherland’s selection of&
Waddington’s poems re4ected his own “masculinist editorial” (132) biases. For
example, Sutherland intentionally omitted poems of “self-questioning, self-criticism,
and self-doubt” (Irvine 133) and ambivalent social response, oLering readers a largely
coherent portrait of a young, socially engaged poet.
Sutherland deliberately chose poems of nature, love and social consciousness for
Green World. The title poem, for instance, is an extended metaphor for female sexual
awakening: the “crystal chrysalis” of “the green world” cups and holds the speaker “in a
transparent place / Where water images cling to the inside sphere” whose walls
eventually warm, expand, “crack suddenly / Uncup me into large and windy space.”
Critics recognized Waddington’s feminization of the natural world and responded
positively to her sensual imagery. They were similarly moved by her empathic
rendering of the marginalized and the dispossessed; in “The Bond,” for example, the
speaker feels akin to “the Jewish whore” she sees on Toronto’s Jarvis Street.
Sutherland’s editorial intervention had a double-edged result, however. While his
strategic selection of poems for Green World helped de ne the thematic parameters of
Waddington’s verse, his editorial choices also shaped future critical assessment of her
work, which could be contrary at times.
Sutherland’s key role as catalyst in the development of modernist Canadian poetry
that took place in Montreal during the 1940s is widely known and has received critical
scrutiny, most recently and thoroughly by Irvine. Waddington’s own record of
Sutherland is found in her essay “Apartment Seven” and her introduction to John
Sutherland: Essays, Controversies and Poems, a volume she edited and published in 1972
with McClelland and Stewart. Sutherland was a visionary editor—much like Lorne
Pierce of Ryerson Press, which issued Waddington’s poetry of the 1950s—who
advocated on behalf of Canadian writers and oLered them new publishing
opportunities. In 1940s Canada, there were few literary journals and fewer publishing
houses willing to risk the publication of non-remunerative works by Canadian authors.
Since outlets for poetry were especially scarce, Sutherland resolved to publish the verse
of aspiring poets in First Statement and its successor Northern Review, and to issue
attractive, hand-set editions under the First Statement imprint. In addition to
Waddington, First Statement Press launched the career of Irving Layton and published
early volumes by Raymond Souster and Anne Wilkinson.
Waddington felt a unique kinship with Sutherland. She admired his single-minded
devotion to literature and determination to improve conditions for Canadian writers.
She also appreciated his rare critical talent and his poetry. Her article “John
Sutherland: All Nature into Motion,” which rst appeared in The Sixties: Writers and
Writing of the Decade (1969), oLers incisive analysis of Sutherland’s verse that points to
their shared literary concerns. Waddington praised Sutherland as “an authentic poet”
whose verse probed the timely “problem of identity” (Waddington, “John” 109). She
valued his “intellectual power,” conveyed through “slow, tough, and vaulted” language
that nonetheless retained its “freshness” (Waddington, “John” 109). Sutherland and
Waddington each wrote of anxiety and loneliness, but as reviewer E. K. Brown
con rmed in 1946, “there are no crises of despair or pessimism” (27) in Waddington’s
Green World. For both writers, the anodyne to loneliness lay in the possibility of
spiritual connection among human beings.
In spirit and commitment, Sutherland resembled Ida Maza, Waddington’s rst
literary mentor. Both were wilful innovators who valued literary community above all
else. For their eLorts on behalf of authors, they sought neither money nor prestige;
instead, their reward was the chance to discover and encourage new poetic voices. It is
not surprising that Waddington felt intensely tied to Sutherland, for Maza’s window had
opened onto the literary life that Sutherland made tangible through publication of
Waddington’s early verse. Over the course of her career, Waddington sought to
memorialize Sutherland as a man of letters. She edited his prose and poetry, analyzed&
his seminal contribution to Canadian literary culture and, in a conversation with
journalist Robert Fulford that aired on CBC Radio in March 1973, publicly celebrated
Sutherland’s achievements as editor, publisher and writer.
Waddington believed that content and form were inseparable and that each poem
was an “organic” structure with “its own existence and integrity … part of a particular
time, place, and person” (Waddington, Afterword 411). Her approach to the act of
writing was often intellectual, but her verse was never cerebral and her language was
consistently “transparent and simple so that it could say something that others would
recognize and respond to” (Waddington, Afterword 416). Her poetic persona—the
outsider who is allied with the marginalized and feels sympathy for the vulnerable—
and lyric voice—direct, questioning, often troubled—were distinguishing features of her
verse. In addition, attention to poetic form regularly lent her work a playful, open
Waddington was always a voracious reader of verse, and her earliest collections of
the 1940s and 1950s deployed traditional poetic conventions—formal stanzaic
structure, long lines, and “occasional 4amboyant language” (Stevens, “Miriam” 282)—
in the style of Dylan Thomas and W. B. Yeats, whose work she knew and admired.
Initially, she aimed for “formality, measure, lucidity, spaciousness, and proportion”
(Waddington, “Form” 162) in her poetry. Peter Stevens, in his 1985 pro le of
Waddington, notes that she read the English poets of the 1930s, and critic L. R. Ricou
has traced her aS nity for the American poet Theodore Roethke. In addition, the focus
on quotidian experience in her rst three collections, Green World (1945), The Second
Silence (1955), and The Season’s Lovers (1958), re4ects the poetic in4uence of
Canadian contemporaries Margaret Avison and Raymond Souster in Toronto and
Dorothy Livesay and Anne Marriott on the West Coast.
Among Jewish contemporaries, Waddington’s compassionate humanism aligned
more closely with the re4ective and literate tenor of A. M. Klein’s verse than the
rousing, 4amboyant quality of Irving Layton’s poems, and the intimate tone of much
Yiddish poetry, which she heard recited so often at Ida Maza’s literary salon, also
in4uenced her own early writing in English. Waddington, like Klein and Layton,
gradually turned away from conventional verse forms in favour of modernist
experimentation, but her perspective as a secular Jew diLerentiated her poetry from
that of the more traditional Klein and her sentience diverged from the hypermasculinist
ethos embraced by Layton.
Waddington’s earliest verse received a mixed reception from the coterie of critics
who reviewed her work. A critical bias against Waddington’s poetry was especially
evident in the 1940s and 1950s, a period of intense self-scrutiny among Canadian
critics who sought to articulate a modernist literary practice that excluded much writing
by women. Like their British and American counterparts, Canadian modernist critics—
the majority of whom were male—valued “an implicitly masculine aesthetic of hard,
abstract, learned verse that is opposed to the aesthetic of soft, eLusive, personal verse
supposedly written by women” (Gilbert and Gubar 153–55). Carole Gerson identi es
“the critical canon-forming decades between the wars” as favouring women’s writing
that conformed “to a Romantic/sentimental/domestic model” (55). Such writing was
easily dismissed by male critics, as were attempts by female authors to engage “with
modernist methods” (Gerson 55). Hence, women writers were doubly disadvantaged,
but Waddington continued to write and her verse elicited critical response. She was
determined to leave her mark as a modernist poet.
One critic who oLered balanced assessments of Waddington’s verse was Northrop
Frye. The Second Silence, wrote Frye, showcased Waddington’s “own distinctive quality:
a gentle intimacy and an unmediated, though by no means naive, contact between
herself and her world” (297). He singled out “Morning until Night” as a poem of
striking originality, which turns on an irresolvable con4ict of identity: “Two crows have&
I harboured long in me. / Because I love doves I imprisoned crows, / Forced them to
silence; at night they wakened me / With constant clamour.” Frye later observed that
the poet’s “two gifts, one for spontaneous lyricism and one for precise observation” were
“better integrated” (357) in The Season’s Lovers. Less enthusiastic reviewers of the
volume included Milton Wilson, for whom Waddington’s “technical control” (162)
mitigated the cloying sentiment that weakened much of her verse, and George
Woodcock, who appreciated the poet’s introspective passion over her lack of “clarity
and intellectual sharpness” (114). For Eli Mandel, though, Waddington stood out as an
accomplished urban poet: “No one else knows [the city] … like she does or tolerates it
so completely” (292). Mandel was moved particularly by “the stunning conclusion …
horrifying in its ambiguities” (191) to “My Lessons in the Jail”: “For moments in the
hallway, compose your face / To false good humor, conceal your sex: / Smile at the
brute who runs the place / And memorize the banner, Christus Rex.”
Signi cant changes to Waddington’s notion of writing followed a July 1955
conference held at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario on the theme of “The Writer,
His Media, and the Public,” which attracted an impressive group of writers, scholars,
publishers and broadcasters. In Kingston, Waddington convened with writers Hugh
Garner, Henry Kreisel, Jay Macpherson, F. R. Scott, A. J. M. Smith, Phyllis Webb and
Adele Wiseman, scholars Malcolm Ross and George Whalley, and was deeply aLected
by a lecture on public poetry by University of Toronto professor Douglas Grant, a
specialist in eighteenth-century English literature. Although she was troubled by Grant’s
“arrogant manner” (Waddington, “Form” 162), his scholarly diLerentiation between
private and public verse—Alexander Pope was Grant’s model public poet—inspired
Waddington to return to the work of Pope, Dryden, Johnson, and several metaphysical
poets, and to try her hand at writing public poetry. The prison poems in The Season’s
Lovers, published three years after the landmark conference, re4ected her “desire to
interpret social issues honestly, poetically, and with the whole self” (Waddington,
Afterword 413).
Stevens aS rms Grant’s in4uence on Waddington’s development as a poet. She may
have responded negatively to Grant’s “intellectual rigidity” and his “tone of academic
certainty” (Stevens, “Miriam” 286), but his lecture prompted a full reconsideration of
her poetic practice. Following the conference, Waddington “corresponded with Grant
and found him a helpful critic of her poetry, even though he was not much interested in
the kind of personal poetry” (Stevens, “Miriam” 286) she had been writing. Nonetheless,
Grant’s general advice and support of her work proved invaluable to Waddington.
Grant’s ideas had a galvanizing eLect and, in the wake of his lecture, “a whole new
world opened up” (qtd. in Stevens, “Miriam” 296) for Waddington. During the latter
half of the 1950s, she wrote more publicly conscious verse and investigated what it
meant to be a public poet.
