Born: 1861, Morpeth, Ontario
Died: 1899, Ottawa, Ontario
Buried: Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa
Photos: Anita Lahey
Archibald Lampman was Canada’s finest 19th century poet. Born in 1861, he graduated from Trinity College (Toronto) in 1882, then moved to Ottawa where he worked for the Post Office until his death in 1899. He is known for his ability to immerse metaphysics in the details of nature, which he observed while hiking round what was then the wilderness capital of a new country. His books include Among the Millet (1888), Lyrics of Earth (1895) and the posthumous Alcyone (1900).
Lampman’s grave at Ottawa’s Beechwood Cemetery is marked with a lichen-splotched boulder on which is carved only the name “Lampman.” It is a popular site at which pilgrims often leave evidence of their visits and the toasts made in Lampman’s honour: empty beer bottles, slurpee cups, and chocolate milk containers have all been found leaning against the rock.
The site is also marked by a plaque on the nearby walking path, and highlighted in Beechwood’s guide to significant gravesites, a copy of which can be obtained in the cemetery’s office when you visit.
Arc Poetry Magazine bestows the Archibald Lampman Award for Poetry annually to a National Capital Region poet for a new collection of poems. Read more about this award, its past winners and history here.
D.M.R. Bentley’s website for the journal Canadian Poetry contains a fascinating section on Archibald Lampman, including his Globe and Mail columns “At the Mermaid Inn,” poems and essays.
We offer two of Lampman’s winter poems below. Many more can be found at Representative Poetry Online.
Tonight the very horses springing by
Toss gold with whitened nostrils. In a dream
The streets that narrow to the westward gleam
Like rows of golden palaces; and high
From all the crowded chimneys tower and die
A thousand aureoles. Down in the west
The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest,
One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly
The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel
A mightier master; soon from height to height,
With silence and the sharp unpitying stars,
Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel,
Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars,
Glittering and still shall come the awful night.
The frost that stings like fire upon my cheek,
The loneliness of this forsaken ground,
The long white drift upon whose powdered peak
I sit in the great silence as one bound;
The rippled sheet of snow where the wind blew
Across the open field for miles ahead;
The far-off city towered and roofed in blue
A tender line upon the western red;
The stars that singly, then in flocks appear,
Like jets of silver from the violet dome,
So wonderful, so many and so near,
And then the golden moon to light me home—
The crunching snowshoes and the stinging air,
And silence, frost, and beauty everywhere.