Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
Critical Introduction by Pelham Edgar
Isabella Valancy Crawford (18501887)
[Born in Dublin, 1850; died at Toronto, 1887. She came to Canada as a child. She published one volume: Old Spookses Pass, Malcolms Katie, and Other Poems. Her collected poems appeared in 1905, edited by Mr. J. W. Garvin, and with an introduction by Miss Ethelwyn Wetherald.]
ISABELLA VALANCY CRAWFORD used to print her verses in the corners of a Toronto evening paper, and she gathered them into a volume shortly before she died. Her talent might have asserted itself more victoriously with altered conditions, but under circumstances apparently the most adverse it refused to acknowledge defeat. She was poor, she was isolated from intellectual friendships, she was without recognition, and almost, one may say, without a countryfor she left Ireland too young to have her memories rooted there, and had grown up in a land that had but feebly as yet developed its sense of nationhood. The only patriotic theme that inspired her was the Riel rebellion with its three dead heroes.
We can discover models, or at least sources of inspiration, for her younger contemporaries, for Mr. Roberts, Mr. Carman, and Archibald Lampman, but in Miss Crawfords case it is not possible to name either her masters on her disciples in the craft of verse. The certain strokes of her art proclaim her of the great tradition, yet she is not the slave of any particular style. She is not a picker up of discarded phrases nor a renovator of outworn themes. Her charm is peculiarly her own, and had her opportunities for literary intercourse been greater her originality, the most precious of her gifts, might conceivably have been less. One is sensible throughout her work of the springing vigour of her poetic fancy, and of the unfailing wealth of her imagery, which is fresh and has the dew upon it. Miss Wetherald, whose introduction to the Collected Poems deserves to be read, speaks of her power of striking out in direct and forcible phrases the athletic imagery that crowded her brain, and nothing indeed is more remarkable than the energetic way in which she conceives and executes her themes. What has been said of her may seem excessive praise, but if one accepts these superlatives as bearing upon the work of an avowedly minor poet they may be condoned. One last thing to note in a young poetry so preponderatingly descriptive as ours is Valancy Crawfords entire freedom from pedantry. She strikes no bargain with nature, but she looks outwards with unspoiled eyes and combines all her centurys passion for beauty with the simplicity of a less sophisticated time.