Grant found a ready listener in Waddington, who had always regarded poetry as a
vehicle for public expression, which may account for the profound and lasting eLect of
his lecture on the poet. Her early exposure to Yiddish poetry had taught her the power
of socially conscious verse delivered to a receptive audience, and she sought to reach a
similarly attentive readership with her own work. From the 1960s onward, however, she
pursued new artistic directions, seeking a balance between public and private concerns,
and finally achieving poetic maturity with her identifiably lyric voice.
In 1960, after twenty-one years of marriage, Waddington separated from her
husband; the couple divorced in 1965 when divorce was still relatively uncommon.
Waddington moved with her sons to Toronto, settled into a home in the suburb of Don
Mills, and worked for two years as a case worker with North York Family and Child
Service. During this period, her “time and energy were taken up with the mundane
problems of earning a living … and helping my sons get settled into a new life and a
new city, not to speak of dealing with my own feelings at being suddenly single in mid-&
life” (Waddington, Afterword 413).
By 1962, she had adjusted to life in Toronto and, having published three books of
poetry, Waddington sought career opportunities tied more closely to her literary
pursuits. That same year, she began teaching part time in the Department of English at
York University and in 1964 accepted a tenure-track position in the same department.
In 1966, Oxford University Press Canada issued The Glass Trumpet, Waddington’s
fourth volume of verse. Waddington went on to form a close working relationship with
renowned Oxford editor William Toye, who brought out nine of Waddington’s books:
seven volumes of poetry and two works of prose. Made up entirely of poems that used
unstructured, unpunctuated stanzas, abbreviated lines and everyday language, The
Glass Trumpet heralded a shift in form, if not in subject, for Waddington. Previously, her
“language was more literary” and she “had an idea of what poetry ought to be” (Pearce
178): traditional stanzaic forms that used regular metre and rhyme. Now she sought “a
new personal language” for verse that “incorporated a new dimension” (Waddington,
“Form” 162)—a freer, unregulated style, the tempo of short lines unencumbered by
commas, and informal diction, what Stevens describes as “short lines with the colloquial
movement breaking against the line-length and syntactical units, matter-of-fact
language set against metaphorical implications” (Stevens, “Miriam” 285). The
unfettered, brief lines of “Hart Crane,” for example, enjoin the reader to “Go / love a
phantom / prince locked in his / glass heart sing me / a pleated song of time.”
As Stevens observes, The Glass Trumpet was informed by Waddington’s reading of
Emmanuel Ringelblum’s Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto (1958). In the 1960s,
Waddington also immersed herself in the poetry of A. M. Klein. Waddington responded
as both a poet and a scholar to Klein’s literary probing of his Jewish roots and religious
faith. Her reading of Ringelblum and study of Klein renewed re4ection on her Jewish
inheritance and the complex intersection of individual and cultural identity, an abiding
concern of the poet. As a Jewish woman who was born and raised in Winnipeg, lived
and wrote in the Diaspora and was spared rsthand experience of the Jewish
persecution of World War II, Waddington nonetheless pondered the devastating eLects
of exile, the persistent problems associated with resettlement, the role of Israel as the
Jewish homeland, the possibility of hybrid and multiple cultural identities and the
symbolic resonances of nationhood.
From the 1960s onward, the short line was Waddington’s poetic signature. She
adapted Klein’s preference for symbol and metaphor as “a way of discovering and …
articulating the reality that exists but wasn’t before articulated” (Pearce 183) and made
it her explicit goal to transform “powerful visual experiences” (Waddington, Afterword
414) into language that would move readers. She conceded, however, that writing was
largely “mysterious and a lot of it is unconscious”—that “once I’m writing I don’t pay
any attention to how I’m writing” (JenoL 5; emphasis added). Whether or not she was
cognizant of her eLorts, her verse grew increasingly open in form and precise in
language. Over the course of her career, Waddington probed her unconscious by
experimenting with poetic form, but she never wavered in her desire to plumb the
depth and range of human experience.
Waddington also sustained a life-long interest in painting and, in the late 1950s, was
an occasional columnist on Canadian art for Canadian Forum. In the early 1960s, she
was inspired by art critic Harold Rosenberg’s “original and spontaneous way of cutting
away all irrelevancies” (Waddington, Afterword 414) in his collection of essays The
Tradition of the New (1959). She was similarly in4uenced by Gertrude Stein, whose own
writing eschewed commas in favour of spaces. Waddington stripped her verse of
linguistic “irrelevancies” such as 4amboyant diction and super4uous adjectives, and
adapted Stein’s use of spaces to create “visually interesting designs and shapes; in some
way having nothing to do with language they seemed to add an extra dimension to a
poem” (Waddington, Afterword 411). Later, she reclaimed the comma and renounced&
the use of spaces as somewhat “aLected” (Pearce 179); for Stevens, however,
Waddington’s new modernist style aS rmed ambiguity over certainty—which signalled
darkness and light, anxiety and hope simultaneously—and re4ected her maturing
artistic sensibility. She had come to see poetic form as “the momentary verbal limit
imposed by the artist on the in nite number of possibilities that are contained in the
chaos of his psyche” (Waddington, “Form” 160).
The Glass Trumpet signalled a shift in critical response to Waddington’s verse. The
1960s, a period of personal and vocational development for Waddington, saw a
concomitant rise in Canadian nationalism. Canada’s centenary of 1967 fostered
national and cultural pride and a broad reconsideration of what it meant to be a
Canadian. Over the course of the decade, both Canadian literature and Canadian
literary criticism matured significantly and a growing number of male reviewers showed
appreciation for Waddington’s thematic and formal range. Tom Marshall, in particular,
celebrated Waddington’s achievement: “since she was rst recognized [in 1945] as one
of our best women poets she has advanced as a craftsman to a near-perfect control of
her medium—her best poems have a delicacy and precision and passionate honesty that
can only be the product of an unvanquished inner integrity” (45). Fred Cogswell may
have been unmoved by Waddington’s “poetic vision” (20), but Robert Fulford, like
Marshall, was “grateful” for her “touching and interesting and memorable poems” (23).
Moreover, a newly visible cadre of female reviewers drew fresh attention to
Waddington’s lyric strengths and technical expertise. Marya Fiamengo acknowledged
that “Waddington’s poems have been criticized in the past for either a lack of
intellectual structure or for a reliance on metaphysical ingenuities which impose a
forced or arti cial structure on her work”; she commended the poet for resisting the
temptation to renounce her “predominantly lyric bent” (66) in favour of more cerebral
verse. Wynne Francis admired Waddington’s “exquisite” (78) lyricism and Dorothy
Livesay her “greater command of technique” (67). For Livesay—also a social worker by
profession—Waddington’s experimentation with “rhythm, metre, assonance, and
rhyme” showed “technical dexterity” while the use of pauses and spaces enhanced “the
emotional tone” (67) of her verse.
Waddington’s modernist innovations of the 1960s did not please all critics. When
Say Yes appeared in 1969, it was subject to censure by Barry Callaghan who regretted
the volume’s resigned tone. Callaghan missed Waddington’s earlier toughness—“the
serpent in her heart” (5)—but the speaker of “Icons” concedes a heightened frailty:
in middle age
instead of withering
into blindness
and burying myself
I grow delicate
and fragile
I carry icons
I have begun
to worship
Robert Weaver felt that the poems in the collection were homogeneous in form and
subject and therefore lacked interest (19), while Desmond Pacey was put oL by “the
over-ingenuity of the technique” which he believed was “over-worked” and
“selfconsciously poetic” (83). Ironically, that same technique was praised by D. G. Jones, for&
whom Waddington’s language was fresh and illuminating: it “enlivens the dark. … she
confronts it directly and articulates it honestly” (73).
Waddington’s personal contribution to Canada’s centenary celebrations took the
form of a coLee table book of verse and black-and-white photographs, a joint project
with Lorraine Monk of the National Film Board of Canada. The poems that appeared in
Call Them Canadians (1968) re4ected Waddington’s “strengthened sense” of her
“Canadianness, a feeling that permeated every aspect of life in Canada at that time”
(Waddington, Afterword 414), and oLered a portrait of a people and a nation whose
diversity she knew intimately from personal and professional experience: “We are light
/ as dandelion / parachutes we / land anywhere / take the shape / of wherever we /
fall” (“Laughter”).
Waddington earned an MA in English from the University of Toronto in 1968. She
wrote a thesis on Klein’s poetry which formed the basis for her 1970 monograph A. M.
Klein. Waddington rose through the professorial ranks at York University and was
appointed Full Professor in 1973. As a professor of English, she had more time to devote
to writing and her literary output, both creative and scholarly, intensi ed over the
course of her academic career. She also travelled internationally to attend conferences,
spent a year-long sabbatical leave in London, England (1968–1969), and was visiting
professor at Carleton University in Ottawa (1969–1970). Waddington was the Canada
Council Exchange Poet to Wales (1980) and writer-in-residence at the Windsor Public
Library (1983), the University of Ottawa (1984), and the Metropolitan Toronto Library
(now the Toronto Reference Library; 1986).
Driving Home, a collection of new and selected poems, appeared in 1972 and drew
attention to the poet at mid-career. The volume generated praise from reviewers who
lauded Waddington’s exploration of landscape and her “process of self-discovery”
(Stevens, “Achievement” 29) through verse—she was named “a poet of place”
(Mulhallen 48). In “Transformations,” for example, Waddington’s native prairie is a
source of equanimity and inspiration for the speaker:
I love only St Boniface
its grey wooden churches
I want to spend my life
in Gimli listening to the
roar of emptiness in the
wild snow, scanning the lake
for the music of
rainbowskinned fishes, I will compose
my songs to the gold-eye tunes
send them across the land
in smoke-spaces, ice-signals
Female reviewers Susan Musgrave and Karen Mulhallen lauded Waddington’s technical
mastery, lyrical achievement, and “unmistakable” (Mulhallen 49) voice. For Peter
Stevens, the volume showed that Waddington’s journey toward “renewal has not been
reached by a too facile optimism but by a recognition of her own anxieties, so that she
arrives at a light- lled equilibrium” (Stevens, “Achievement” 29). In sharp contrast,
however, was Tom Wayman’s scathing condemnation of a “boring” collection of
“intricate little home-made myths and texts designed to ll up with sentiment the
empty prairies or an empty life” (85)—an extreme example of the negative press
periodically directed at Waddington.
