F(rancis) R(eginald) Scott Desmond Pacey - Essay

Desmond Pacey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1907 words.)