All posts by Melissa Walter

Poem: Canadian Romanticism

This final poem is one I’ve been working on over the last year – the first thing I started thinking about when I joined this project was the (inescapable) connection between colonialism and Romanticist relationships with “the land.” There is a long tradition in Canadian poetry (and American, to an extent) of writing about the settler/pioneer’s emotional connection to the land, one which seems to involve a battle between being controlled by the land (and ultimately driven insane) and being the one in control.

Of course, what is not so much lost as outright ignored in this kind of writing is the existence of other peoples and cultures with their own relationships with the natural world, most obviously in this context the aboriginal peoples of Canada. “The Canadian poets” (by no means an indictment of all Canadian poetry! rather, the name is meant to underscore how unaware the speakers are of other kinds of Canadian poetry) literally gloss over other voices speaking their own relationship between themselves and the landscape around them.

Some of the poems I had in mind in particular, drawn from different time periods and genres, are Earle Birney’s “Bushed,” Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Dark Pines Under Water,” and Margaret Atwood’s “Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer,” all of which are beautiful poems and well worth reading.

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Poem: Outside a chapel

Another older poem (although revised for this blog) – in the Romantic tradition of reflecting on older buildings! The chapel I had in mind is at Trinity College, University of Toronto:

Outside a Chapel, the Windows Are Dull

it is the bricks instead, the wall
a jagged ladder –
sandstone scraping itself
up to the prayerful slope
of slate rooftiles that cling
to copper,
broad beam
corroded by contact
with the sky.

Poem: Tulip Festival

Spring came almost shockingly fast to Ottawa this year, and the annual tulip festival has been going on for the past week. I walk past it on my way to and from work every day and can’t help feeling a little overwhelmed, although not quite willing to be as effusive as a real Romantic would be. Line 12 of this poem is referencing a bit the poem “Tall Tales” by one of my favourite poets, Gwendolyn MacEwen: “Poets and men like me who fight for something/contained in words, but not words” (ll. 15-16).

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Poem: When I consider the mind

Since beginning to write for this blog, I’ve been thinking back to a paper I once wrote on Keats’ “Ode to Psyche.” The poem is fascinating to me because of the way it describes the poet’s mind as a sort of bower in which Psyche may live. I’ve written a poem in response to this image, although I’m not so much interested in the poem itself (it’s not exactly Keats!) as in how it has allowed me to think more about the mind as a growing thing.

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Poem: Winter Song

I’ve been thinking about the concept of wildness in the context of winter, and the idea of delirium seemed worth exploring to me. I had the skating episode of Wordsworth’s Prelude (Book I ll. 452-489) in mind, and especially the passage that begins with the wonderful line, “When we had given our bodies to the wind” (479).

Winter Song

Now, in the delirium of winter
I eat my breath
Warm and dribbling down thick scarves

And sip at wind
So thick it lies water-heavy in my mouth.

Meanwhile my vision, distracted,
Has lost the boundaries of sun, ice, snow,

All of them covered in wind
That drags them into each other.

But behind the wind
The cold slips in

Soft like snow,
Clearing out the heat
In brain and body.

The world is perfected –
Snowbanks sheared to stiff edges,
The blue lines of their shadows neat beside them,
The sunrise growing on trees,
The air;

And as the wind breaks on my cheekbones
I am sharpened to a blade
Against ice.

Poem: Now

This is an older poem – not one explicitly written with anything to do with Romanticism in mind. But I think my mental image of the speaker owes a great deal to the mythic Romantic genius figure (as seen by himself, of course!). I’ve been starting to think about connections between Romanticism and current genre fiction – more to come!


Now, darling, you know that we’re living in sci-fi –
I have seen this city from the sky
And it’s the gleaming metropolis of everyone’s dreams.
This bonfire of lights below us seems
So alien – what strange planet do we walk
Across now?
Honey, I’m not going to talk
About an alien invasion,
How their spies (so adeptly disguised) are already in position;
I’m not going to try to tell you, dear, that we
Have robotic brains. You misunderstand me.
Listen: I come to you as a prophet to his people, glorious and
Holy, reaching out my hand
To you my flock, descending from the height of this airplane.
I deign
To tell you the truth, beloved (and how!) –
I have seen the future, and it is now.

Poem: Rideau Canal

Hello all! I wrote this poem after reading a bunch of Wordsworth’s sonnets (although – a bunch is a relative term, since I read somewhere recently that he wrote 535). In terms of both content and especially  rhyme scheme, this poem was written with some of those sonnets in mind. I should also mention that the Rideau Canal is a beautiful waterway running right through the middle of Ottawa. In the winter it is literally a road, as people skate on it (it’s a big tourist attraction, but there are also those who take the opportunity to skate to work).

Rideau Canal

The water is a photo: strips and stills,
Darkrooms. The sun has nestled lower, deep
In branches that dip down to let it creep
Across them. Slowly sinking as it spills
Over the sky, messy, breaking, it fills
The –
            No – the water is a painting, and
The ripples moving brushstrokes, and the land
A frame; the sun a sloppy stain that kills
Or blisters colour.
                                   Best to say, maybe,
The water is a road. And as the sun
Slips down into the city, almost one
Might think the light that’s settling there could see
A path on which to build and blind, one long
Highway to run from night, and to grow strong.