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 symbolize.
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,
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
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
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
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
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 the poem:
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
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 and modern.
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