I once heard a speech by Chad Walsh where he described C.S. Lewis as not a “great poet” but an “interesting poet.” I think this description works well for L.M. Montgomery. Like Lewis, Montgomery dreamed of being a poet. And she managed, like Lewis, to produce a collection of lyric poems relatively early in her career. Montgomery‘s poetic production, however, was far greater than Lewis’, with more than 500 poems published (the Collected Poems of Lewis has perhaps half that many, including archival and unpublished pieces). But, like Lewis, although Montgomery‘s poems are not in the category of the “great” pieces of early 20th-century literature, they are thoughtful and image-filled, generally of a good quality, and interesting to lovers of her fiction.
The Watchman and Other Poems is a collection that Montgomery put together in the early months of WWI. Montgomery used the collection to break free from her abusive Boston publisher and test the waters with a new publisher from Toronto, who would carry her books for the following decade or so. After “The Watchman,” the poems are very loosely organized around a seasonal organization. There are better collections, but
The Watchman and Other Poems is in public domain throughout the world and captures the heart of Montgomery‘s early poetic imagination.
Any one of these poems is quite nice on its own and an anodyne to the negative poetry of many of the WWI poets. Honestly, the title poem is stunning and I will have to come back to it. These 90+ lyric poems are characteristically filled with natural imagery and invitations to faerie. As a collection, though, it simply lacks the shadows and struggles and contrasts that Montgomery’s best novels and short stories have. Near the end, there are nice moments of death and loss and winter. But Montgomery seems too interested in putting
tears and memories away,
While the fates sleep time stops for revelry
twilight weaves its tangled shadows all
In one dim web of dusk” (from “While the Fates Sleep”).
The Watchman and Other Poems is a necessary read for lovers of Montgomery’s literature, and best read with Anne’s House of Dreams, which she was writing at about the same time she was bringing this collection to print.