E. J. Pratt Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

E. J. Pratt’s career as a poet began with an unpublished verse drama, Clay. The play is weak in many ways, but as a whole it shows Pratt’s early interest in dramatic intensity, a characteristic of his later poetry. Clay reveals the poet’s increasing ability to control monologue and dialogue within a larger literary structure. Other literary efforts include two short stories (“’Hooked’: A Rocky Mountain Experience,” 1914, and “Golfomania,” 1924), critical articles, reviews, and introductions to books (most notably, Herman Melville’s 1929 edition of Moby Dick, and Thomas Hardy’s 1937 edition of Under the Greenwood Tree). Two other works of significance are his published thesis, Studies in Pauline Eschatology and Its Background (1917) and his religious verses and hymns, included in Denzil D. Ridout’s United to Serve (1927).


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

To define E. J. Pratt’s accomplishment is problematic: He is the best-known and most respected of all Canadian poets, yet he is an isolated and a solitary figure. His achievement is based on compelling and moving lyric and narrative verse, but his poetic masters cannot be easily traced and his poetic disciples cannot be found. Pratt avoided formulating a strict poetic creed, and he refused to follow the rules of any poetic school; thus he cannot be conveniently categorized or explained. Pratt’s artistic vision is indisputably broad, warm, humanistic, and universal. Courage in the face of a hostile natural environment, fidelity to the values that cultivate and civilize, compassion for those not always able to endure the trials of simple existence—these compose the core of Pratt’s preoccupation as a poet. His success in making these concerns concrete, particular, and forceful twice won him the Governor General’s Award, Canada’s most coveted prize for literature.

Part of Pratt’s success rests in his conviction that poetry is public writing, not private exposé or confession. By using plain language and traditional end-rhyme, as well as disarmingly simple plots or events (subtly enhancing all these through wit, irony, and contemporary themes), Pratt created a poetry that caught the attention and earned the admiration of both the general reader and the scholar. If anything, his career marks the culmination of the poetry and poetic craft that...

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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Djwa, Sandra. E. J. Pratt: The Evolutionary Vision. Vancouver, B.C.: Copp Clark, 1974. An authoritative and insightful study of Pratt and a must for scholars of his work. Particularly noteworthy is how Djwa delineates Pratt’s views on the roles of fate and free will in determining human action. Especially informative is the section on how Pratt adapts his many sources for The Titanic.

McAuliffe, Angela T. C. Between the Temple and the Cave. Ithaca, N.Y.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. A critical study of Pratt’s poetry with a focus on its religious aspects. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Pitt, David G. E. J. Pratt: The Truant Years, 1882-1927. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1984. The first volume in a full-length biography of Pratt, highly recommended for Pratt scholars and general readers alike. It is meticulously researched and contains plenty of biographical details to enhance understanding of Pratt’s poems.

_______. E. J. Pratt: The Master Years, 1927-1964. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1987. The second volume in Pitt’s biography, equally accessible to both scholar and general reader.

Pratt, E. J. E. J. Pratt on His Life and Poetry. Edited by Susan Gingell. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1983. A valuable resource of Pratt’s evaluation of his life and work from the mid-1920’s to the 1950’s. This volume provides much understanding about Pratt and his creative process. Included are two interviews Pratt gave on Canadian television in the 1950’s. Gingell’s introduction explores the nature of Pratt’s commentaries on his work and appraises their value in terms of their literary and social context.

Vinson, James. Great Writers of the English Language: Poets. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979. The entry on Pratt acknowledges that he is regarded as Canada’s “pre-eminent narrative poet.” Cites Brébeuf and His Brethren as his finest long narrative, an example of his ability to establish dramatic coherency in his verse. Notes also Pratt’s preoccupation with primeval themes of conflict in his poems.

Wilson, Milton. E. J. Pratt. Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, 1969. A concise but comprehensive literary criticism of Pratt’s works, emphasizing his strength as a narrative poet. Discusses his shorter, more lyrical poems, his longer narratives, as well as the sea poems and Brébeuf and His Brethren.