Essay Canadian Landscapes in A.J.M. Smith's The Lonely Land

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“The Lonely Land” first appeared in the McGill Fortnightly Review on 9 January 1926. Smith continued to revise the poem, and the final, further improved version appeared in the American poetry magazine The Dial in June 1929 (Ferns 46). It later went on to be published in the first collection of modernist Canadian poems called New Provinces, which was edited by F.R. Scott and A.J.M. Smith.
Smith’s “The Lonely Land was inspired by both Imagist poetry and the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian landscape painters. This poem “has the same kind of place in Canadian poetry that Tom Thomson’s ‘Jack Pine’ has in Canadian painting. In fact ‘The Lonely Land’ was originally subtitled ‘Group of Seven’” (Ferns 46). The Group of Seven painted bleak but true-to-life Canadian landscapes. The paintings depicted the natural beauty of the land without romanticizing it. Smith’s poetry serves the same purpose through its Imagist influence. An imagist poem “abandon[s] conventional limits on poetic materials and versification [and] is free to choose any subject” and “undertakes to render as precisely, vividly, and tersely as possible…the writer’s impression of a visual object or scene” (Abrams 152).

Smith begins the poem in a bleak setting:

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

John Ferns writes, “In the first stanza we are presented with a harsh, northern Canadian lakescape of the kind encountered in a Group of Seven canvas” (46). The description gives a sense of a distinct landscape, different from the landscape poetry of the Romantic and Victorian poets. Smith focuses on the landscape that can only be found in Canada. The poem breaks away from traditional form and works in free verse. This breaking away from traditional form mirrors the breaking away from the traditional descriptions of a beautiful, romantic landscape found in poetry before this time. Ferns writes, “In the second stanza a lonely bird sound intensifies the already bleak picture” (47). The stanza starts with the lines, “A wild duck calls / to her mate” (12-13), which