Selected Poems from 15 Canadian Poets x3
by E. J. Pratt, edited by Gary Geddes
It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features of this cliff,
In crag and scarp and base.
It took the sea an hour one night,
And hour of storm to place
The sculpture of these granite seams
Upon a woman's face.
E. J. Pratt's poetry is very much about the power of nature over man and the de-naturalization of humanity. In the poem above, for example, Pratt illustrates the strength of the natural world -- the sea can, in a thousand years, reshape the land, and it takes a thousand years because of how strong the natural world is against its own elements. But in one worrisome night as a woman waits for her husband to return from the sea, the natural world can reshape a woman's face, carving wrinkles into it -- the human body cannot stand up to the punishment the natural world can provide. Humans are inherently weak in the face of natural challenges, but also are they weak against their own creations. Pratt seems concerned with the idea that man and machine can become one, and the power of industrialization was a clear preoccupation for Pratt. In "The Man and he Machine," Pratt personifies the machine as female, and has it intertwine itself with the male figure in the poem. He is able to "trace his kinship through her steel," and she in turn uses his body for her own gain. She in the controlling figure of the poem, and the man seems powerless in the face of her control.
Pratt also concerns himself deeply with human failure -- that is, hubris. In "The Titanic," human pride stands in the way of reasonable risk assessment. The man, arrogant and sure of the boat's prowess, is contrasted with the iceberg, which acts in a "casual and indeterminate" way that shows the power within its grasp. The iceberg assumes nothing of its own capability, and yet is changes history and world perceptions of progress. The human concern with luxury is also targeted in this poem; "lusciousness" protects men from "a surfeit of security," but that is in the end their downfall. In the final moments of the crash, men's last thought is for commerce and business. Pratt seems to suggest that man is ignorant of his submission to the laws of the natural world.
I want to end this post with a lovely quotation from Pratt:
A good poem is good because it is an unusual, imaginative, arresting was of writing English. We do no speak in poetry, except in rare moments; and if a poet writes so simply as to give the effect of spoken language, that effect is all the more startling and novel.