In fact, over the course of her career Waddington’s verse rarely elicited a tepid
response. A single volume of poetry might receive high praise or severe censure, but not
often a mediocre review, and her later collections were no exception. F. W. Watt and&
John Robert Colombo read The Price of Gold (1976) as the work of a serious (Watt 41)
and “accomplished” poet who wrote with “a lightness of touch and a playfulness of
spirit … a skilled abandon, [and] a balance of the intellect and the emotions” (Colombo
33), invoking the poet’s personi cation of Charlottetown’s early morning wind: “awake,
he / lays his hands / on the shore and / his head on the / gulf lap of / red sand, of /
pine needles” (“The Wind in Charlottetown”). Other reviewers, however, found
disappointment in uninspired imagery (Gatenby 13) and “well-wrought phrases …
[devoid of] deep truth” (Oliver 96).
Waddington retired from her faculty position at York University in 1983 and moved
to Vancouver in 1992 to be close to her younger son Jonathan (her elder son Marcus
lives in Nova Scotia). Her nal volumes record a preoccupation with her own passage
through later life and a determination to trace one woman’s trajectory through old age.
Ironically, as she experienced the physical and emotional challenges of ageing, her
verse grew increasingly free—unconstrained in form, whimsical in tone, and open to
thematic contradiction and irresolution—and she wrote with a fresh candour. In later
life, Waddington remained deeply invested in the social role of poetry and wrote to
celebrate the ageing woman who often is overlooked publicly. Toward the end of her
career, the impulse to write of the disenfranchised turned inward and she was
compelled to write of her own experience of growing old. It was, in fact, in her late
verse included in The Visitants (1981) and The Last Landscape (1992) that Waddington
fully realized her ambition to meld the public and the private, the social and the
personal in poems that rendered universal experience through individual expression.
As reviewer Dennis Cooley admitted, goading critics, “even as they admired, have
not always approved” (62) of Waddington’s work. Cooley and Constance Rooke were
among such critics; each found The Visitants “an uneven collection” (Rooke 118) in
which a “commanding” (Cooley 63) voice overpowered the poet’s “undoubted lyrical
gift” (Rooke 118), on show in such poems as “Letter from Egypt”:
In this country
noon embroiders night
with golden
and the stars
leave their love
messages in
hollow skies
The publication in 1986 of Waddington’s Collected Poems would serve as clear
testimony to the poet’s lifelong devotion to craft and her achievement as a skilful lyricist
—and help soften some of the critical blows she had endured. Moreover, the call “for a
reassessment of Waddington’s substantial contribution to Canadian literature” by Hilda
L. Thomas, who admired the “[f]ierce, biblical, uncompromising” (167) poems in The
Last Landscape, would have had a further ameliorative eLect on the poet and her
The Last Landscape, Waddington’s nal full-length volume of poems, showcased the
poet as lyric orchestrator:
Let me sing myself
into the very centre,
the sunheart
of a flower.
And sing myself
out again on the
high-low scales&
of wind
its majors and
Then sing myself
away on all those
enchantments of climate
where a thousand bees
are humming
under the baton
of a single hand. (“Orchestra”)
Until the end of her writing life, Waddington’s faithful muse was the natural world; the
key to her poetic sensibility, it never failed to rouse her imagination and summon her
inimitable voice.
Three years after retiring from teaching, Waddington re4ected on her life: “I was
married, divorced, had the usual number of aLairs; I had two children and raised them.
I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, I didn’t commit suicide, I didn’t run oL with
somebody else’s husband, and I didn’t do 4amboyant things. In spite of it I feel I’ve had
a very rich life, full of unsolved mysteries. But it has been a sane life and sanity is
something I value” (Jenoff 12). She also claimed that “an artist shouldn’t exploit his/her
personality. The work should speak for itself and the personality should remain in the
background” (JenoL 12). Although she struggled to divorce personality from artistic
expression, life experience nonetheless informed Waddington’s verse, gave it its distinct
shape and colour, dimension and depth—precisely those facets of her poetry that
resonate still with today’s readers.
In retirement, Waddington continued to write and later became involved in
Vancouver’s Jewish community. She died in Vancouver at the Louis Brier Home and
Hospital on 3 March 2004 at the age of 86. That same year, an excerpt from her poem
“Jacques Cartier in Toronto,” and its French translation by Christine Klein-Lataud,
appeared on the Bank of Canada 100-dollar note.
* * *
My decision to prepare this critical edition of Miriam Waddington’s collected poems was
in4uenced by several factors: my long-standing research interest in the work of
Canadian Jewish women writers; a desire to rediscover an audience for Waddington’s
verse; my experience as a textual scholar; and the fortuitous mounting of Editing
Modernism in Canada, an international collaborative project housed in Dalhousie
University’s Department of English under the direction of Principal Investigator Dean
Irvine. Supported by a SSHRC Strategic Knowledge Cluster grant, EMiC has brought
renewed scholarly attention to Canadian modernist writers and has encouraged the
production of new editions of their work in print and digital formats.
My own work on this editorial project, the rst critical and scholarly edition of
Waddington’s poetry, has been carried out under the aegis of EMiC and has met with
several challenges. Notable among those challenges is the existence in manuscript
and/or typescript of numerous previously unpublished and uncollected poems; a
signi cant number of previously uncollected poems; multiple variant states of each
extant poem; and a number of Waddington’s translations, particularly of the work of
Yiddish poets, that she produced over the course of her career.
In undertaking to edit the collected poems of Waddington, I returned to a subject
that claimed my attention earlier in my scholarly career when, as a graduate student, I
wrote my master’s research paper on Waddington’s early poetry. In many respects, not&
the least of which is nostalgic, this project has felt like a homecoming and resonates for
me as a tribute work, especially since Waddington, whom I knew personally, died in
Neither my commitment to Waddington studies nor the existence of a Collected
Poems, prepared by the poet herself and issued in 1986 by Oxford University Press
Canada prior to the publication of her nal two volumes, lessened the challenges
associated with editing her poetry. First, the Miriam Waddington fonds includes
numerous variants of unpublished poems in manuscript or typescript, what editor Dean
Irvine has categorized as previously uncollected and unpublished poems. Since I include
a selection of these poems in this critical edition, it was necessary for me to study and
analyze the variant states in order to establish a viable copy text for each poem.
Waddington admitted that she resisted “getting started, but once I do … I write and
scratch out a lot. … I start out with an image or a line, one thing leads to another, and
then I have a rough draft” (JenoL 5–6). As archival evidence con rms, it was
Waddington’s practice “to write the whole poem out in a sketchy form; and then if I
have two or three unbroken days, I work on that same poem for maybe four or ve
hours a day. … I revise and revise and revise while I’m working on a poem … the
essence of writing is in the revisions” (Pearce 180). Initial drafts were composed by
hand and then revised on a typewriter; Waddington never used a computer to write.
When she did not “have time to nish a poem, and I usually don’t, I put it away.
Though I always plan to, I seldom go back to a poem after several weeks or months. As
a result I have many folders of un nished poems” (JenoL 6). Waddington mourned
these unfinished efforts as “orphan” poems.
The existence of multiple, undated states of a poem that had never been published
or collected made it especially diS cult to establish copy text, but I determined to
include a viable version of many of these poems for several key reasons. Their
publication, I contend, will deepen and expand the current understanding of
Waddington’s oeuvre, provide a more complete rendering of her poetic range and
vision, encourage new readings of her poetry, and enhance the comprehensiveness of
this edition. Essentially, they are included here for the very reason Waddington saw
value in the 1998 publication of Dorothy Livesay’s previously unpublished and
uncollected poems (in Archive for Our Times), which “form[ed] part of the magical
whole and the intimate tapestry” of her fellow poet’s life and work:
In some mysterious way they are what Henry James referred to as ‘the gure in the
carpet,’ and what we may call the invisible connective tissue between life and
work. There are messages here: messages from the dead, still unrevealed. They are
waiting for readers to decipher them, to bring them to new life and to discover
their deeper meaning. (Waddington, Foreword 10)
Second, a number of Waddington’s poems that were published in periodicals did not
appear subsequently in any of her collections. Although she asserts that her 1986
Collected Poems gathers all individual “poems that were published in periodicals but not
in any of my books” (Waddington, Afterword 415), this claim necessitated archival
research to ensure that no uncollected poems were inadvertently omitted from this
critical edition. Moreover, since Waddington regarded periodical publication as
“tentative”—“it’s all right to revise before the poems are in a book” (Pearce 179)—
variant states exist for each of her uncollected poems. Similarly, there are a number of
extant states for many of the poems published in Waddington’s fourteen volumes of
verse. The variant states of each poem, both uncollected and published, have received
careful textual analysis for the purpose of determining copy text.
Third, two of Waddington’s published volumes, Call Them Canadians (1968) and
Canada: Romancing the Land (1996), jointly produced with Lorraine Monk of the&
National Film Board of Canada, comprise untitled poems that accompany photographs.
To further complicate the editor’s task, several of these untitled poems represent brief
excerpts from previously published, full-length poems, and the poems in Call Them
Canadians reappeared with titles in Collected Poems. Moreover, the responsible editor
must acknowledge—and alert the unsuspecting reader—that the poems lose some of
their impact once they are removed from their original context and divorced from the
accompanying images. To accurately situate these untitled poems or excerpts in
Waddington’s poetic oeuvre was a particular editorial challenge.
Waddington did not “believe in revising the past, except for maybe the punctuation
[of a poem]. … A poem has its own life, its own time, and one should just accept that”
(JenoL 6). She may have eschewed revision once a poem appeared in one of her books,
but Waddington compulsively revised her work prior to book publication. Sometimes
she produced “ fty drafts” (JenoL 6) of a single poem. Even a cursory examination of
her manuscripts at Library and Archives Canada reveals her dedication to craft and
con rms the importance of revision to her writing practice. In tandem with textual
analysis, manuscript evidence of revision bore directly on my evaluation of variant
states and establishment of copy text. A supplementary database of the majority of
variants (including titles) and emendations in previously published poems, prepared by
doctoral student Catherine Jenkins, my EMiC-sponsored research assistant, forms part of
the digital apparatus (available on the University of Ottawa Press website) that
complements this print edition.
Finally, the signi cance of translation to Waddington’s poetic sensibility in4uenced
my decision to include a selection of her own translations in this critical edition.
