Laurentian Shield

F. R. Scott

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Hidden in wonder and snow, or sudden with summer,

This land stares at the sun in a huge silence

Endlessly repeating something we cannot hear.

Inarticulate, arctic,

Not written on by history, empty as paper,

It leans away from the world with songs in its lakes

Older than love, and lost in the miles.

 

This waiting is wanting.

It will choose its language

When it has chosen its technic,

A tongue to shape the vowels of its productivity.

 

A language of flesh and of roses.

 

Now there are pre-words,

Cabin syllables,

Nouns of settlement

Slowly forming, with steel syntax,

The long sentence of its exploitation.

 

The first cry was the hunter, hungry for fur,

And the digger for gold, nomad, no-man, a particle;

Then the bold commands of monopoly, big with machines,

Carving its kingdoms out of the public wealth;

And now the drone of the plane, scouting the ice,

Fills all the emptiness with neighbourhood

And links our future over the vanished pole.

 

But a deeper note is sounding, heard in the mines,

The scattered camps and the mills, a language of life,

And what will be written in the full culture of occupation

Will come, presently, tomorrow,

From millions whose hands can turn this rock into children.

F. R. Scott, “Laurentian Shield” from Collected Poems of F. R. Scott. Reprinted by permission of William Toye, literary executor for the Estate of F. R. Scott.

Source: The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (Oxford University Press, 1983).

Dive in: 
  1. Which of the vivid images in the first stanza of “Laurentian Shield” is most striking to you?
  2. In the final line of the poem, the speaker says that the “rock” of this land will turn into “children.” What is your understanding of this destiny? Do you think the speaker is hopeful, skeptical, or scared about that outcome? What makes you think so?
  3. The poem uses a number of abstract terms such as “wonder,” “productivity,” “exploitation,” and “emptiness.” What do you think the poem is saying about the value of “progress”? Which elements of industrialization and settlement are presented as negative, and which are presented as positive?
  4. F. R. Scott wrote this poem at a time when the collective understanding of “Canadian identity” was shaped predominantly by French and British settlers and their descendants. Whose experience is not reflected in this poem?
  5. You can listen to an audio recording of this poem by the author. If you were going to recite this poem, would you keep an even volume throughout (like the poet does) or would you speak more quietly and more loudly at various points?
  6. One line that stands out in the poem is the one set in italics: A language of flesh and of roses. Scott has explained that this phrase encapsulates the sensual, “natural” language that poetry should ideally use. One line that stands out in the poem is the one which is set in italics: A language of flesh and of roses. Try starting your own poem with this line. In response to Scott’s poem, you might want to imagine a Canadian landscape that might speak this language of flesh and roses.

 

Useful Links

Watch this hour-long 1982 NFB feature documentary titled “Rhyme or Reason” on the life of F.R. Scott: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-OLaiG5HKQ The film examines Scott’s career as a writer, as well as an expert on the Canadian constitution.

In 1967, an entire issue of the journal Canadian Literature was devoted to Scott.

According to a speech he made in 1946, Scott lifted the line “A language of flesh and roses” from a 20th century English poet named Stephen Spender.

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