F(rancis) R(eginald) Scott Essay - Critical Essays

Scott, F(rancis) R(eginald)


F(rancis) R(eginald) Scott 1899–

Canadian poet, editor, and nonfiction writer.

Although Desmond Pacey predicted in 1958 that Scott, an ardent socialist, "will be remembered … primarily for his social satire," Scott's poetry has deepened in later years; his evaluation of technology's impact on nature is thoughtfully conceived.

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 101.)

Desmond Pacey

As [F. R.] Scott pointed out in the preface to New Provinces, the onset of the economic depression of 1929–1936 provided the young experimental writers of the twenties with a subject matter. This was certainly true in Scott's own case. He quickly arrived at the conclusion that the depression marked the breakdown of the capitalist system and that capitalism must be replaced by socialism. (p. 230)

It was not long before these socialist convictions began to appear in Scott's poetry. For the first few years they appeared negatively, in the form of satire at the expense of the waste, inhumanity, and humbug of a decadent capitalist society…. [The] full force of Scott's satiric attack on capitalism vented itself in a group of sixteen poems published in the Forum of May, 1932, under the joint title "An Anthology of Up-to-date Canadian Poetry."… Sympathy for the unemployed, the poor, and the sick had led Scott to repudiate the respectable tradition out of which he himself had sprung…. (pp. 231-32)

[In his article "The Revival of Poetry," Scott gives his version of the literary revolution against predominant poetic practices and pays] his tribute to its leaders. The revolution involved the following changes: the assertion of poetry's inherent value, of the fact that it is mistress in its own house rather than the handmaiden of patriotism and morality; the extension of the range of poetry's interests beyond the traditionally poetical; preference for the concrete rather than the abstract, for the precise rather than the pompous, for the vulgar rather than the precious, for the gay rather than the solemn; and the liberation of form and structure by the use of free verse, imperfect rhymes and other experimental devices. (p. 236)

The close connection between Scott's social and political activity, on the one hand, and his poetry, on the other, is very apparent in Overture. Of the sixty-one poems in the book, no less than thirty-three are "public" poems, concerned with the depression, the war or other social issues…. The remaining poems are mainly lyrics of either nature or love, though a few of them … are reflective or philosophical pieces. All the poems are short, "dry," and intelligent, and they embody almost all the virtues which he had expounded as those of the new poetry…. Additional influences apparent, however, especially in the serious poems of social idealism, are those of Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden. The social satires are the most distinctive and original poems in the book, and on the whole the most successful. (p. 237)

[Events and Signals] does not mark a sharp change from its predecessor, but a development is clearly discernible. Its poems are generally more mellow, less acidulous, less "dry." This more relaxed quality appears in both style and thought. The bare style of Overture, made up almost exclusively of nouns and verbs, is here clothed with adjectives and adverbs. The rhythms are less staccato, the phrases and lines generally longer. There is a similar development in the imagery. The images of Overture were largely drawn from violent struggle or conflict, from warfare or mechanics; in Events and Signals they are drawn from peaceful and constructive pursuits, such as gardening and house-building. The development in thought is indicated by the relative paucity of satirical poems…. There are even fewer poems with an explicit social message, and here the message is not that of doctrinaire socialism but of tempered humanism. Affirmation and compassion have largely replaced the destructive criticism and bitterness of Overture. The approach to life is altogether more positive, even indeed religious. (pp. 237-38)

[The Eye of a Needle] brings together all of [Scott's] best satires, dating from 1925 to the present…. On the whole, the old poems are better than the new, although a few of the new poems, and notably "The Founding of Montreal," "W.L.M.K.," and "The Call of the Wild" make valuable additions to the Scott canon. In these Scott again demonstrates his deadly accuracy of aim at the soft underbelly of Canadian complacency. (pp. 238-39)

[Even] the most extreme of his activities on the literary and the non-literary sides of the pattern—his "pure" landscape poems on the one hand and his erudite scholarly articles on subtle constitutional questions on the other—can be shown to be closely related. In the landscapes he depicts the Laurentian scenery of Canada as having a cold formal beauty and clean purity of its own but no interest in human life, which is a mere trifling...

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Ian Sowton

The sardonic, sceptical habit—itself entirely salutary—has won Frank Scott many satirical victories but they've always struck me as rather easy ones. There are a few more such victories in [Signature]…. Good Bye to All That, while not exactly a case of easy temptation-easy victory, would perhaps do better as a … gap-filler in the bulletin of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. I am making a literary, not a moral objection. Cheap victories have soured all attempts of Canadian poets at satire. In The Blasted Pine, for instance, not even Scott's contributions managed to get the old Canadian pine really blasted; it was left a bit charred, but still flourishing in its inimitable, betundra'd fashion. The object of a satiric blast must be either obliterated or transfigured; you have to be left either with a smoking crater open to the chancey seed and fall of rain or with a burning bush. Neither Scott nor any Canadian satirist else has brought this off. Poems like General Election and Audacity seem to me to discharge the tension between soloist and urbanized, politic man far too inexpensively in favor of the former.

