The Work of Poet and Philosoher Archibald Lampman
Poet and philosopher Archibald Lampman (1861-1899) led not a life of his
own, but an existance forced upon him by peers and an unfeeling and cold society.
Dying far before his time, Lampman led a life of misery. He was supported only
by a few close friends and his immortal poetry. This essay is founded around one
particular of his works but I feel it necessary to discuss the conditions in
which he lived in order to fully understand what he was trying to express and/or
Lampman really hated his day to day life, he lived only for his friends and
his works. Trapped in a city for which he had no love, he often reflected his
loathing of it in his numerous works situated in cities. A lover of nature,
Lampmans poems often immediately assumed a tone of life, mirth, and a feeling of
pleasure and warmth; the others formed a picture of death, hell, and hate all
held together by the one problem that is always present, Man.
With few close friends like Duncan Campell Scott, and other that were
poetically inclinded, Lampman formed a group through-out collage that met
frequently to write and discuss. Close friends like that influenced him to
write such popular pieces as “Heat” and “A sunset at Les Eboulements” and yet in
his darkest moments we get the main topic of this essay “The City of The End of
Things”. Like most great poets, Lampmans moods and feelings had a direct effect
on the nature and topic of his poetry. Lampman chief poetry was done after a
great joy in his life, or a great sadness. Sadly, Archibald was not a rich man
and lived not a happy life, and most of his poetry reflects that. “The City of
The End of Things” was written in a time of great sadness and hate for the world.
Published one year after his death many people fail to realize the direct
connection to themselves in the poem.
Lampmans poetry was divided into two moods, saddness and joy, each primarly
involed with nature or cities. Let us discuss the tools used in “The City of
The End of Things”. Dubed “The Apocalypic City” by Many experts, these mutations
of the apocalypic city shows how much Lampmans visions shifted with his moods.
He was passionatly committed to social change, but in extreme he identified
redemption with paralyzed oblivion (N.G Guthrie)
The infernal features of the City are so many inversions of the values that
Lampmans saw in natural landscape. Its roaring furnaces, its “ceaseless round”
of mechanical action, and its “inhuman music” are the demonic counterparts of
the sun imagery, the seasonal cycles and the hymm of nature in “Heat” are gone,
this poem focuses on the specters who preside over the dammed cities decline.
But now of that prodigious race,
Three only in an iron tower,
Set like carved idols face to face,
Remain the master of its power’
And at the city gate a fourth,
Gigantic and with dreadful eyes,
Sits looking toward the lightless north,
Beyond the reach of memories,
Fast rooted to the lurid floor
A bulk that never moves a jot,
In his pale body dwells no more
Or mind or soul,–an idiot!
I take this strange group to mean two things: a divorce of intellect and
coporeality, to the corruption or both; and a division of society’s destructive
implications for individuals and societies alike.
It hath no name that rings;
But I have heard it called in dreams
The City of The End of Things
When the poet sayshe hears of the city “in dreams”, he is suggesting that
the imagination that shapes our lives has gone awry. The city is a projection fo
current impulises (to that time). “Its roofs and iron towers have grown/None
knowth how high within the night, shrowed in darkness, this shows death fulmost
grasp on the city and its former hosts. The tower, mentioned three times in the
poem, is its most preminent symbol. As an image of pride mocked by a ghasty
claim it has overtones of Babil, but it could have other meanings. In Romantic
poems, towers symbolize the human consciousnes, which becomes a fortress and a
prison of its own beliefs.
The second chief symbol is that of a wheel. Used in Lampmans other poems
to be a symbol of divine purity, it has now been corrupted to that of a symbol
of impurities and death.
A stillness absolute as death
Along the slacking wheels shall lie
Almost the counterpart of the sun. Lampman has tendency to think in terms
of a split between body:
Housed in earth palaces are we
Over smouldering fires,
Wherethrough the fumes creep witheringly
Doubts and hot desire
Yet each palace-thus we know-
hath one central tome;
round about it breathe and blow
Winds for every hour’
Find its spire through either river
-(taken from “Emancipation”)
Ironically, this rather conventional dualism is precisely what Lampmans
poems call into question. The inhabitants of the city of the end of things have
internalized a mechanical model of existence to the point of of exterpating the
feeling and creativity necessary for self-renewal. As the City deteriorates the
fires that “moulder out and die” reflect the extinictions of imaginative energy
that has long since doomed its residents.
