The Lonely Land

Cedar and jagged fir

uplift sharp barbs

against the gray

and cloud-piled sky;

and in the bay

blown spume and windrift

and thin, bitter spray


at the whirling sky;

and the pine trees

lean one way.


A wild duck calls

to her mate,

and the ragged

and passionate tones

stagger and fall,

and recover,

and stagger and fall,

on these stones —

are lost

in the lapping of water

on smooth, flat stones.

This is a beauty

of dissonance,

this resonance

of stony strand,

this smoky cry

curled over a black pine

like a broken

and wind-battered branch

when the wind

bends the tops of the pines

and curdles the sky

from the north.


This is the beauty

of strength

broken by strength

and still strong.

Dive in

1. The poet moves from one scene in nature to another. Read through the poem and “frame” each scene. How are they different in their descriptions of beauty? Which one is most remarkable to you, and why?

2. Read through the poem and point out the various uses of assonance and consonance. How do the persistent use of these devices contribute to the harmony of the piece?

3. Overall, what is the tone of this poem? What choices has the poet made to create that tone?

4. Considering your own reactions to the imagery, what choices would you make to ensure that each image is distinct and resonates in your own recitation? Use the tone list to help you decide.

5. Take the last stanza of "The Lonely Land" and use it as the first stanza in a poem of your own creation. How would you explore ideas of beauty, strength and conflict from your own experiences?


Useful Links

A short essay on the poem, from Queen’s University:

Smith took inspiration for his poem from the famous Group of Seven painters, whose work fits into a longstanding tradition of representing Canada’s vast and rugged landscape in art. Here is a link to examples of the group’s paintings:

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Bibliographical info

A. J. M. Smith, “The Lonely Land” from Classic Shade (McClelland & Stewart, 1978). Copyright © 1978 A. J. M. Smith. 

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