A(rthur) J(ames) M(arshall) Smith Earle Birney - Essay

Earle Birney

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Such of Smith's poems as "The Archer", "A Hyacinth for Edith", and "The Plot against Proteus" were, of course, no more independent of European traditions than had been the verses of Carman and Roberts which had bored us in high school; but the traditions were now contemporary, free of the colonial time-lag, tough and demanding, while the evidence of originality in their absorption was plain. (p. 4)

As it turned out, Smith was to prove less fertile a poet than most, and, though he was to continue to set us all high standards when he did publish, his dominance was elsewhere. What happened was not merely the absorption of his energies into the profession of teaching literature (one far less friendly to the creation of it than most people outside the universities realize): it was perhaps a conscious turning from creative towards critical leadership. He became our first anthologist of professional stature, and he is still essentially without a rival as such, however limited some now feel his judgements have come to be in relation to the newest generation of poets. He was the first of our critics whose opinions were based both on a close, sympathetic reading of the corpus of Canadian writing from its beginnings, and on a sophisticated awareness of contemporary critical ideas in the larger society of Europe and the United States. As a consequence he has been both historian and shaper of our literature, perceptive in discovering new talents,...

(The entire section is 468 words.)