Sunday, November 18, 2018

Ronald Bates' The Wandering World (#CanBookChallenge)

Something slim and serious. And then there's Humpty.
The snow was flustered in the air,
Clinging to its inescapable fall,
Descending with a finality of care,
Limning the trees and house-fronts. All
Whiteness is soft and warm:
There is no sharp harm.

That's the opening from Ronald Bates' "The Fall of Seasons" in his volume of poetry The Wandering World. Maybe only a Canadian poet would begin a four-sectioned poem on the seasons with praise of winter. If I had taken a picture of the book on Friday it could have matched the poem, but our Toronto snowfall from then is pretty much melted now, at least where I'm located. But that very nicely describes my sense of a first snow.

The book was Bates' first volume of poetry and came out in 1959 with MacMillan of Canada when he was 35. At that point he had taught at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, but had returned to Canada and was teaching at the University of Western Ontario. A second volume of poetry came out in 1968 with a privately printed volume between the two. His academic writing covered authors from James Joyce to Northrop Frye. (Details from a brief biography here.)

Without being rigorously formal, the poetry is fairly traditional for 1959, I'd say; the above lines are representative, with a distinct iambic beat. The line length varies here and elsewhere, but this is unusual in the patterned use of rhyme; other poems also use it, but most don't.

The book is sixty pages, divided into sections: Histories, Myths, Interiors, Landscapes, and Constructions. I was most taken with Myths and Landscapes. Here's the opening of 'Dedalus' from Myths (the only satirical poem in the collection):

The point is, he did not fly at all.
All those rumours about a fall
Were spread to bring me into disrepute.

A fatal accident's poor advertising
So it's not at all surprising
To find my trade's fallen off to some extent.

Bates seems mostly lost at this point, I'm afraid. I bought the book on a flyer when my local used bookstore was having a sale recently. I thought it looked interesting enough to read, and I did read it. Googling I found a contemporaneous review in the first issue of the journal Canadian Literature that mostly praised Irving Layton and dismissed Bates in a few lines. Unfairly, I'd say. There's things in the book worth reading.

My volume had this written on the flyleaf: " the meantime, poetry."

An entry in the Canadian Book Challenge:

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