A(rthur) J(ames) M(arshall) Smith

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Munro Beattie

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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.∗

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