Although she chose not to include her translations in Collected Poems, I deem they
occupy a central place in her oeuvre. For Waddington, whose rst language was
Yiddish, translation was a natural undertaking. She believed Yiddish literature was
“terribly important … [and] should not get lost” (Binder 94). In adolescence, she
translated several Yiddish poems for her “own pleasure” and sustained an adult interest
in translation, ventures which she once dismissed as “accidental” (Waddington, “Rochl”
192, 191). In truth, Waddington felt especially compelled to translate the verse of
Yiddish poets whose culture and readership were decimated during World War II and
whose work would lie fallow if not for the simultaneously recuperative and redemptive
act of translation. She said of Rokhl Korn, for instance, “the world of her language and
the audience for whom she wrote were dead” (Waddington, “Rochl” 194). During her
career, Waddington produced English translations of Yiddish poems by Jacob Glatstein,
N. Y. Gotlib, Chaim Grade, Rokhl Korn, Mani Leib, Itsik Manger, Perets Markish,
Melekh Ravitch, J. I. Segal, Zusman Segalovich, Sholem Shtern, and Moyshe Teyf.
Waddington was guided by several key principles of translation. She preferred to
work with a poem she admired—“the most successful translation happens with a poem I
wish I had written myself. That kind of identi cation does not always exist, but when it
does, I feel that an angel is looking over my shoulder and guiding my pen”
(Waddington, “Rochl” 192). She also sought to enter the “spirit” of the original by
staying true to the poet’s “feeling for language” (Waddington, “Rochl” 193). When she
was obliged to work with a co-translator, as in the case of her adaptations of poems
written in German and Russian, she believed the result, although “inadequate,”
nonetheless provided “a glimmering introduction to writers of other languages and
stimulate[d] important cross-cultural exchanges” (Waddington, “Rochl” 193). While
concrete images could “transcend most language barriers,” she conceded the
impossibility of translating poems with “complex metaphors that contain and compress
special cultural and historical traditions” (Waddington, “Rochl” 193).
Yiddishist Seymour Levitan appreciated Waddington’s translations as “a kind of
singing in two voices, the original poet’s and her own” (Levitan 27). Hers were free
translations that sought to “capture rhythms” of the original, but willingly sacri ced&
rhyme in the interest of “spirit, tone, and meaning”:
a translation should read almost as if it were written in English. I tried to achieve
equivalent—rather than literal—meaning, since it is almost impossible to fathom
the literal meaning of any poem. For one thing, there are many levels in a good
poem; for another, every language embodies a people’s history, not only in what it
says but in what it doesn’t say. The translator has to know the language well
enough to read the silences and somehow carry them into the other language.
(Waddington, “Rochl” 192)
For Waddington, as critic Shoshanna Ganz notes, translation invoked “aspects of the
entire cultural experience of the language, which is part of an organic whole involving
the written words and the implicit silences” (51).
Levitan con rms that Waddington’s free translations employed “paraphrasing,
condensing, [and] generalizing,” but rarely altered a poem’s images (Levitan 27). Poet
J. I. Segal’s approval of Waddington’s translations—“S’iz fray, ober s’iz gut” (free but it’s
good) (qtd. in Levitan 27)—gave her particular satisfaction. Rokhl Korn formed a
spiritual kinship with her translator and was once moved “to tears” (Waddington,
“Rochl” 191) by Waddington’s English translations of her verse.
A desire to promote Yiddish literature extended beyond Waddington’s creative work
as a translator. In 1958, she scripted a CBC radio program on Yiddish writers of
Montreal that showcased the verse of N. Y. Gotlib, Rokhl Korn, Melekh Ravitch, J. I.
Segal, and Sholem Shtern in English translation. She presented scholarly papers and
published critical essays on Yiddish writers throughout her career. Apartment Seven:
Essays Selected and New (1989) gathers her pieces on Yiddish writers Rokhl Korn, Ida
Maza, Moishe Nadir (pseudonym of Isaac Reis), and I. L. Peretz. As editor of Canadian
Jewish Short Stories (1990), she included her English translations of stories by Rokhl
Korn and Chava Rosenfarb. Waddington was also a member of the Toronto-based
organization Friends of Yiddish and actively sought to keep the language and culture
alive through community involvement. That she was profoundly in4uenced by the
intimate tone associated with Yiddish and that her own poetry probed the themes of loss
and loneliness, dislocation and exile that resonate in the work of Yiddish writers further
inspired my choice to include her translations in this rst critical edition of her poetry.
The exclusion from this edition of Waddington’s prose works, which comprise numerous
short stories, essays, articles, reviews, and translations, was dictated, however, by length
Waddington’s preference for free translation is felt in her approach to editing. Her
1972 edition, John Sutherland: Essays, Controversies and Poems, was born of a drive to
commemorate the achievement of her rst editor and publisher, and to preserve his
writing for future generations of readers. She combed archival and published sources to
locate Sutherland’s writings; collected, altered, and abridged material “mainly for the
purposes of clari cation” (Waddington, Introduction, John 15); chose to separate
critical essays from essays about individual writers; and adopted a chronological
arrangement that suited her intention to reclaim what Sutherland “himself believed in
most: the independent life of the word once the author has separated himself from it. …
Sutherland’s words are still alive; his essays still half-smile at us. Some of them are
profound and all are individual. … [His] poems are an attempt to solve the problem of
change, of how the self grows and still retains its central core” (Waddington,
Introduction, John 14–15).
Similarly, in her 1974 edition, The Collected Poems of A. M. Klein, Waddington did
not base her
arrangement of the poems … on chronology alone, but also on the desire to make a
book where the poems can live, nd room, and speak for themselves. This is the&
most important and least tangible part of an editor’s task and perhaps his most
serious responsibility. A book should be more than a mechanically assembled
aggregation of poems and then, if the writing is any good at all—and Klein’s
writing is—the book becomes a living thing and the poems can move out of it into
the reader’s mind where they may continue to live and grow long after he has read
them. (Waddington, Introduction, Collected viii)
Irvine claims that Waddington envisaged her edition “as a unit of composition, a book
in which Klein’s bibliographic structures and his fugitive poems organized into
chronologically ordered bibliographic units converge in the simultaneous telling of
alternate stories of the poet—some told by the poet himself, the others ‘re-membered’ by
his editor” (Irvine, “Editing” 63). Hence, Waddington’s edition was shaped by a deep
personal desire to honour Klein and a critical orientation that mirrored the overarching
organization and ve-part structure of her 1970 monograph A. M. Klein, in particular
her decision to group Klein’s 1930s radical poems.
Waddington’s notion of the book as “a living thing” (Waddington, Introduction,
Collected viii) whose words should long resonate with a reader informed her work as a
translator and editor and in4uenced the individual and adaptive strategies she deployed
in the service of other writers. My own editorial practice, delineated under “Editorial
Principles,” is less intrusive than Waddington’s. For the most part, I have adopted a
consistent chronological arrangement, have sought diligently to produce a reliable copy
text for each poem, and have eschewed editorial intervention. I embrace Waddington’s
view, however, of the “serious responsibility” (Waddington, Introduction, Collected viii)
borne by the editor and her belief in the book as a vital and organic whole, and hope
Waddington’s words are brought to new life by this edition.
Waddington’s impressive career as a modernist Canadian poet has not been
suS ciently studied, and her nuanced work, which sought always to be true to “the
physiological origins of a poem—from which the rhythm, tone, voice, and the very
breath of the poet are inseparable” (Waddington, Afterword 411)—has not received the
critical attention it warrants. In life, Waddington frequently claimed that she did not
“have the place in Canadian literature that I think I deserve … and I think I know why.
I’m a Jew, a woman, I don’t write out of the Christian tradition. … [but] I have faith
that my work, the best of it, will endure” (Moritz 8). It is my hope that this critical
edition will secure Waddington’s place among her modernist peers, reveal the breadth
and depth of her poetic achievement—accomplished and varied as it is—and introduce
a new generation of readers to the pleasures and challenges of her work—in other
words, foster the critical and readerly engagement her poetry has always deserved.
1963 Borestone Mountain Poetry Award
1966 Borestone Mountain Poetry Award
1972 J. I. Segal Award for Driving Home: Poems New and Selected
1974 Borestone Mountain Poetry Award
1975 DLitt, Lakehead University
1978 Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal
1985 DLitt, York University
1986 J. I. Segal Award for Collected PoemsPUBLICATIONS
Green World. Montreal: First Statement Press, 1945.
The Second Silence. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1955.
The Season’s Lovers. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1958.
The Glass Trumpet. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1966.
Call Them Canadians. Canada: Roger Duhamel, Queen’s Printer, 1968.
Say Yes. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Dream Telescope. London: Anvil Press, 1972.
Driving Home: Poems New and Selected. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1972.
The Price of Gold. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1976.
Mister Never. Winnipeg: Turnstone Press, 1978.
The Visitants. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Collected Poems. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986.
The Last Landscape. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Canada: Romancing the Land. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1996.
Prose and Criticism
A. M. Klein. Studies in Canadian Literature. Toronto: Copp Clark Publishing / Montreal:
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1970.
Ed. John Sutherland: Essays, Controversies and Poems. New Canadian Library 81.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1972.
Ed. The Collected Poems of A. M. Klein. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1974.
Summer at Lonely Beach and Other Stories. Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press / Valley Editions,
Apartment Seven: Essays Selected and New. Studies in Canadian Literature. Toronto:
Oxford University Press, 1989.
Ed. Canadian Jewish Short Stories. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990.
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Studies 11.2 (1989): 83–84.
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Callaghan, Barry. “The Games of Childhood, the Labors of Love Lost, the Labors of a
Labored Mind.” Rev. of Say Yes, by Miriam Waddington. Telegram [Toronto] 11
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Colombo, John Robert. “Waddington Writes the Way Cranston Skates—With Skilled
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1976: 33.
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Manitoba 2.2 (Winter 1983): 62–63.
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Waddington. Canadian Literature 32 (Spring 1967): 64–66, 68.Francis, Wynne. “Five Poets.” Rev. of The Glass Trumpet, by Miriam Waddington.
Tamarack Review 43 (Spring 1967): 78–80.
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Miriam Waddington. University of Toronto Quarterly 25 (Apr. 1956): 296–97.
——. “Letters in Canada: 1958. Poetry.” Rev. of The Season’s Lovers, by Miriam
Waddington. University of Toronto Quarterly 28 (July 1959): 356–57.
