from Oxford Anthology of Canadian Literature

Times and Places

This unit offers us glimpses of Canada and Canadians from coast to coast, in times past and times present.  Sometimes the author describes a bit of the country as he or she sees it, revealing something personal in the method of writing and the attitude to the material.  Sometimes the author borrows the point of view of a historical character.  Sometimes it is the human character, rather than the scenery, that is described.

The  material presents little difficulty in comprehension or interpretation.  Discussion will probably centre on regional differences and on the way those differences affect the attitude of the writer.  This might lead you to consider the way distance and space and geographical variations affect the nature of Canada as a country: the physical problems that are presented in terms of transportation, energy, and survival or the political problems that result from a disparity of needs and interests.  Where necessary you will need to do research into historical background or other appropriate resource material. You are encouraged to respond or react to each poem in either formal or informal writing.


The first three poems in this unit deal with problems that arise when an individual is unable to identify with the society in which he or she lives.  It is hoped that a study of these poems will lead to a more tolerant attitude towards human error and human frailty and a realization that right and wrong are seldom absolute concepts.  In order to achieve this result, however, you must become involved as members of the whole class, or a small group, in free discussion of the problems that are depicted in the literature.  You are encouraged to relate these problems to the circumstances of real life and to current social and political problems as they are reported through the newspaper, radio, and television.  You are encouraged to respond or react to each poem in either formal or informal writing in your journal.


The following five selections deal with the failures, the misfits, the unfortunate people of the world who for one reason or another lose out in the battle of life.  Discussion should focus on the causes of failure, the injustices of the social system, and the strengths and weaknesses of human nature.  Most of the selections are contemplative but not depressing, with the general tone lightened by the character and attitude of the protagonist, or by the occasional bit of humour.  Some are tragic. You are encouraged to respond or react to each poem in either formal or informal writing in your journal.


The following poems present women and men of strength and substance–stubborn, confident people, who hold to their convictions with courage and tenacity.  They are people with faith–faith in themselves, in God, in life.  They are people who refuse to be swayed by outside pressures.  They remain true to their own individuality, sometimes waging joyous battle with opposing forces, sometimes ignoring them.

Discussion should focus on the people themselves, their characters, their convictions, the beliefs or habits that they stubbornly refuse to abandon, even though they may recognize the cost in terms of human suffering.  You are encouraged to recognize, in these characters, people that you see all around you in public life and your own families.  Discussion should lead you to a deeper understanding of human nature. You are encouraged to respond or react to each poem in either formal or informal writing in your journal.

In It

This unit takes its name from George Johnston’s poem:

The world is a boat and I’m in it
Going like hell with the breeze;
. . .
Important people are in it too,
It’s deeper that this, if we only knew;
Under we go, any minute–
A swirl, some bubbles, a fleck . . .

The following selections reflect, in different ways, this same feeling–the feeling of being caught up in life, trapped, swept on toward something that looms on the horizon, but which can only be vaguely anticipated and never understood.  This unit will interest those who like to discuss psychology and philosophy.  There are no answers here; only a multitude of questions. You are encouraged to respond or react to each poem in either formal or informal writing in your journal.

Remember that poetry is more compressed than either fiction or drama, and makes use of rhythm and rhyme as means of conveying tone.  Poetry, in consequence, often requires rereading and concentration before all of its emotion and its ideas come through to you.

Poetry can have more than one meaning.  The surface meaning is the easiest to discover but the deeper or hidden meaning can, at times, be especially elusive.  In addition, the metre and rhyme of poetry (which give it a special quality and appeal to the reader) make the inner meaning more difficult to find.

Finding the meaning of a poem sometimes causes difficulty for many students, some of whom say they dislike poetry and claim that they do not understand it.  But these difficulties can be overcome, given patience and thoughtful, careful reading.  You will also find that if you can identify your feelings in a poem, understanding will follow.