led not a life of his own, but an existance forced upon him by peers and anunfeeling and cold society.
Dying far before his time, Lampman led a lifeof 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 itnecessary to discuss the conditions in which he lived in order to fullyunderstand what he was trying to express and/or symbolize. Lampman really hated his day to day life, he lived only for his friends andhis works. Trapped in a city for which he had no love, he often reflectedhis loathing of it in his numerous works situated in cities.
A lover ofnature, 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,Man. With few close friends like Duncan Campell Scott, and other that were poeticallyinclinded, Lampman formed a group through-out collage that met frequentlyto write and discuss. Close friends like that influenced him to write suchpopular pieces as “Heat” and “A sunset at Les Eboulements” and yet in hisdarkest 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 thenature and topic of his poetry. Lampman chief poetry was done after a greatjoy in his life, or a great sadness. Sadly, Archibald was not a rich manand 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 hatefor the world. Published one year after his death many people fail to realizethe direct connection to themselves in the poem. Lampmans poetry was divided into two moods, saddness and joy, each primarlyinvoled 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 theapocalypic city shows how much Lampmans visions shifted with his moods. Hewas passionatly committed to social change, but in extreme he identifiedredemption with paralyzed oblivion (N. G Guthrie)The infernal features of the City are so many inversions of the values thatLampmans saw in natural landscape. Its roaring furnaces, its “ceaseless round”of mechanical action, and its “inhuman music” are the demonic counterpartsof 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 citiesdecline.
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 floorA bulk that never moves a jot,In his pale body dwells no moreOr mind or soul,–an idiot!I take this strange group to mean two things: a divorce of intellectand coporeality, to the corruption or both; and a division of society’sdestructive implications for individuals and societies alike. It hath no name that rings;But I have heard it called in dreamsThe City of The End of ThingsWhen the poet sayshe hears of the city “in dreams”, heis 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 itsformer hosts. The tower, mentioned three times in the poem, is its mostpreminent symbol.
As an image of pride mocked by a ghasty claim it hasovertones of Babil, but it could have other meanings. In Romanticpoems, towers symbolize the human consciousnes, which becomes a fortressand a prison of its own beliefs. The second chief symbol is that of a wheel. Used in Lampmans otherpoems to be a symbol of divine purity, it has now been corrupted to that ofa symbol of impurities and death. A stillness absolute as deathAlong the slacking wheels shall lieAlmost the counterpart of the sun.
Lampman has tendency to think in termsof a split between body:Housed in earth palaces are weOver smouldering fires,Wherethrough the fumes creep witheringlyDoubts and hot desireAnd spiritYet each palace-thus we know-hath one central tome;round about it breathe and blowWinds for every hour’Find its spire through either riverEnters heaven-(taken from “Emancipation”)Ironically, this rather conventional dualism is precisely whatLampmans poems call into question. The inhabitants of the city of theend of things have internalized a mechanical model of existence to thepoint of of exterpating the feeling and creativity necessary for self-renewal. As the City deteriorates the fires that “moulder out and die” reflect theextinictions of imaginative energy that has long since doomed its residents. The visionary faculty is eclipsed, and with it the source and song thatmake us human. Lampman’s emphasis on the inhuman character of the placeamplifies 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 tractsAnd valleys huge of Tartarus. Lurid and lofty and vast it seems;This opening of course immediatly gives the reader a picture that thiscity will resemble hell in some way and makes you form a picture of hell and fireinto your mind before you are even past the first lines. And what place onearth has been built up to terrify more than Hell?From out a thousand furnace doorsAnd all the while an awful soundKeeps roaring on continually,And crashes in the ceaseless roundOf 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, madewithout feeling or soul. Gigantic, man is usually terrified of that which isbigger than he, here Lampman uses a number a terms to show the intensity ofthe City.
A dreadful and monotonous cry;And whoso of our mortal raceShould find that City unawareLean death would smite him face to faceWhoso indeed! For to man that hath created such a City and yetit is to bring about his death, that is irony. Lampman most definatly isquite opposed to techology, and shows how we shall lose our humanity totechology. The fires shall moulder out and die,The roar shall vanish at its height,And over that tremendous townThe silence of eternal nightThall gather close and settle down. All its grim grandeur, towers and hallShall be abondoned utteryAnd into rust and dust shall fallIn this large script, we see more examples of what I stated earlier,the fact that night and darkness are taking hold of things and becominghuman.
Lampman uses a personifacation of night through-out the poem to shownature is far more alive than any machine, for he gives the machines nohuman 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 shouldnormally image. But sometime in the end those threeShall perish and thier hands be still,And with masters touch shall fleeTheir incommunable skill. A stillness as absolute as death. Again we see the author giving character to death, but this passagefocuses on another topic. The topic is machine vs Man.
The “Master’s touch”shall flee, their “incommunable” skill, here we see Lampman show that hebelieves machines can never have the qualities that man has. Man can neverprogram a machine to act as he does, and if he even does, the masters shallflee, and the machine will rule for a little while, then wither and fallapart. 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 andaesthetic capacities that are starved or preserved in the city. The infinitelyvaried complexion of nature fosters without feeling, and its sublime qualitiesinspire the human spirit to rise about itself. Above all nature signifies thecreative vitality that sustains human freedom against arbitrary rule.
Bycontrast, the city is oppressive, ugly and ephemeral. The City shows no signof nature, only man made atrositic metal. “The City of The End of Things” is a prophetic vision that reflects hisinterpretation of the condition of his age. Now, my final exscript, the endof the poem:One thing the hand of time shall spare,For the grim idiot at the gateIs deathless and eternal there.
The Grim Idiot. Mentioned twice in the poem now, he symbolizes not one manor any men, but the whole world in which we live. An idiot, why? Mainly becauseeven 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, seenraces come and go, and is truly the only thing eternal on earth, it is the earthit self. By perscripting the night, the wheel, and the tower, Lampman gives and showsgreat fear and terror to the reader, hoping not only will you enjoy it, but learn fromit.
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 usnot dwell in the horror, but in the message and thoughts he left us. We do nothave to become the city of the end of things, we must reform our ways, for the good of usall.————————————————————–