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Archibald Lampman: Lyricist of the Earth

For the week of Monday November 11, 2002

On November 17, 1861, Archibald Lampman was born in Morpeth, Canada West (now Ontario). A writer who loved nature, Lampman is recognized today as one of the best Canadian poets of the 19th century.

Archibald Lampman

Archibald Lampman
© LAC / C-70468

The son of an Anglican clergyman, Lampman grew up in Morpeth, Perrytown, Gore’s Landing and Cobourg, Ontario. As a boy, he excelled in his studies and went on to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Classics at Trinity College, Toronto. There, Lampman was inspired to begin composing poetry after reading Orion, and Other Poems, by Charles G. D. Roberts, a young Canadian poet. His first published poem, “Verses,” appeared in the school newspaper Rouge et Noir shortly before he completed university in 1882. After graduation, Lampman taught briefly in Orangeville before moving to Ottawa to work as a clerk in the federal Post Office Department, a position he held until his death.

Lampman found his clerical job tedious, but he spent his evenings writing, carefully working to perfect his skills as a poet. He soon became friends with another young public servant, Duncan Campbell Scott, and encouraged him to write poetry. The two men often spent their free time together, sharing poems, and walking and canoeing in the Ottawa area.

In 1887, Lampman married Maud Playter, with whom he had three children. The following year, he independently published his first volume of poetry, Among the Millet and Other Poems, which was favourably reviewed. He regularly published poems in periodicals, including The Week in Canada and Scribner’s Magazine in the United States. In 1895, he issued another book of poetry entitled Lyrics of the Earth. However, his poetry was never very profitable financially.

Lampman experimented with different poetic forms and subjects, but he has been particularly recognized for his nature lyrics. His exceptional ability to capture the sights, sounds and textures of the natural world has guaranteed him an enduring place in Canadian literature. In “Among the Timothy,” nature’s sounds come alive on the page:

The crickets creak, and through the noonday glow,
  That crazy fiddler of the hot mid-year,
The dry cicada plies his wiry bow
  In long-spun cadence, thin and dusty sere . . .
Archibald Lampman (back row centre)<br>with Duncan Campbell Scott<br>(front row left) and friends

Archibald Lampman (back row centre)
with Duncan Campbell Scott
(front row left) and friends

© LAC / C-56072

On February 10, 1899, with his third volume of poetry, Alcyone, at press, Archibald Lampman died of pneumonia at the age of 37. His friend Duncan Campbell Scott supervised the publication of The Poems of Archibald Lampman after his death.

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