Probably the best known Canadian poet, although he is far from the most gifted, is Robert W. Service, whose Songs of a Sourdough (1907) and other volumes contain rollicking poems about Canada’s far north. Service captures the unique identity of that area, emphasizing its harshness, its independent spirit, its respect for individualism, and the romance associated with its remoteness from the more developed areas of the country.
William Henry Drummond wrote poetry in English about the French Canadian experience in The Habitant and Other French-Canadian Poems (1897). Pauline Johnson tells about the tribal rituals of the Mohawks in Flint and Feather (1911), but probably the most anthologized Canadian poem in English continues to be John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (1915), a paean about World War I, in which he died.
In Newfoundland Verse (1923), E. J. Pratt, a versatile poet who broke from the traditions of sentimentality and patriotism of the earlier twentieth century poets, writes lyrical poems about the isolated, seabound life of Newfoundland. In his monumental narratives, The Titanic (1935), Brébeuf and His Brethren (1940), and Towards the Last Spike (1952), Pratt proves himself master of the poetic and physical detail that transforms his verse into accurate documentary writing.
Such poets as A. M. Klein, Frank R. Scott, and A. J. M. Smith were part of the international movement of Imagism, which emphasized concrete images and details in a free verse. From this American- and British-influenced school they wrested a Canadian identity by depicting in pristine detail the Canadian landscape and the temper of its people. As the century progressed, Canadian poetry grew less formalistic. In Signpost (1932), Dorothy Livesay writes openly about sexual love, and in her later volume, Day and Night (1944), she broaches the exploitation of workers. Realism was the byword of the day, and poetry about Canada and Canadians was encouraged.