The visionary faculty is eclipsed, and with it the source and song that
make us human. Lampman’s emphasis on the inhuman character of the place
amplifies the horror as a grim transfiguration of our own society. In this city
of the damned, behavior follows neither instinct nor intelligence, but comforms
to an imposed pattern, much like a computer.
‘Tis builded in the leafless tracts
And valleys huge of Tartarus.
Lurid and lofty and vast it seems;
This opening of course immediatly gives the reader a picture that this city
will resemble hell in some way and makes you form a picture of hell and fire
into your mind before you are even past the first lines. And what place on
earth has been built up to terrify more than Hell?
From out a thousand furnace doors
And all the while an awful sound
Keeps roaring on continually,
And crashes in the ceaseless round
Of a gigantic Harmony.
Harmony, this word is usually a very positive tone, but not so here, this
now shows a ghastly noise of crashing madness and inhuman noise, made without
feeling or soul. Gigantic, man is usually terrified of that which is bigger
than he, here Lampman uses a number a terms to show the intensity of the City.
A dreadful and monotonous cry;
And whoso of our mortal race
Should find that City unaware
Lean death would smite him face to face
Whoso indeed! For to man that hath created such a City and yet it is to
bring about his death, that is irony. Lampman most definatly is quite opposed
to techology, and shows how we shall lose our humanity to techology.
The fires shall moulder out and die,
The roar shall vanish at its height,
And over that tremendous town
The silence of eternal night
Thall gather close and settle down.
All its grim grandeur, towers and hall
Shall be abondoned uttery
And into rust and dust shall fall
In this large script, we see more examples of what I stated earlier, the
fact that night and darkness are taking hold of things and becoming human.
Lampman uses a personifacation of night through-out the poem to show nature is
far more alive than any machine, for he gives the machines no human characters
what so ever. Also he keeps the image of a large, tremendous city, used to give
the reader a place much larger than they should normally image.
But sometime in the end those three
Shall perish and thier hands be still,
And with masters touch shall flee
Their incommunable skill.
A stillness as absolute as death.
Again we see the author giving character to death, but this passage focuses
on another topic. The topic is machine vs Man. The “Master’s touch” shall flee,
their “incommunable” skill, here we see Lampman show that he believes machines
can never have the qualities that man has. Man can never program a machine to
act as he does, and if he even does, the masters shall flee, and the machine
will rule for a little while, then wither and fall apart. Thus Lampman gives a
mircocasem of the world today and a world to come, We must prevent this.
For Lampman, landscape offers an environment sympathic to emotional and
aesthetic capacities that are starved or preserved in the city. The infinitely
varied complexion of nature fosters without feeling, and its sublime qualities
inspire the human spirit to rise about itself. Above all nature signifies the
creative vitality that sustains human freedom against arbitrary rule. By
contrast, the city is oppressive, ugly and ephemeral. The City shows no sign of
nature, only man made atrositic metal.
“The City of The End of Things” is a prophetic vision that reflects his
interpretation of the condition of his age. Now, my final exscript, the end of
One thing the hand of time shall spare,
For the grim idiot at the gate
Is deathless and eternal there.
The Grim Idiot. Mentioned twice in the poem now, he symbolizes not one man
or any men, but the whole world in which we live. An idiot, why? Mainly
because even if we wreck and destroy most of it, the idiot is powerless to stop
us. It is there, watching but never acting. It has remained for many years,
seen races come and go, and is truly the only thing eternal on earth, it is the
earth it self.
By perscripting the night, the wheel, and the tower, Lampman gives and
shows great fear and terror to the reader, hoping not only will you enjoy it,
but learn from it. In four stanzas this poem has the character of an old poem
Archibald Lampman left us with many joyful poems, and scary ones, but lets
us not dwell in the horror, but in the message and thoughts he left us. We do
not have to become the city of the end of things, we must reform our ways, for
the good of us all.