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The Victorian Age, Part Two
> Isabella Valancy Crawford
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.
§ 2. Isabella Valancy Crawford.
Isabella Valancy Crawford is the first Canadian poet of distinction, and her work would challenge attention in the poetical history of any country. She was born in Dublin in 1850, and her family settled in Canada when she was a child of eight. She spent her last years in Toronto, and her poems appeared, for the most part, in the unregarded corners of the daily papers. She died in 1886. Two years before her death, a meagre and unassuming volume of her verse was published, bearing the title
Old Spookses Pass, Malcolms Katie, and Other Poems.
In 1905, a reasonably full collection of her poems was published with an introductory notice by a fellow poet, Ethelwyn Wetherald.
Valancy Crawfords lyrical verse is singularly intense and pure, with the intensity and purity that we find in the work of Emily Brontë, whose shy austerity and solitary brooding passion her own suggests, without its tragic morbidity.
Loves Forget Me Not
which stands first in the volume, has this peculiar Brontë, quality.
Suggestions of resemblance to famous writers may be excused in an account of an unknown poet. So, the following lyric may be compared, for its daintily jewelled workmanship, with many a similar lyric by Théophile Gautier, with whose very name Valancy Crawford was probably not familiar:
O Love builds on the azure sea,
And Love builds on the golden sand,
And Love builds on the rose-winged cloud,
And sometimes Love builds on the land!
O if Love build on sparkling sea,
And if Love build on golden strand,
And if Love build on rosy cloud,
To Love these are the solid land!
O Love will build his lily walls,
And Love his pearly roof will rear
On cloud, or land, or mist, or sea
Loves solid land is everywhere!
And a further resemblance which, again, is purely fortuitous, suggests itself between
and Merediths tersely powerful ballad
There is the same compression, the same commanding vigour, and an approach, at least, to the imaginative breadth of Merediths great poem.
Isabella Valancy Crawford was no mans disciple, but she read her poets to advantage. There is a quality in
(not a wholly successful piece) which argues a familiarity with Tennysons narrative method, but the dependence is slight. Her dialect poems, of which
Old Spookses Pass
is the most vigorous example, bring her into a comparison which is not wholly in her disfavour with Bret Harte, Lowell and their progeny of Hoosier and cowboy writers. How original her lyric gift is we realise by her fresh handling of an old theme. There is a whole literature of the rose in English poetry. Valancy Crawfords version of the theme has the freshness of a new discovery:
The Rose was given to man for this:
He, sudden seeing it in later years,
Should swift remember Loves first lingering kiss
And Griefs last lingering tears;
Or, being blind, should feel its yearning soul
Knit all its piercing perfume round his own,
Till he should see on memorys ample scroll
All roses he had known;
Or, being hard, perchance his finger-tips
Careless might touch the satin of its cup,
And he should feel a dead babes budding lips
To his lips lifted up;
Or, being deaf and smitten with its star,
Should, on a sudden, almost hear a lark
Rush singing upthe nightingale afar
Sing thro the dew-bright dark;
Or, sorrow-lost in paths that round and round
Circle old graves, its keen and vital breath
Should call to him within the yews bleak bound
Of Life, and not of Death.
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