More successful than Signature's inexpensive satires is its series of world-tour poems and those poems celebrating the temporal, evolutionary process of the whole cosmos. In such poems as The Seed Thrower, Journey, Polynesian, and Time as Now attention is shifted from the zanier, close-to-home configurations to the widest universal concerns…. Here the single sensibility grows into a mulitple sensibility and becomes more human, more singular, in the process. The microcosmic soloist learns himself as a recapitulative paradigm of the macrocosm—not merely in terms of a biological theorem but in a living commitment to man-in-nature.

Most successful of all the poems in Signature, I think, are those of the soloist in a national landscape where the paradox and the sensibilities are realized neither in immediate, local Aunt Sallys nor in cosmic racemanship, but in the quality of being, so to speak, a landed immigrant who's both affectionate and sharp-eyed.

Ian Sowton, "Soloist," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XLIV, No. 530, March, 1965, p. 282.

James King

[F. R. Scott's] Selected Poems present an opportunity to reassess his literary contribution. The book makes little claim as great poetry; its value almost assumes a more gigantic role…. The poems are a dynamic expression of … an ambiguous existence. When Scott says he is like a leaf,… he's not only seeing his own discouragement reflected in nature but a vision enriching his awareness of the totality of Canadian existence…. The landscape so vivid in his poetry is no hypnotic daydream for Scott: to him the common fir trees speak "familiar dialect". (pp. 38, 40)

James King, "Poets' Canada," in Saturday Night (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Night), Vol. 80, No. 5, May, 1966, pp. 38, 40.∗

A.J.M. Smith

"He bears history,/the lakes/he dives under …" These lines will take us into the first poem in Scott's [Selected Poems,] "Lakeshore," one of the finest and most characteristic pieces in the collection…. [Its theme is] Man's history, which extends back into pre-history and before man. Its unifying symbol is water as the source of life. The poem establishes through a specific concrete personal experience a contact in awareness with biological history, stretching back to the primordial beginnings of life and all around to the earthbound mechanical now of "a crowded street."

By the edge of a lake, the poet—or, better, the sensuous mind that is the protagonist of so many of Scott's...

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Marvin Bell

[F. R. Scott's Selected Poems,] often regional or topical, are appealing for the personality they define: intelligent, compassionate, skeptical but hopeful. Many speak, with only slight indirection, about justice, charity or change…. (p. 323)

Others chide or lampoon…. The targets of his wit are writers, censors, teachers, tourists, businessmen, the socially prominent, and (particularly) politicians…. (pp. 323-24)

Mr. Scott's angry and satirical poems, variously ingenuous, seem so "right-thinking" as a group as to be above aesthetic criticism. His sense of place and time, of social error and justice, of his own portion of responsibility for what is good and what is not,...

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Stephen A. C. Scobie

F. R. Scott is best known, as a poet, for his social and literary satire…. The virtues of Scott's light verse are immediately obvious: clarity, wit, economy, lightness of touch, and brilliant wordplay. It has also been widely recognized that many of these qualities have been carried over into his more serious poetry…. [But] Scott's outlook, in some of his most serious poems, is a profoundly ambiguous one. His clarity is often used to define an ambivalence, and his wordplay (especially the punning) to embody contrasting meanings in their most concise forms.

This ambiguity is concerned with what such critics as D. G. Jones see as a central Canadian theme: a doubt about the nature and validity of...

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Michael Hornyansky

The Dance is One is Frank Scott's eighth book of verse but the first one to turn up on my plate, so forgive my salute if it doesn't match the authority of the tributes on the flap…. Rhythmic control is evident right away, and he can rhyme or half-rhyme when he chooses …; when he doesn't, the verse is free without becoming capricious or wispy. But what strikes home is not his poetic craft so much as the play of reflections, each poem framing an attitude to some item in the passing show: memory, or airports, matadors (whose heroism he despises), changing styles in the dance and their consequences (the title poem, deserving that prominence). He is witty about evolution's byways or about inspiration in a...

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Sandra Djwa

[F. R. Scott] has published verse—eight volumes—distilling in his poetry a profound and moving vision of the world and his place in it. As we read through the early periodical verse, the subsequent books of poetry and the Selected Poems, it becomes increasingly clear that Scott's subject is man in the generic sense and human relationships. Although many of the poems begin with the individual experience, the movement is always from the personal to the universal. (p. 2)

Scott is a strongly visual poet whose shaping "I" is closely associated with the "eye" that perceives…. [He] sees poetry as a communication, as a signalling from one isolation to another…. Fingers scratching on the...

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Germaine Warkentin

When [Frank] Scott issued his Selected Poems in 1966, "Lakeshore" was placed at the beginning, as if to constitute a signal itself, a definition of the poet's vision and a statement of his art which provides a necessary prelude to confrontation with the whole man.

What kind of signal does "Lakeshore" constitute? What event does it record, and to what observer is the message sent? We need to know, in order to resolve the problem … of the meaning of the poem's ending. Is the figure of the poet musing alone on Ararat an image of contemporary disillusion, or is the fact that he has survived his Flood the expression of some kind of blessing? One route to an answer is through an exploration of the...

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