Fulford, Robert. “Toronto, Rich Cold City.” Rev. of The Glass Trumpet, by Miriam
Waddington. Toronto Daily Star 20 Oct. 1966: 23.
Ganz, Shoshanna. “The Sound of Every Falling Star: Miriam Waddington’s Poetry and
Translation of Rachel Korn’s Poetry.” Gramma: Journal of Theory and Criticism 12
(2004): 49–57.
Gatenby, Greg. Rev. of The Price of Gold, by Miriam Waddington. Quill and Quire 9
Sept. 1976: 13.
Gerson, Carole. “The Canon between the Wars: Field-notes of a Feminist Literary
Archaeologist.” Canadian Canons: Essays in Literary Value. Ed. Robert Lecker.
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Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. No Man’s Land: The Place of the Woman Writer in
the Twentieth Century. New Haven: Yale UP, 1988.
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June 2007): 53–84.
——. Editing Modernity: Women and Little-Magazine Cultures in Canada, 1916–1956.
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Literature 45 (Summer 1970): 73–74.
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Jewish Magazine, (May–June 2004): 27, 41.
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(Winter 1967): 65–69.
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1967): 45.
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and Selected, by Miriam Waddington. Victoria Times 24 Mar. 1973: 10.
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Editions, 2002. 184–95.
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In this edition, previously published poems are arranged chronologically, according to
date of earliest publication.
Previously unpublished and uncollected poems are also arranged chronologically,
according to date of composition. In most instances, a precise date of composition
cannot be ascertained and an approximate date or range of years is given in square
Translated poems are grouped, rst, according to the languages of the originals—
Yiddish, German, and Russian—and, second, alphabetically by author and title. When
the date of earliest translation can be ascertained, it is given in parentheses. This
arrangement was adopted for the sake of clarity and departs from the chronological
ordering of poems in parts one and two of this edition.
The copy text for each previously published poem is the latest version published during
the poet’s lifetime, even when later unpublished versions exist in manuscript or
typescript. As a result, the copy text may diLer from the earliest published version used
to date each previously published poem. Obvious (and infrequent) typographical errors
have been silently emended.
The copy text for each previously unpublished and uncollected poem is the most
complete—and judged to be the latest—extant version in manuscript or typescript.
Obvious typographical errors have been silently emended. In several instances, letter
case, spelling, and punctuation also have been silently altered to achieve consistency
and clarity.
Previously unpublished and uncollected poems presented complex editorial
challenges. As Dean Irvine notes, “[b]ecause the archives of Canada’s modernist authors
are generally more comprehensive than those of earlier generations, their editors are
frequently faced with armadas of avant-textual matter—notes, sketches, drafts,
complete and partial manuscripts, proofs—that pose pragmatic problems” (Editing
Canadian 64). The Miriam Waddington fonds, housed at Library and Archives Canada,
is replete with such “avant-textual matter.” In many instances, it is diS cult to discern a
completed poem from a work in progress.
Given the amount of material and its complexity, I decided to include only a
selection of Waddington’s previously unpublished and uncollected poems in this critical
edition, for early in my research I came to the realization that a comprehensive
gathering of such material would produce a work similar in spirit and depth to Archives
for Our Time, Dean Irvine’s landmark volume of Dorothy Livesay’s previously
unpublished and uncollected poems. Such a project lies outside the scope of this edition.&
Several factors inform the present selection of Waddington’s previously unpublished
and uncollected poems: (1) my ability to determine whether a poem was completed; (2)
my ability to determine a nal version of a poem; (3) a desire to include poems that
re4ect the broad thematic concerns of Waddington’s published oeuvre: love, loss, and
ageing; social injustice; nature and travel; and the writing life; and (4) nally, a wish to
feature a number of whimsical, playful poems—several written to commemorate
birthdays—to showcase a less familiar, more private side of Waddington’s writerly
The Miriam Waddington fonds is the source for all previously unpublished and
uncollected poems included in this edition.
The copy text for each previously published translation is the latest version published
during the translator’s lifetime, even when later unpublished versions exist in
manuscript or typescript. As a result, the copy text may diLer from the earliest
published version used to date each previously published translation.
The copy text for each previously unpublished and uncollected translation is the most
complete—and judged to be the latest—extant version in manuscript or typescript.
Obvious typographical errors have been silently emended. In several instances, letter
case, spelling, and punctuation also have been silently altered to achieve consistency
and clarity.
Previously published poems: The textual notes consist of a numbered list, in
chronological order, of all published versions of each poem, with an asterisk marking
the copy text. The majority of variants (including titles) and emendations in previously
published poems are cited in a supplementary digital database available on the
University of Ottawa Press website.
Previously unpublished and uncollected poems: The textual notes consist of a
numbered list of unpublished versions of each poem, with an asterisk marking the copy
Previously published translations: The textual notes consist of a numbered list, in
chronological order, of all published versions of each translation, with an asterisk
marking the copy text.
Previously unpublished and uncollected translations: The textual notes consist of a
numbered list of unpublished versions of each translation, with an asterisk marking the
copy text.
Written for a wide audience of specialist and non-specialist readers, the explanatory
notes tend primarily to gloss obscure terms and references. In addition, they oLer
contextualizing details—biographical, cultural, historical, and geographical—to aid
informed interpretation. Since they do not originate with Waddington, her translations
are not glossed as thoroughly as her original poems.The Collected Poems
of Miriam Waddington
Come, my friends, let us dance by the shore
Now the cold sun sets with a distant grief,
Though the black waves fret at the naked reef
And the evil frets at our hearts yet more
5 Come, my friends, let us dance by the ruins
Of all we fought and so bravely failed,
For the ultimate victory unassailed
Remains in the heart above the ruins.
And whether we know the sun once more—
10 And whether we live through these evil days,
Yet once, before going our desolate ways,
Let us take hands and dance on the shore.
1936The Returner
And such a warm sweet smell of hay
Was there in the wind as it touched my face
The year I dwelt in the country place—
And drifts of bloom that strung my way
5 In the noon-still hush of the summer wood—
That happy year when my heart was good;
And tangled paths for my naked feet
Were cool and wet with the morning dew,
The year that my heart of no evil knew—
10 And heavy bees hung on the wheat
By fields of clover that redly rolled—
That far sweet summer of drifted gold.
And now I come again to this place
Where iron winter has taken the land:
15 Alone in the bitter wind I stand
As the snow cuts sharply against my face,
Alone in this desolate field of waste—
And my blood is thin and salt to the taste.
There is the house of the summer days
20 With the last year’s nest among the eaves
And a skeleton heap of old dead leaves;
And a silent raven that hovers and stays
Circling the chimney and broken wall;
The snow drifts into the empty hall,
25 For only death and stillness are here,
And they overwhelm me where I stand—
The wind is cold in this hollow land.
1937Spanish Lovers Seek Respite
Now that night has fallen upon the fields,
Give me your hand,
We will go up into the mountains—
Up into the wind,
5 Away from the hot and heavy fields.
Let us go away from this:
No, not forever—
Just for tonight; a little rest.
Let them call us cowards—
10 We need new strength,
We need to be with ourselves,
You with you
Myself with me,
And both of us together.
15 Escape!
Escape from madness—
From the menacing night
That drags disease and danger and revolution:
Up there is peace, dry wind,
20 And sky clean and dark.
So let us go up into the hills,
Just for tonight.
1937The Old Sailor
There is much more to earth than sky and sea
And I would I had seen how the green grass grows;
They say that earth sings sharp secret songs—
My ears crash with echoes of great ice floes.
5 I am old, very old, and the quiet’s upon me;
An ocean of quiet streams through my bones,
Storms lie dead at the edge of my evening
And I hear in dreams how the dark sea moans.
Our destiny-shapers
Live in skyscrapers,
There they dictate
Vagaries of state—
5 But the people remain
In the subway train.
1938The Parting
All the fires we lit are dead,
But still the quiet ashes fall;
The bitter wind frets overhead
And weaves long shadows on the wall
5 I sit here lonely and grow mad
To count the years that come and go,
I ponder the farewell we had
In the wind and stinging snow.
All the things I loved were lost
10 Once upon a mountainside
In a bitter night of frost
When the wind blew tall and wide;
No matter all the words he said,
No matter that he kissed my hands—
15 On that night my love froze dead
Where the marble statue stands.
While all about us thick snow fell
High upon the mountainside,
I said my weary last farewell
20 For the sake of soul and pride
Too much of good and more of bad
That in a short swift year may grow.
—All lost with that farewell we had
In the wind and stinging snow.
1938Of Dreams
How many dreams are loosened and torment
The unrequited solitary mind,
Like fragrances that fall from women’s hair
Whose shadowy faces can not be defined,
5 Or vivid truths refuting argument—
Such lingering dreams are there
That constantly besiege the lonely mind.
How many dreams are dreamed and all unknown,
Beyond all purpose, outside any end?
10 Dim flowing out of the primeval urge—
Or weapons wrought by weaklings to defend
Who cannot build rude barricades of stone;
So strangely dreams emerge
To plague and haunt the mind until its end.
1938Out of Season
Quiet and brooding in October sunshine
Blooms the late and yellow dandelion,
Almost forgotten since summer’s flamboyant days,
And stirs from reluctant places in my mind
5 Memories out of season and one is your face
To torment me again with monotonous longing.
1938Struggle to Free the Spirit
Above us stretch the walls of our own vision
Grey and bare and unsurmountable,
We beat our hands with individual suffering
Against the bleak and narrow walls and seek escape;
5 And somewhere in the shadow consciousness
There stand the men of unknown company
Who echo us in our forever-seeking
And share with us our grim unyielding fate.
1938Unheard Melodies
I the tender and brooding outsider
Concern myself with subtle melodies
Fashioning usual themes
In unknown obscure lives.
5 No music of my own
But listening, listening
To the coloured hours passing
The smiles meeting smiles
The whispered conversations
10 In tenement courtyards.
Old lost songs
Of farewells between lovers
And flowers falling slowly
Slowly from the honeysuckle.
1938Early Snow
What if your first love passed with rain
A year or two ago?
She may return with wind again,
And winds so vagrant blow;
5 She may return with wind again
And wake the old heart’s woe.
What if she dreams her way to you
When April nights are high?
Secrets that the memory knew
Remind the heart to sigh,
10 Secrets that the memory knew
Will live before they die.
