Canadian Poets of the Great War…

In 1918, W.D. Lighthall gave the Presidential Address to the Royal Society of Canada, titled Canadian Poets of the Great War.  A very delicate pamphlet was produced, running to a little more than twenty pages.

Difficult to find in its original state, there are currently no first edition copies for sale on Abebooks  or Bookfinder.  Thankfully, one can download a copy from the Internet Archive here.

While acknowledging that his remarks about the literature of the war is merely a preliminary study, Lighthall predicts a period of great literary activity and feels that we must “scrutinize the straws in the wind, because that literary activity will not be merely a bookish matter, but a voice issuing out of our people’s deepest soul”.

Lighthall begins with a brief discussion of the Confederation poets, and how some of these writers have become war poets themselves: Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, etc.  Of particular interest to this blog is the work Lighthall cites from “the new generation.”  First he quotes McCrae’s In Flanders Fields,  followed by Bernard Freeman Trotter (billed as “the Canadian Rupert Brook” by his publishers) before moving on, briefly, to Peregrine Acland.


Lighthall states,

The verses from Lt. Peregrine Acland’s Poem “The Reveille of Romance” which I am about to quote show the spirit of high resolve and the imaginative outlook with actuated those who sprang to arms at the first call.  This spirit upheld many throughout the stress of the campaigns.  The author, who wrote the lines at seas on his way to the front, proved himself a fine soldier, received the Military Cross, was promoted to the rank of Major and was severely wounded.

Lighthall then quotes the last six stanzas of Reveille, without further comment, before moving on to cite several poems written by women, some written from the French Canadian perspective, and before quoting his own work (at length).  His summary is largely uninformative, except for the reasoned claim that much of the poetry that will result from the war is yet to come.

A curiosity of the period, but worth taking a look at.  What I find surprising is Acland’s inclusion alongside McCrae and Trotter as an example of the new soldier poets.

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