Saturday, October 10, 2015

Coming to Canada

Having recently moved to Canada, I want to share two poems written by visitors from centuries past.

The first was published in 1878 by the English satirist Samuel Butler, who is not to be confused with several other Samuel Butlers.  It is called

A Psalm of Montreal

and includes the following extensive preamble:

The City of Montreal is one of the most rising and, in many respects, most agreeable on the American continent, but its inhabitants are as yet too busy with commerce to care greatly about the masterpieces of old Greek Art. A cast, however, of one of those masterpieces—the finest of the several statues of Discoboli, or Quoit-throwers—was found by the present writer in the Montreal Museum of Natural History; it was, however, banished from public view, to a room where were all manner of skins, plants, snakes, insects, etc., and in the middle of these, an old man, stuffing an owl. The dialogue— perhaps true, perhaps imaginary, perhaps a little of one and a little of the other— between the writer and this old man gave rise to the lines that follow.

Stowed away in a Montreal lumber-room,
The Discobolus standeth, and turneth his face to the wall;
Dusty, cobweb-covered, maimed, and set at naught,
Beauty crieth in an attic, and no man regardeth.
Oh God! oh Montreal!

Beautiful by night and day, beautiful in summer and winter,
Whole or maimed, always and alike beautiful,—
He preacheth gospel of grace to the skins of owls,
And to one who seasoneth the skins of Canadian owls.
Oh God! oh Montreal!

When I saw him, I was wroth, and I said, "O Discobolus!
Beautiful Discobolus, a Prince both among Gods and men,
What doest thou here, how camest thou here, Discobolus,
Preaching gospel in vain to the skins of owls?"
Oh God! oh Montreal!

And I turned to the man of skins, and said unto him, "Oh! thou, man of skins,
Wherefore hast thou done thus, to shame the beauty of the Discobolus?"
But the Lord had hardened the heart of the man of skins,
And he answered, "My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon."
Oh God! oh Montreal!

"The Discobolus is put here because he is vulgar,—
He hath neither vest nor pants with which to cover his limbs;
I, Sir, am a person of most respectable connections,—
My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon."
Oh God! oh Montreal!

Then I said, "O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon's haberdasher!
Who seasonest also the skins of Canadian owls,
Thou callest trousers 'pants,' whereas I call them 'trousers,'
Therefore thou art in hell-fire, and may the Lord pity thee!
Oh God! oh Montreal!

Preferrest thou the gospel of Montreal to the gospel of Hellas,
The gospel of thy connection with Mr. Spurgeon's haberdashery to the gospel of the Discobolus?"
Yet none the less blasphemed he beauty, saying, "The Discobolus hath no gospel,—
But my brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon."
Oh God! oh Montreal!

It's worth noting that a haberdasher is a supplier of men's clothes in North American English, and a vendor of various sewing-related odds and ends (called notions in America) in British English.  I wonder whether this trans-Atlantic difference was operating here as well as the more obvious one.

The second was penned in 1923 by a young reporter at the Toronto Star named Ernest Hemingway:

I Like Canadians

By A Foreigner

1I like Canadians.
2They are so unlike Americans.
3They go home at night.
4Their cigarets don't smell bad.
5Their hats fit.
6They really believe that they won the war.
7They don't believe in Literature.
8They think Art has been exaggerated.
9But they are wonderful on ice skates.
10A few of them are very rich.
11But when they are rich they buy more horses
12Than motor cars.
13Chicago calls Toronto a puritan town.
14But both boxing and horse-racing are illegal
15In Chicago.
16Nobody works on Sunday.
18That doesn't make me mad.
19There is only one Woodbine.
20But were you ever at Blue Bonnets?
21If you kill somebody with a motor car in Ontario
22You are liable to go to jail.
23So it isn't done.
24There have been over 500 people killed by motor cars
25In Chicago
27It is hard to get rich in Canada.
28But it is easy to make money.
29There are too many tea rooms.
30But, then, there are no cabarets.
31If you tip a waiter a quarter
32He says "Thank you."
33Instead of calling the bouncer.
34They let women stand up in the street cars.
35Even if they are good-looking.
36They are all in a hurry to get home to supper
37And their radio sets.
38They are a fine people.
39I like them.

Perhaps one day I will write my own poem about Canada, but that day is not now.  Still, on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, I'd like to give thanks to this country for its hospitality.

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