And if your first love comes in spring
Then silent I must go,
And walk my careless ways and sing
15 The strange things that I know,
And walk my autumn ways and sing
My song of early snow.
1938Night Wanderer
I am the one who walks in the square at night,
When the little marble boy at the fountain is asleep
And the sound of slow water trickles down the street
I am the one who wanders in the dark
5 With a woven basket on my arm.
It is a yellow basket, and the cracks in the reeds
Are choked with midnight sighs.
Who wove the rushes of my basket?
I brush past the fountain at night
10 Like the thin ghost of thought;
In the dark city square I go
Among the echoes of forgotten lieder.
I ask questions of the wind and the rain
And I ask questions of the night.
15 Three answers crowd into my basket.
When I go back to my room at night,
And sit on the edge of the little iron bed,
I shall set the three answers out in a row
And I shall smile sadly at them.
20 Who wove the rushes of my basket?
I have come away from the empty street,
Where the wind, gone mad, pursues himself,
I hear the gabled tower strike twelve—
And unknown echoes dog my feet.
5 I have come away from the empty street
And into a house that is emptier still,
Loneliness crouches on the sill
And grimly webs my winding sheet.
I have closed the door of this dreary place
10 And sit in the dark with folded hands,
The shadows press their iron bands
Against my temples and my face.
My mind is lost too deep to care—
I let the shadows tie my feet
15 And hear the wind in the empty street
At my window pause to stare—
The crazy wind pokes pointed face
And roars his mad laugh through the room;
What care I who breaks this gloom
20 Or halts the shadows’ frenzied race?
I have ceased to listen for the tread
Of someone passing in the street;
I watch him web my winding sheet
And sit and wait till I am dead.
1939Experience in Loneliness
I have made brilliant the little room,
Turned the lights on, one after one,
Plucked each lamp into glittering bloom,
This I do as I’ve always done.
5 Oh I have lighted this narrow square,
And set the table with pears and wine,
I opened the door—nobody there—
No one will come to visit or dine.
And a weary feast it shall be tonight
10 With sorrow here for a mocking guest,
And for all my cakes and my almonds white
I shall not have either peace or rest,
But huddled until the dawn creeps grey
Over the walls where the shadows press,
15 I shall sit and struggle the hours away
In vain argument with my loneliness.
1939Song I
Vows grow up like flowers
Precious white lilies,
Children believe in them,
The dear sillies.
5 For vows die like flowers—
Frail stems broken,
And what’s left is
The dried token.
And sometimes fragrance
10 Still hovers
And gives charm
To old lovers.
One of the troubles of being poor
Is too much potatoes.
There are one hundred and ten ways of cooking them
But there is only one way of eating them.
5 No wonder the poor lose their careless figures.
1939Woman at Evening
She sat and brushed her hair of an evening;
Silent, and smiling and dreaming she sat,
Brushing her long dim hair
Over her shoulders like a cloud of secrets.
5 The gloom gathered around her,
Shadowed her faint-gleaming arms,
Wound itself about her pale brown face,
Crept under the slow, heavy-lidded eyes,
Strange and mysterious with an ancient
10 Remembered wisdom.
She sat and brushed her hair of an evening,
Slowly she brushed her hair,
Long dim hair, heavy with twilight,
And she dreamed her woman’s dream.
1939The Zoo
He struts solemn and grey
In his narrow cage
With meticulous sway
As suits a sage.
5 And those who essay
Professorial cloak
Are usually folk
With a solemn brain
Like that of the crane.
10 Much has been said about Darwin
And how he brought disgrace
To the worthy ancestors
Of our human race.
But whenever I visit
15 The monkey section
I always notice that their inflection
Is much more genteel
Than the noisy bleat
Heard in drawing rooms
20 Of the élite.
1939Dream Not of Heroes
Gone are the pride and the glory
And the teacher Machiavelli
And the brave foolish story
Of sword and dragon’s belly;
5 Deep in the past they lie
Where the world’s gold is hidden,
While earth turns with a sigh.
In their stead, knowledge is a flash
On the screen and off again,
10 Our music is the crash
Of auto and aeroplane;
Civilization moves
From its inner grooves
To the dark outposts of danger—
15 Repose and quiet are stranger
Than wild geese winging in our sky.
Dream not of poets, heroes then—
For deep in the past they lie,
And earth turns not with a sigh
20 But with a groan and a cry—
Build for everyday men!
1939In Our Time
Bones rotting and life falling apart,
This is the truth gnawing at my heart.
Say no more.
The lilies are lying prone,
5 Stems broken and long alone.
Say no more.
However much we sigh
The graves must multiply.
Say no more.
There is a certain wear and tear
That comes from living merely
And things that once had seemed so fair
Are ugly now or nearly.
5 There is a certain coarsening
As mind shrinks at the edges
What is there worth remembering
Of youth save fun in hedges?
We never read the hidden look
10 Upon the face held coolly
We never read within a book
What was intended fully.
For life grows down and love wears thin
It comes from living merely
15 What if the heart still grieves within?
The mind’s at peace, or nearly.
1941The Bond
On Jarvis street the Jewish whore
Smiles and stirs upon the bed.
Sleep is the luxury of the poor
But sweeter sleep awaits the dead.
5 Sweeter sleep awaits the dead
Than all the living who must rise
To join the march of hunger fed
Under the dawn of city skies.
Under the dawn of city skies
10 Moves the sun in presaged course
Smoothing out the cunning lies
That hide the evil at the source.
I sense the evil at the source
Now at this golden point of noon,
15 The misdirected social force
Will grind me also, and too soon.
On Jarvis street the Jewish whore
The Jewish me on Adelaide—
Both of the nameless million poor
20 Who wear no medals and no braid.
Oh woman you are kin to me,
Your heart beats something like my own
When idiot female ecstasy
Transforms in love the flesh and bone;
25 And woman, you are kin to me
Those tense moments first or last,
When men deride your ancestry
Whore, Jewess, you are twice outcast.
Whore, Jewess, I acknowledge you
30 Joint heirs to varied low estate,
No heroes will arise anew
Avenging us twice isolate.
I who start from noonday sleep
To cry of triumph, ‘aeroplane!’
35 Hear nothing but the slippered creep
Of famine through the surplus grain.
Exultant females shriek, ‘parade!’
And crowd a hundred windows high,
From offices on Adelaide
40 They wave the khaki boys goodbye.
….The heavy night is closing in,
Signal omens everywhere,
You woman who have lived by sin,
And I who dwelt in office air,
45 Shall share a common rendezvous
Arranged by madness, crime, and race.
Sister, my salute to you!
I will recognize your face.
1942Second Generation
Child of a lonely traveller
in a strange country
I live towards my doom
closed in a small tight room.
5 Closed in a small tight room
where whitehaired quiet ladies
claw the walls conspire in lies
and wicked things to come.
Closed in this small tight room
10 there is a warm illimitable
thing inside me keeps me
alive and proud and sane.
Had my father known what
his children would suffer
15 through the oiled words
and the dull circumstance,
had my father dreamed the cunning
of this anglo-saxon conference,
he had never ventured beyond
20 the plains of home bloody and
cruel and violent as life was,
he would never have brought us
to this small tight room
to this bite-your-tongue-off doom.
Let us drink our tea austere,
Let us drink it amber clear.
Let our talk be sparse, secure,
And our theories safe and pure.
5 Let us pinch our minds in small
Let nothing trouble us at all.
Except perhaps some slight concern
For what domestic servants earn.
Neatly let us speculate
10 On varied forms of the state,
Take care that tolerance extends
To only those we call our friends,
And now another cup of tea
To celebrate our sanity.
Wail, white arms of women.
Your wailing cuts through the air
White lightning tragic.
Weep, thin voices of women
5 Wail and weep, your men are dead.
A fan spread over their dead bodies is your grief.
The black hoods quivering in the wind
The ominous hoods hollowing in the wind
Advance in tides of evil
10 Surge forward and are lost in the stain of blood
Spreading flowerwise.
I who am street-known am also street knowing:
Just ask me—
I know the tangle of hot streets behind the poorhouse
Pouring from the city like coiled intestines,
5 The smell of the brewery as it splays long fumes in the alleys,
And the streets pushed against the zoo
With litter of peanut shells and empty candy boxes.
Also the streets climbing crazily up the river bank
Between bridge and jail.
10 My hand knows the familiar gesture
Of measuring a child’s height in passing,
Even if I were blind I would see the gray figure
Hear the thin high call of the city’s authorized salvage collector.
I could tell you and no exaggeration
15 Of the in and out of houses twenty times a day,
Of the lace antimacassars, the pictures of kings and queens,
The pious mottoes, the printed blessings, the dust piling up on bureaus,
The velour interiors, the Niagara souvenirs,
The faded needlepoint, the hair pulled tight
20 And the blinds drawn against day and the feel of sun.
Then down between lake and railway tracks
The old houses running to seed, the grass grown tall,
The once-mansion made into quaint apartments
Where a foul granny with warts all over her face
25 Sits counting last year’s newspapers lost in a timeless litter
While her hunchback son runs nimble messages with covetous eyes.
Out on the street again into the fainting heat
Where bloom the rank garbage cans to the jazz of trolleys,
Past the garden where the old man drooling senile decay
30 Lets the sun slip ceaselessly through his fingers.
And for humour
A long lean lap-eared dog sits on a roof
Blinks wet eyes at me.
1942Branching from Golder’s Green
Branching from Golder’s Green
Was a one-way street called The Park
And it led to an orange house
Set in a sea of waving grass;
5 You can go in but you can’t ever get out.
This I learned from long love whisperings in the dark
Once on another continent on another street,
On Walmer Road when the world was peace
Rocking to the lullaby of doves,
10 And the lilac hush was unending ocean
And my face flowered under you.
Now like a child in a Freudian clinic
I construe maps to illustrate my sorrow,
Paint myself pictures of the legendary street
15 Where memory like a sleepwalker has plunged
Across an ocean and a world at war
To roam in London over Golder’s Green.
Hope has pulled the windows down
Convinced at last it’s no use waiting,
Lost is the dark caress, futile the lips’ impress,
The streets are loud with violence and Jew-baiting.
5 On such a night as this meant for a warm kiss
Between a her and a him in the closeness of limb
The ace Finuycane died after a bloody ride,
The poet was facetious again
And the terrible unhappiness of men
10 Haunted the rain-wet street,
Spoke from the shadowed eyes.
