Bliss Carman was a poet who used details of nature impressionistically and symbolically, but not precisely and realistically. Carman helped start a revolt against popular pale and bookish poetry. Much of his own verse- 'Songs from Vagabondia' (1894) and 'Low Tide on Grande Pre' (1893) - glows with vigor of the outdoors.
Carman was born April 15, 1861 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He was a younger first cousin of Charles G.D. Roberts and distantly related to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He received private tutoring and attended Fredericton Collegiate Grammar School where he was inspired by the headmaster, George R. Parkin. He won the Douglas Medal for Greek and Latin at graduation. He attended the University of New Brunswick and received honors in Latin, Greek, Math, and was awarded the Alumni Gold Medal for Latin Prose. He then attended Edinburgh for postgraduate study and he read and worked at teaching, tutoring, law, and surveying. During this time he spent his summers at his cousin Roberts' cottage in Windsor, Nova Scotia.
While at Harvard University, classes with ballad authority Francis Child and philosopher Josiah Royce, whose emphasis on Monism and evolution, transcendental thought and idealism, came to have literary value to Carman. He then started to publish some of his works in "The Harvard Monthly".
In 1892, Carman went hiking and vagabonding in New England with a friend, Richard Hovey. He spent many winters with his family in Washington. In 1893, his first collection of verse, Low Tide on Grande Pre, appears. From 1896-1897, he went on a walking tour of England and France where he met many literary figures.
In 1906, Carman received a LL.D., from the University of New Brunswick. Later, he received the same award from McGill University.
He moved to New Canaan, Connecticut to work with Mary Perry King on educational and lyrical masques, in connection with her Unitrinian School of Personal Harmonizing.
Carman became ill and recovered at Saranac Lake, (N.Y.) sanitarium. A fund raising benefit organized by his friend Peter McArthur prompted Carman's first Canadian tour in gratitude (1921): so began his frequent regional visits, reading and lecturing. He was declared a Canadian Poet Laureate by the Montreal Branch of the Canadian Authors' Association. Later Poems (1921) was the first Canadian edition of any of his poetry.
He gave lectures at the University of Toronto in 1926. He was a corresponding member of the Royal Society of Canada (1925) and recipient of its Lorne Pierce Medal (1928). He received a medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1929). He edited the Oxford Book of American Verse (1927) and began work on Our Canadian Literature (1934). This book was completed by Lorne Pierce.
On June 8, 1929, Bliss Carman passed away due to stroke. His ashes were buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Fredericton. A granite shrine was unveiled on October, 1930, and a scarlet maple ("The Grove Tree") was planted by the University of New Brunswick in 1954.
The History and Society of Carman's Time
Bliss Carman was part of a group of poets known as "The Confederation Poets". This group included the well known poets, Carman, Charles G.D. Roberts, Archibald Lampman, and Duncan Campbell Scott. These poets wrote at a time where Canada was just starting to gain national identity and pride. The people were going through many changes both politically and socially. Once a colony of Great Britain, Canada became independent in 1867 through the British North America Act.
Carman was best known of the "poets of the sixties" and to many readers still the best known of Canadian poets. However, critics claim that Carman often failed to exercise objective judgment of his work, perhaps caught up by his later popularity with a public which took to the poetry he produced, often with greater facility than discernment. As Malcolm Ross has written:
"There is a core of striking and original work to be salvaged by a sympathetic criticism from the wastage of the poet's own lapses. The unique magic of Carman's style is often tucked away in a single stanza or phrase, obscured and sometimes destroyed by a context of flimsy improvisation."
Nonetheless, Carman has some great poetry with brilliant forms of expression, and some successful poems by any critical standards, for example, "Low Tide on Grande Pre". Carman firmly believed:
"To introduce facts into literature is to ruin it, and that seems to be the fatuous attempt of our age."
I agree with Carman on that point. To create poetry based solely on facts is boring. It is the feelings on the facts which creates the atmosphere. We know that the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, and many peoples' lives were put in danger. However, we do not know how the woman who held her only child felt as the ship started to go down. Feelings have more of an effect on our mind than the facts, and I believe this is what Carman is trying to convey in his works.
Analysis of "The Players"
In "The Players", Carman has a serious theme:
"Life beyond the grave is compared to the exit of an actor from the stage, on which all of us must play, as best we can, our respective parts. We do not know what went before or what will come after the rising and falling of the curtain, nor what impressions we are making of those who watch and judge the performance, but we hope that, when our part is played, we shall earn our share of applause."
In stanza one, Carman makes the suggestion that everyone is an actor in a play that is "as old as earth". This special play continues on, in good times and in bad.
Stanza two shows that we are unsure who created this production, "No legend of the playwright's hand". Stanza two and three are connected, and they show that there is no fame for those who were casted for this production. This may suggest the idea that everyone is born into the world as equals. The play opens with God drawing up his 'curtain vast' and 'there was light'.
From creation until the present, we come on and the dawn is our footlight; the earth is our stage. We come on to play our parts in the world, however we do not know what happened before we made our appearance. Still we prance around the stage trying hopelessly to remember what it is we are out there for, so we can put on a good show where the crowd applauds in the end. We should feel a sense of glory when God, the "Prompter" gives our cues to exit, or "retire". Death is looked upon as being our exit from the stage, our exit from the world.
The idea of the world as a stage is shown in many pieces of literature, for instance, this passage from MacBeth:
"Out, Out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
My Personal Reaction to the Poem
When I was born, I was unaware of the task that was ahead of me. The task was simply to live, however we all know that living your life isn't always an easy thing to do.
First of all, we assume different roles as we grow and develop our bodies and minds. I took on the roles as a daughter, a student, a teammate, a musician, and eventually I will be a mother, an employee, a wife, and so on. All of these roles are common to most of us. The different roles we play are vital in the everyday workings of our world and society. They shape our history, present and future.
It is safe to say that Mother Theresa took on the role of a saint in our world. She contributed to the overall well being of humankind. It is also safe to say that Hitler was the vicious dictator who led the attack on millions of innocent people.
In a stage play, every character serves a purpose in the outcome of the play. On our stage, we may not have a huge part, but every character, or person in this world has an effect on it. You may assume the role of the "Working Class Hero" who strives everyday to put bread on the table for his family. You may be a major character and be President of the United States who is the most powerful man in the world.
We must all try to play our parts well, if not we have problems. The student who does not listen is the student who does not get good grades. The man who does not seek help for a drinking problem is the man who becomes an alcoholic. No matter who you are, life comes with its ups and downs. It all depends on what kind of player you are to do well in the world. If you want to be remembered and get the audience's applause, give it your best shot. Jump out on that stage and tell the world that it is your turn to shine. The play went on well before you, but now the spotlight is on your face. The people want to see what you are going to do, say, and accomplish. Get out there and tell the world: "It's Showtime!"