Sunday, 8 February 2015

Depiction of the Natural World in Poetry

The depiction of the natural world has been one of the most popular topics in mainstream Canadian poetry since the first Europeans set foot on the North American continent. Please read some of these early - and/or more recent - poems that deal with the Canadian landscape and comment on them.

Feel free to compare the poems to paintings with similar topics, for instance, to paintings by Emily Carr or by the Group of Seven if you wish.

Alternatively, feel free to illustrate one of the poems yourself and post a picture of your illustration - or write a poem or a piece of music about your favourite Canadian landscape or landscape painting and share it with us. Enjoy!

Jack Pine by Tom Thomson
Image from:,_by_Tom_Thomson.jpg


  1. We examined numerous poems in class that explored the Canadian landscape, and while they were all lovely my favourite one was "Sea Cliff" by A. J. M. Smith. As a person who grew up on the west coast I have always lived in close proximity to the ocean and so this poem which has such strong imagery of the sea really resonated with me. I have fond childhood memories of visiting Tofino and the west coast of Vancouver Island in the fall/ winter and facing the gruelling wind and rain off the pacific. In "Sea Cliff" I particularly like the line "this is a beauty of dissonance", and find it rings very true on the west coast. There is a tension between the elements and the physical environment here that can seem drastic or rough, but I think there is a unique beauty in the stormy west coast winter weather that creates dramatic waves and moulds the trees by "bending the tops of the pines". I find that there is a surprising peace that comes along with storms because even though the weather itself can be loud and dramatic, people are less inclined to go outside resulting in a space free of people which in this day and age is very rare. Storms exemplify to me "the beauty of strength" because even though the wind beats the trees and the waves crash against the rocky shore, the physical environment is able to stay strong against the strength of the elements.

  2. I really enjoyed A.J.M. Smith's "The Lonely Land." It immediately reminded me of Group of Seven paintings. I'll share one by Lawren Harris that I feels emulates the feeling of this poem, though I know there are plenty by the others that'll fit in too (and maybe even better). He just happens to be one of my favourite painters, Canadian or not.

    Both the poem and the painting (most of the paintings done by the Group of Seven) depict the Canadian landscape in a way that isn't pastoral, but sort of bleak and isolated. You get the sense of an untamed landscape, in the "cedar and jagged fir" that "uplift sharp barbs/against the gray and cloud-piled sky" or in the call of the wild duck. If I'm not mistaken, I think the "beauty of dissonance" stanza as well as the stanza on the "beauty of strength" is from "The Lonely Land" rather than "Sea Cliff." Other than that, I agree with Claire's opinion of it. I love the repetition there, as well as in the duck stanza, emulating the echo of the duck's call and what I feel are the echos of a man's thoughts on the land, paralleling the continuous and unrelenting nature of said land with its rows of trees and insistent winds.

    Just thought I'd share a bit, this is the concluding stanza of a list poem I wrote recently:

    Where I'm from, the mountains are cut
    from the blues of the afternoon sky
    They wait behind grey mornings,
    grandly oppose imminent nights
    Here I walk alongside cars with my heart
    feeling whole
    in awe of nature and city

    And just for fun, this is a painting I did as part of my Historica project (Canadian history version of a science fair that I wish was still being held) when I was in the 7th grade. Sorry, the picture of it isn't the best.

  3. I also came across this article when reading the galleries west magazine a while back:

    It's about a project involving Canadian artists (including the Group of Seven) during the early 40's- 60's, sending silkscreen prints of the Canadian landscape across the country and to military barracks and embassies. I'd never heard about it previously, fascinating stuff! I just love how the Canadian landscape is able to evoke so much pride in people, and how that's still a relatable sentiment today.

  4. Below is a work-in-progress poem based on some scenery I witnessed on a ferry-ride between Vancouver and Victoria. I was lucky enough to catch the sunrise. Unlike me, however, the narrator of the poem is from Victoria. (...The formatting of the poem might not show up properly!)

    In the morn' mist,
    The turtle islands glide past the boat,
    Carving roads into the deep blue
    Of the sea.
    Salt, the smell
    Of salt and brine rides on the storm-tossed wind.
    A lonely house,
    Perched atop a turtle's back,
    Grows smaller and smaller from view.

    In the early light,
    The boat glides on and the sun
    Begins to carve a yellow road into the ocean blue.
    I can see Victoria.
    Is a big turtle, with magenta-red flowers in her jaw.
    Houses are perched along her back,
    And they grow bigger and bigger into view.

    The scent of home is carried upon the breeze.


    One of the poem's I thought depicted Canada's natural world well is Anne Marriott's "The WInd Our Enemy." Undoubtedly some people will have heard of this poem, seeing as it is frequently cited. I recall reading this some years ago and being very struck by its vivid imagery of the natural world. Marriott does not hold back in describing the reality of living in the dusty plains of Canada.The poem speaks of nature both in a positive and negative way. The very title itself names the wind as an enemy, but not everything about nature brings the people hardship. There is also beauty in the rolling fields of wheat, lit by the sun, and thrills in the beating of the horses' hooves.
    This poem shows the way man and nature interact. The people rely on the land to provide for them but the conditions can be harsh and unforgiving. To me, this shows that nature is not something that can be subjugated to the will of man regardless of man's attempts. It is easy for us, especially today when we live in such urban areas, to forget the strength of nature. This poem is a reminder that we should not disregard the natural world.