The drunkard reeled on his feet
And the professor cracked wise
While the juke box sang a melody
15 About blues in the night.
And hope finding this instead of the living kiss
Pulled the windows down and said what’s the use
There is neither love nor joy nor help for pain.
Sorrow is not a kind sister
Trailing dispensation in her wide sleeves,
Sorrow is not benign
Bears no blessings.
5 Sorrow is the strict almshouse where
Comfort is doled by government regulation,
Excluded are those idle, dissolute and undeserving
Who throw themselves upon the public bounty,
Only the pious adepts, practiced at talking poormouth
10 Are granted the foursquare peace, the limited bed,
The secret locker.
Here temporary outcasts come to sit
In the narrow courtyard set aside for them
Waiting for the sound that sends release
15 Echoing from wall to whitewashed wall
As they hear the trusty calling out a name.
For sorrow is not a kind sister.
I send you the message of my odd love
Across a world in which love no longer matters
I send you the message knowing it will not reach you
But hoping,
5 Although from the torturous routes of learning I know better
Know that love travels along set lines of communication—
In our separate worlds, strange ages, love is a sealed entity
Not transmittable and perplexing
As searching for the common factor in certain incidents.
10 For instance:
The wind shook mimosa flowers all over my cabin floor
The day war was declared in a remote village in France;
And later the jasmine perfume unearthed from an old trunk
That had been in China once
15 Given me by an old lover long after the love was over—
And the evening at the schoolteacher’s
When our hostess was in the garden cutting forsythia
The beautiful Norwegian pilot said, thinking of home,
‘Mimosa, after a few days the flowers drop and scatter
20 Over the polished surface of the grand piano.’
Perhaps, born into the world strangers
Crippled by intimate experience, slowed by learning
That comes after instead of before—
We go carefully doing what we once omitted
25 While maps change and the young quiver with new slogans.
Hardly hoping this small thing will reach you
Knowing myself a fool to take the trouble
I send you my love because your sombrero accent
Rolled over my senses like prairie sunshine
30 Like something from childhood well-known and simple.
To conductors on the street cars mumbling
‘Move along there, move along,’
I would answer, ‘What’s your hurry brother?’
Slowly and maybe smile.
5 To slums in odd corners of cities
Hidden behind smoke-stacks
Waiting for me to discover their sorrows
(Come today, lady from welfare, come today)
I would go straight as the crow flies
10 Arrowing over the Don and its leafy mudlands,
Over the brickyards, over the scooped ravines,
The most direct route.
Travelling on crowded street cars
Swerving round corners called Castlefrank
15 I am confused by advertisements
Engrossed by the hurrying faces.
So do not wonder when I knock at battered doors
If my smile is cold, drawn tight over afterthoughts.
He hugs his love close to his heart
O empty love against your heart!
And in the gloomy dawn apart
His hard tears rush up with a start.
5 She sits and hugs the empty air
And shakes the perfume from her hair,
The glass repeats her smiling stare,
As for her soul—winds whistle there.
1943I Love My Love with an S
Your voice has the golden slurr
The rough gritty burr burr
Of large wheat stalks sloughed by wind,
While your face is on my horizon
5 Like the familiar landmark always
Of grain elevator against a flat sky.
Your eyes are insistent centres
Like those ragged and bold field daisies
That exclaim for attention on roadsides.
10 I love you for these and also because
There’s something about you new and astonishing
Like clumps of fresh black mud on the cool macadam
On a sunny day in Kildonan;
And there’s a sort of hullo-john-packsack
15 And where are you off to
And the smell of new-sawn wood in clear September,
And altogether a warm biological sanity
Which is such a relief from the tortured neuroses
Proclaimed by some poets nowadays.
We are much alike but I wonder
Does your mind curve back to Jordan river
Where the road ends and the blind Pacific
Unrolls naked in sunshine?
5 And are your dreams
Swift underwater travellers along the ocean floor
Entwined anemones and coral branching high?
What of a smile that leaps like a white waterfall
Turning joyous cartwheels in the sun?
10 And tell me
If you are coloured with the green notion
Of dark spaced orchards clustering on the ridge
Just above Shuswap where the lake begins?
Did you see pears rolling golden down the hill
15 And apples falling above the heads of children
And the swing that reached up to the clouds?
What scarred hillsides has your desire climbed
Searching for pools where rattlers’ tails rustled
In irrigation ditches dry as clay?
20 We have a similar surface but I know
The dark central cavern of the world
Where I am ignorant and you know all
Broods beneath the glacier of your eyes
Unconquered as any costal range,
25 Your childhood murdered and your youth corrupted
In that dark cavern where I am ignorant and you know all.
Because I love my past and you hate yours
Let us join hands and plunge into the future.
1943Now We Steer
Before it was
Bear windwards to the cold island
Make short shrift
And let the sands drift
5 Over our eyes and sweet lovers lie
In hollow dunes shaped by our ceaseless sleep.
That was when
The whole centre of my world wavered,
The tenuous balance of revolution was upset by war,
10 The cupboards of the future all were rifled,
And I longed to be on a cold stone on that far island
With green to cover me up and blind me
With trees growing out of my sealed eyes.
Now we steer
15 Straight for the tropical centre.
The long ocean evenings that beckon
Like the large hands of sleep
Are a lost dream, and a false prophecy,
For life is a command and not an offer.
20 I know
Much that is cruel bitter and unjust
We are bound to suffer—
Our ranks will be depleted by the faithless,
And spirit comrades will not prove their spirit
25 Always in acts;
And I accept the sorrow
That of those we loved some will no longer love us,
Of that we sought much will not avail us—
Still there must be no faltering in the narrows.
30 Since they
Whose names were a white legend in our night
Auden and Spender and Thomas Wolfe—
Whose words poured through our blood like warm wine,
Whose hands rang clear and warning bells
35 Across the dark and troubled oceans of our youth—
Whose names we conjured with, fire across our sky,
A blessing and a curse together—
They taught us to love at our own cost.
One lesson we learned too well.
40 We must love one another or die.
And this is the truth that propels
Through the rough seas where we adventure now.
The winds of disciplined love still tense our sails,
And though they have carried us no further
45 They are a golden compass pointing south
To a possible world, warm and good.
1943Time I
Like a green shower locked in a cloud
Above a gray walled rectangle
Is the time waiting in a little golden bowl
To be shattered into bright instants
5 When my kisses will fall
Over your eyes and your mouth and your chin
Like sharp short glints of sunlight.
1943Two Poems
Your oh so gentle hands.
They are as pure and mobile as the lines of a poem.
They have all the cadences and wild changes
That ride my dreams at night.
5 They have the thousand-touching feel
Of grains of sand falling upon my back
When I am lying on a tide-abandoned beach.
Your oh so gentle hands.
They are like winds
10 Blowing under my sensitive skin in spring
And bringing my blood to fullest flower.
With your words and your desperate gestures
Are a violent punctuation to my life.
5 With your brilliant and dark and violent confusions
Waken the answer in me,
Throw me into drunken ecstasy
Of sea shells and swelling sands
And columns intercoiled
10 And human hands piling up into mountains,
And freshly ploughed fields hard to walk upon
And remote colours like pink.
Oh you,
I long for the reassuring feel of your hand
15 On my neck or anywhere.
1943Portrait I
Lady by Renoir au bord de la Seine
You so synthesize Sunday
With your sun-dappled hands holding the cautious umbrella
Your chameleon gown reflecting the mauve of summer
5 And your pointed feet
Treading between hedges pruned by the gardener.
Lady by Renoir
Think forward a hundred years to our Sundays
Ambushed by sun no longer,
10 No quiet leaping between our light
No sprigs of this or that sweetly
Tickling the ankles,
No river except
The slow surge of cold hatred
15 Flowing through secret passages
Under our tunneled cities,
The murder without motive
Ripening in a million brains
In the dull offices,
20 Bursting like a sickness
Over the angular faces of tight-lipped people,
Blowing an ill wind
Over the sterile and severe avenues
Unflanked by flowers or such frippery.
25 Along the close margins of the street-car tracks
Cruelty travels a safe road to a smooth ending
In our familiar country.
Here kindness is pruned and love
Torn up by the roots.
30 Sweet lady, remind me of Sunday.
I travel over you a swift railway track
Spinning to Gimli’s summer sudden beach
Rusty well-water, bitter, iron-tasting
Frog ditches pockets of jelly eggs
5 Hanging from banks.
High fenced park and between dark spruces
On the damp brown needles horny cones—
Past park fence to white cottage
Garden blowing with July lilies
10 Bursting orange from nests of grass,
A Polish woman bright kerchief keeper of two cows
Rich milk foaming from leaden cans
And the thin meadow path, another year
To the house by the lake painted a chalk pink
15 Where a shrill-voiced English woman handed us
Sad blue milk for our red pails.
So you lead to Gimli, straight to
Bleached sands, the gold-eye lake and
Pete the Icelandic fisherman
20 Pushing his old boat from its moorings,
Paint peeling, old fish heads smelling putrid,
Us poking dead eyes, swinging sticky pails,
Later picking the sand flies from the wharf
Their soft bodies crumpling in our hands,
25 Pulling at silverweed trailing its tough vines
Under the poplars in stubborn network—
Us sorting waterwet stones for dogshapes and spearheads,
Horror of seaslime
Dragging the sand for gold, building thick ramparts.
30 All those castles we planted in childhood
Now bear their fruit of lighted aching windows
My grief of waiting
In summer the light flushed faces of my girls
Rush to me with hullos along the green street of their growing,
And from their freckled smiles all their hopes bloom out
And in their curving laughter all their past is carolled
5 While the strands of hair damp against their foreheads
Are tendrils reaching from the roots of their joy.
Oh my girls, as you rush to me with your swift hullos
I see over your shoulders the years like a fascist army
Advancing against your love, burning your maiden villages,
10 I see your still minorities destroyed in lethal chambers
Your defenceless dreams shot backward into the pit,
And I see
The levelling down of all your innocent worlds.
I offer myself a splint against your sorrows
15 And I kiss the broken wings of your future.
1943Into the Morning
Into the deep mountain of morning now I stride
Holding my heart a folded bird inside one hand,
My other hand upturned splayed out against the sun
Catches and holds the light,
5 Burns fiery red, measures life’s concentrate
With rhythmic pulses, scuttles
White sailboats over the surge of blood
That breaks in blue riverflow against the wall of vein;
My two hands breathe in their separate ways—oh let
10 All end organs draw the sun to them, and let
All growing points turn outward.
