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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Print Price: $21.95

368 pp.
5.375" x 8"


Publication date:
August 2013

Imprint: OUP Canada

The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse

Edited by The late Wilfred Campbell
Introduction by Len Early

Series : The Wynford Project

A century ago Oxford University Press published the first anthology of Canadian poetry - a beautiful blue edition with gilt edges. "There are selections of verse in this volume which now appear for the first time in the pages of any Canadian anthology," proudly writes volume editor and poet Wilfred Campbell in his preface. While he argues that "the so-called Canadian spirit is the voice of the Vaster Britain," his original selection submitted to the publisher was considered too traditional and British, poorly representing contemporary writers. The selection was revised, and a host of younger poets were included - poets now associated with early attempts to forge a uniquely Canadian voice.

Perhaps hoping he could sell his poetry to Empire readers, many of Campbell's poems reflect the British literary tradition of dark, cold, and dangerous landscapes. Cold is a recurring metaphor for emptiness and dislocation in this early immigrant poetry, as in C.D. Shanly's "The Walker of the Snow," Charles Heavesege's "Winter Night," and Mrs. R.A. Faulkner's "Frost on the Window." There is a less-than-subtle connection between cold and death, as in Rev. R.J. McGeorge's "The Emigrant's Funeral," J.R. Ramsay's "November. A Dirge," Evan M'Coll's "The Highland Emigrant's Last Farewell," and John J. Proctor's "Dead." Other poems likely chosen to draw the curiosity of British readers include historical topics (Charles Mair's "Tecumseh," Charles Sangster's "Brock," and Thomas D'Arcy McGee's "Jacques Cartier") and Aboriginal themes ("The Indian's Grave," "Indian Summer," and "The Red Men").

Midway through the collection enter the younger, contemporary voices of now-famous poets, many whom were published here for the first time. Bliss Carman, Charles G.D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, and Archibald Lampman - known as the Confederation Poets - explore a range of themes, from war to women to the Canadian landscapes. The later poetry includes E. Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk writer and performer otherwise known as Tekahionwake, among other women poets.

This anniversary edition provides insight into how early Canada looked and felt to newcomers, evolving attitudes about Canadian identity, and the early canonization of the nation's literature. The Wynford edition is introduced by Len Early, associate professor of English at York University.

Readership : With an array of styles and voices, this book is for readers interested in not only Canadian poetry, but English literature and history. Campbell's selections tell a detailed story about the literary culture at the time of publication. CanLit readers, history buffs, teachers, and students will all find something of interest in this broad collection.

Introduction to the Wynford Edition
Wilfred Campbell: Preface
The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse
Index of Authors
Index of First Lines

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

William Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918) was a Canadian poet, clergyman, and civil servant. He was born in Newmarket, Ontario, and studied at the University of Toronto, Wycliffe College, and the Episcopal Theological School. He served in various parishes from 1886 to 1891 before moving with his family to Ottawa, where he would work for the Department of Militia and Defence until his death. Often included among the Confederation Poets, he had achieved remarkable success by age thirty-one, having been published in the continent's most prestigious magazines. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1894. The Wynford edition is introduced by Len Early, associate professor of English at York University.

The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English - Edited by Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver
Canadian Poetry from World War I - Edited by Joel Baetz
Poetry by Canadian Women - Edited by Rosemary Sullivan
The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature - Edited by William Toye
An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English - Edited by Donna Bennett and Russell Brown

Special Features

  • New introduction. The Wynford edition includes a new introduction by Len Early that highlights the work's continued relevance for the modern reader.
  • 100-year anniversary. Published a century ago in 1913, this landmark publication introduced Canadian poets into the canon and signifies Oxford University Press's historic contribution to Canadian culture.
  • Fascinating publication history. Campbell's original selection did not include anything beyond 1908, and was mercilessly recast by a replacement editor. New, younger voices were brought in, challenging the inherited British tradition.
  • Earliest published works of Confederation Poets. Bliss Carman, Charles G.D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, and Archibald Lampman explore a range of themes, from war to beautifully evoked Canadian landscapes.
  • A nation on the verge of war. By 1913 trouble was clearly stirring in Europe, and Canada's role as a member of the British Empire on an increasingly tense planet is a recurring theme. A final poem, "Canada (Song for Dominion Day)" looks down the "long white road" to ask, "What shall I find beyond the rise? / Peace and plenty ... / ...or black Defeat?"
  • Newcomer perspective. Many of these poets were emigrants to Canada, and in describing their new home they often depict the harsh landscape with the full force of the British poetic tradition (ice, frost, blizzards, slush, sleet, winter, and snow make recurring appearances). Death, emptiness, and loss are motifs, but so is an ongoing fascination with the natural world.
  • Diverse voices and subjects. The breadth of the material is unexpected, ranging from young female poets to displaced Highlanders, the ocean to agriculture, Ottawa to Halifax, and Aboriginal peoples to ancient Egyptians.
  • Surprising role of Aboriginal peoples. While many of the early poems are influenced by the "noble savage" tradition, there is still interest in Canada's Aboriginal peoples and an attempt to make some kind of cultural connection. Of particular interest is the inclusion of the poetry of E. Pauline Johnson, also known in Mohawk as Tekahionwake, which nicely resists simple categorization.
  • New possibilities for research. The selection of poems and publication history here tells a more nuanced story about Canada's poetic development than is currently part of our national narrative. A second look at this collection will raise questions about selection, what poems were in circulation at the time, and the book's reception.