For weeks and weeks the autumn world stood still,
Clothed in the shadow of a smoky haze;
The fields were dead, the wind had lost its will,
And all the lands were hushed by wood and hill,
In those grey, withered days.
Behind a mist the blear sun rose and set,
At night the moon would nestle in a cloud;
The fisherman, a ghost, did cast his net;
The lake its shores forgot to chafe and fret,
And hushed its caverns loud.
Far in the smoky woods the birds were mute,
Save that from blackened tree a jay would scream,
Or far in swamps the lizard’s lonesome lute
Would pipe in thirst, or by some gnarlèd root
The tree-toad trilled his dream.
From day to day still hushed the season’s mood,
The streams stayed in their runnels shrunk and dry;
Suns rose aghast by wave and shore and wood,
And all the world, with ominous silence, stood
In weird expectancy:
When one strange night the sun like blood went down,
Flooding the heavens in a ruddy hue;
Red grew the lake, the sere fields parched and brown,
Red grew the marshes where the creeks stole down,
But never a wind-breath blew.
That night I felt the winter in my veins,
A joyous tremor of the icy glow;
And woke to hear the north’s wild vibrant strains,
While far and wide, by withered woods and plains,
Fast fell the driving snow.
- Based on Wilfred Campbell's poetic description of autumn, then winter, which of the two seasons seems to thrill him most?
- Just before autumn changes to winter, Campbell builds tension and suspense. Which lines create these effects?
- Personification is a poetic device used effectively to give the natural scene personality. Which natural elements are given which human-like qualities in this poem?
- Rhyming couplets occur as part of Campbell's structure. What is the benefit of including them? How do they add to the music of the piece? Where does alliteration (the repetition of the same initial letter, sound, or group of sounds in a series of words) also add music?
- If you were to recite this poem, which lines or words would you put emphasis on to help drive home the poem's meaning? Which parts might you read a little slower, and which a little faster -- and why?
- Nature poetry was popular among poets of the Confederation, not just Wilfred Campbell. Confederation contemporaries Charles G.D. Roberts, Duncan Campbell Scott, Bliss Carman, and Archibald Lampman all wrote about nature too. Why do you think that is?
- How does point of view change in the last 5 lines of the poem? Could Wilfred Campbell’s experience as a journalist have influenced his uses of two different points of view?
- Write about a natural environment in an engaging poetic style inspired by Wilfred Campbell: Choose a location other than a lake. Like Wilfred Campbell, try using an A B AA B, C D CC D etc. rhyme structure, as well as alliteration and personification. If rhyme doesn’t excite you, try a poem using just alliteration and personification. Don’t write in the first person until the last stanza or two. What poetic insight can you provide about the observed scene? If possible, visit a natural area and write “on site”; include elements in your poem that you see. Does writing “in the moment” differ from writing from memory or imagination?
June 23rd was declared William Wilfred Campbell Day in Wiarton, Ontario in 2019. Read about it here: https://owensoundhub.org/news/7529-june-23-is-william-wilfred-campbell-…
Learn about the William Wilfred Campbell Poetry Festival, also held in Wiarton by the William Wilfred Campbell Appreciation Society: https://www.wiartonecho.com/news/local-news/festival-celebrates-nationa…