1943Green World
When I step out and feel the green world
Its concave walls must cup my summer coming
And curving, hold me
Beyond all geography in a transparent place
5 Where water images cling to the inside sphere
Move and distend as rainbows in a mirror
Cast out of focus.
And this crystal chrysalis
Shapes to green rhythms to long ocean flowings
10 Rolls toward the sun with sure and spinning speed
And under the intensely golden point
Warms, expands,
Until walls crack suddenly
Uncup me into large and windy space.
The winter sky was cold outside
And the shadows of night fell over it
Like hair on a milky forehead.
The guests held forth in long debate
5 While the lamplight shone on the dark table
Like a soft tired operation.
It was one more day weatherbeaten
Trodden down on public paths
That criss-cross the muddy park.
10 One more day that I didn’t see
The city move on its lighted wheels
And the toy trams with their small noise
Through the gothic vista of the arch
Framing old Saint Mary’s.
1943Lovers I
The pale net of her hair blowing in spring
Will not shut out the world
Nor will the green knee of season
Bend to his will.
5 But these two,
Separated by the field of growing wheat
And several cities, still incline to each other
And from their distance merge
Slight and brief as clouds touching.
The long tendrils of time
Reach across her face—
Impersonal caress
Over her face.
5 Held in sleep
A silk tent stretched over storm
Is the sense barren,
Doomed from discovery
From exploration
10 The heart an open door
For all to enter.
Woman, lost from love.
I weep with you.
1943Rocky Mountain Train
As the mountain train carved its track
Through wilderness I was surrounded
By dusty soldiers’ faces smudged with tragedy;
Dislocation of the centre was implicit
5 In the wavering faces over khaki shirts,
In the swaying and the lurching on the track.
Under us the wheels hurried out a warning
And the wheel lever elbowed in persistent rhythm:
Never let children be born, never let children be born.
10 Outside the mountains lifted
And the sky dipped, while under us
The earth spun on its perfect centre.
The mountains lifted clear to the tall sky
And the fir trees folded
15 Close on their secret of deer lairs and doe paths;
The mountains sang up and down their distance
Of sons as thick as cedars, daughters fair as birches,
Children still to grow like smooth strong forests
To hold the slipping soil and force their roots
20 Into the slopes of future.
1943People I
None are forgotten, all add
Some detail to the giant image
Conceived in childhood’s involuntary dreaming;
All change it, mold the image
5 To new shapes, alive and flowering,
Small delicate griefs winding
Over personal maps of sorrow charted in youth;
All place in the blind outline
New centres, and give colour to the pale shadows
10 Edging the dream.
Some aim bright arrows of joy
Hit or miss at the bull’s-eye—
All shift the climate of growing
From cold to temperate
15 And always more tropical zones,
None are lost.
All pace their movements, all march in me
In a wide chorus of infinite answers.
‘I could have been in California
Over a rolling road of bootlegged rum barrels,
But they fooled me—
I’m handsome, but I’m not lucky.’
5 Sit down and tell me your full dream
Of dry goods store and your own children,
And I will answer with the round technique
That walls me from you;
Give your misfortunes, I’ll remember mine.
10 Mister, I could have been in California
If the perfect football had rolled in a perfect field,
If I had not been blanketed in bleachers
Or listened to the whispers from the loges—
Man, I could have stridden this world
15 Any autumn day, or moved the pillars
That held up the sky. I could have then.
The zig zag laughter that zoomed horizons crashed;
Hallos were stifled in areaways, and somehow
The silk threads of love were tangled.
20 I’m not lucky either—
So tell me your misfortunes, lay your plans,
I’m listening with one ear to my past.
Oh love, this bubble of blue
Swelling the vaulted sky
Contains us;
Oh love, this cave of light
5 Curving around the sun
Magnifies us;
The love of the whole world blazes
In conflagration
Of white delight.
10 What festivities will observe our death?
1944Fragments from Autobiography
Sun streaming in my winterblind eyes reminds me
I would have been a well-adjusted gal by now
If I had been born in the Soviet Union.
Driving a truck, a tractor or an aeroplane,
5 Captain of a tug-boat, first mate at least,
Champion sniper, or cook for a guerilla band,
Who knows, maybe a writer of plays
Sometime honoured citizen of the republic,
But certainly not this social worker
10 Divided by double guilt, public and private.
Hullo John Kirby
We love you love your band
And your four brown boys with the beautiful bugles
And your sweet slow tempo, high yellow pitched blue
15 Cradling curves
Long sweeps short turns
And the bass viol and the drummer’s heaven
And the floor spinning and the roof wailing
And the walls tumbling like the battle of Jericho.
1944Prairie I
I am not Pacific
I am not Atlantic
I have no Arabian movement
nor Byzantian flavour,
5 I am a dry square of prairie
in a middle province bordered
by a mile of wire fences, squeezed
between mountain ranges,
deprived of a forest and
10 starved for an ocean.
I have a criss-cross
of muddy roads a geometry
of railway tracks a couple
of clapboard shacks and
15 a scant scrubble of bush;
nothing but humdrum
the whole year round
I can still boast of
one royal moment when
20 the full warm wheat
of August grows tall
and green as our children.
1944The Sleepers
There will be no square of yellow light
Spilling from the open doorway into the street,
There will be no sudden illumination of man and woman
Clasped in a last passionate embrace;
5 There will be no agony in his eyes
Reaching after her departing figure,
There will be no blackout, no close-up;
But cutting through the prosaic years
Reality’s searchlight will pause
10 On the unrelenting mask of his face, explore
The reasonless dam, not knowing the hurricane rivers
Of desire shored up against its walls,
And there will be endless afternoons spinning their time out
Pouring light over his face and hands,
15 Age coming quiet and slow as a tide
Over a smooth beach with hardly a ripple to show
The sharp rocks of longing
Buried seven fathoms below consciousness.
And in her there will be a cave of light
20 Concealed under the eyelids, a world
Springing alive in her fingertips.
And in her a riotous garden
Seven fathoms beneath the world will bloom
Where the white curve of his nostril, the carved ear-lobe
25 Will blossom to permanent shapes, give form
To her huge longing, and she will spread herself
A sighing caress in the seagreen sunlight
Filtered through oceans of sorrow.
1944Lake Superior
The black rock and the red rock
And the plaid of yellow lichen—
The thin saplings on the ridge
And their white to-and-fro motion
5 Of young girls shivering in a theatre lobby—
The water moving like large hands of sleep
Over the forehead of the world—
Are the swift memos, the jotted briefs,
The careful abstracts meant for radio programs,
10 The collated materials
Dispatched to distant stations of the mind
To be broadcast for joy and green and sunny pleasure.
Unsealed unsealed
The dark channels threading the bone,
Multiplied the finger touch
To a million messengers
5 Climbing the thin wire of pain to madness;
The golden fish of my wish
Into the caving waters,
Bathed bathed
10 In the dry pile of leaves
Scrabbling the streets are my limbs;
And drowned drowned drowned
In the sky of loneliness
Are my years, my stars.
1944The Hub
I said to you
When the coloured net of spring
Was spread over the ocean of our love—
We travel roads that are parallel
5 But they do not meet at infinity,
We say words that are similar
But the context is different worlds,
We are cast in the bronze of curving joy
But we are not alive;
10 Nor shall we be, nor shall we find
Peace in each other or this chain of days
That staggers us into a golden summer
Until our love sends its strong tributaries
To the continents of our privation,
15 The dimmed-out streets and lighted factories,
The crowded buses and clanging offices,
The shabby housefronts, the brand new barracks
Inhabited by all our brothers,
The soldiers and the civilians.
20 Until our love moves with the large motion
Of the giant green hub which turns the world
Towards its difficult final freedom.
1944Partisans I
So read the text of snow, interpret
The cold fields in their crazy cloaking,
Explain the winter sky that lowers out of season
Persecuting April for no reason.
5 Dare to prophesy spring
Soothe the frozen buds with sun
And send the sweet flowing sap of bravery
To the thin growing points awakened cruelly
To meet destruction.
10 History’s erratic seasons toughen
And teach how to keep a smooth metallic surface,
Proceed with caution, confide in no one
Sharpen biological cunning, tell us
When to burrow back to the sure position
15 After a January thaw when
Like animals we wake out of season
And dig ourselves from warm holes of sleep
Out of the safe dark to make a false sally.
Now with fourfold witness of no permanence
20 We ignore all seasons, read weather in the sky,
Tell fortunes by comrades’ faces, chart maps
By our burnt granaries and wrecked bridges,
Shoulder the guns, disperse to hiding places
Behind enemy lines, live like the bullet
25 In one direction swift and unerring.
A sunworshipper
I watch the snow whorls skimming over the roofs
Like small horses dancing.
I live this long winter
5 And watch the snow whorls,
And dream the blue sea beyond the prairie
Where sailboats are lined for the regatta
And coloured flags are waving in the sunshine
And girls stand in white shorts with hair flying.
10 Me, sunworshipper;
Between us lie the long prairies
Like the dull pages of a sterile letter
In tight winter and the winds
Lie low.
1944Windfalls: Bastard County
A flat white peeling farmhouse
Squatly set in marshes,
Scrubby trifles of trees, an old barn,
The spinster sister and four brothers
5 Unmarried, one an imbecile,
The hoard of autumn fruit
Piled up in the springhouse, windfalls
That wouldn’t fetch a penny at market.
Bruised and battered, tossed by elements,
10 This county’s plagued with them,
No good to themselves or anyone.
1944Letter to Margaret
For Margaret Avison
I can see your grief as tightwhite,
As blond braided.
Under the prairie sun I see your sorrow
Scattering coins newly minted,
5 And over the thin snow you come
Bringing bandages clean and confining
To the limbs of your identity.
In me it is all cloud curved
And night scooped, hands without body
10 Stroking horizons, the headless riders
Ambushing caution and charging the ocean
Against all science;
In me a crowd of small gestures,
As if lips were animals and could creep
15 Along the edge of sky.
Nothing is ever the same and neither are we;
Different it is and different always will be.
You fear the pits and I am blocked by the mountains;
You walk in northern weather and I towards summer,
20 And still I say no shifting continent
Or sudden equinox can change
The different weather of our mutual element.