When Canada celebrated its centennial in 1967, Canadians prided themselves on having established a distinctive national literature. James Crerar Reaney (RAY-nee), who turned forty-one that year, was one of the best-known poets and dramatists of his generation.
Reaney was born in rural Ontario in 1926. He attended high school in the town of Stratford and studied English at the University of Toronto. He received his master’s degree in 1949 and published his first volume of poetry, The Red Heart, that same year. It won the prestigious Governor General’s Award.
Reaney spent the next forty years teaching college and writing. He was on the faculty at the University of Manitoba until 1960; he then moved to the University of Western Ontario, where he taught until he was sixty-five. He married the poet Colleen Thibaudeau in 1951; they raised two sons, Stewart and John.
Attracted by the literary theory of Northrop Frye, Reaney took a two-year leave from the University of Manitoba to study under Frye at the University of Toronto. He received his Ph.D. in 1958 after writing a dissertation on Edmund Spenser and William Butler Yeats. Frye’s influence went straight into Reaney’s poetry. Reaney once remarked that Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism (1957) was a poet’s handbook, and his own poetry showed the encompassing range of literary styles and mythological references that Frye termed the “anatomy.”
In A Suit of Nettles, which won a Governor General’s Award in 1958, Reaney organized his reflections according to the twelve months of the year, with prose commentaries recalling Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar. In One-Man Masque, which he performed in 1960, he offered a darkly ironic commentary on life in the form of sixteen monologues moving from birth through midlife muddles to death and judgment. These two works showed Reaney at the peak of his form and pointed toward the directions he...
(The entire section is 807 words.)