A(rthur) J(ames) M(arshall) Smith Munro Beattie - Essay

Munro Beattie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Clearly Smith has refined and polished his own poems with unremitting care. His subtle imagination and skilful craftsmanship most strikingly display themselves in the poems ("Shadows There are," "Ode: The Eumenides," "The Bridegroom," "News of the Phoenix," "Like an Old Proud King in a Parable," and "The Plot against Proteus") which most clearly derive from the poetic strategy learned, through Eliot, Stevens, Edith Sitwell, and the later Yeats, from the Symbolistes. If a few of these poems produce an effect of airlessness, that may be because they seem to have been composed on the same principle as some of Mallarmé's sonnets: imagery, rhythm, and incident evoke the emotional quality of an experience without defining it. A small narrative is stated or implied in words and images which contrive to be at once precise and mysterious—"an artificial, beautiful, and cubist world."

In a few slightly later poems … ("Noctambule," "Poor Innocent"), he pushes his imagery in the direction of fantasy, achieving an effectively surrealistic quality. Other and more impressive poems, on the whole—such as "Son-and-Heir," "The Common Man," "The Face," and "Far West"—comment cryptically and ironically on some twentieth-century perils and aberrations. His finest symbolist poem is his "Ode: On the Death of William Butler Yeats."

One manner he essayed in his earliest years as a poet he has not, unfortunately, returned to. This is the descriptive-evocative landscape poem in short, sensitive free-verse lines. "Sea Cliff," "The Creek," "Swift Current," and "The Lonely Land" … are all admirable (p. 243)

Munro Beattie, "Poetry: 1920–1935," in Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English, Vol. II, Karl F. Klinck, general editor (© University of Toronto Press 1965, 1976), second edition, University of Toronto Press, 1976, pp. 234-53.∗