Wednesday, September 03, 2014

`Without Grief the Golden Days Go By'

September meant school, of course, a torment because summer continued outdoors without us. It meant new cars and new television shows, all of which once seemed important. The nights cooled after Labor Day, we picked the last of the tomatoes and the silver maples turned yellow. Time to harvest marigold seeds. In Cleveland, on the southern shore of Lake Erie, the seasonal cusp was a tease. Anything could happen. We learned to live with predictable volatility – a useful lesson in life. 

Archibald Lampman (1861-1899) was a poet born in Morpeth, Ontario, seventy-five miles due north of Cleveland, on the north shore. For most of my life I lived close to Canada, a nation that remains exotic for its normalcy in my imagination. Not knowing Lampman is like an American not knowing E.A. Robinson. His poems are late-Romantic, Canadian Keats by way of Tennyson. His thinking can be mushy but there’s a soft, uninsistent melancholy about his poems – call it Northern if not Canadian – I listen for. He loved the natural world but was no nature mystic. 

Driving north out of Toronto in the rain, through rural Ontario, we saw fields of goldenrod, a Northern landscape. The sky was low and gray, and the rain never stopped. My fourteen-year-old son is returning for his second year at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora. We move him into his dorm today. In “September,” Lampman knows the “Acres of withered vervain, purple-gray, / Branches of aster, groves of goldenrod.” He writes: 

“Thus without grief the golden days go by,
So soft we scarcely notice how they wend,
And like a smile half happy, or a sigh,
The summer passes to her quiet end.”

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