Comparison of “The Skater” and “The Lonely Land”
When we read poetry we have to realize that the words written cannot be taken without context. The words being written are a manifestation of the poets life and beliefs. The theme, the style is all dependent on the poet and the presentation of his life and beliefs. So before stepping into any critical analysis a brief understanding of the poet is necessary.
Thesis: Nature has been used by many poets to create an image of the universal truth. It is a form of metaphysical belief that helps poets reveal their own thoughts and struggles. Roberts and Smith as poets use word imagery and a play on their poems rhythm to enhance their theme, using the conflict between nature and individual to show a representation between individualism and materialism, the very conflict every human faces in life.
Charles Roberts, is a Canadian Romantic poet who started of writing poetry and then switched to short stories [Pomeroy, 1943]. He saw the land and nature of the Canadian environment as a real presence, as if it had a life of itself. This is a Romantic approach in which the poet saw nature as a transcendence of the divine. This was not a religious belief as much as it was an internalization of the self. Roberts saw nature as a way to reflect his own soul.
‘The Skater’ written by Charles Roberts is a poem about rhythm and beat. The couplets are written in a pleasing manner and present the imagery of the words to a more dramatic effect as the beat begins to express the words. The assonance of the syllables is unifying the poem in a thematic manner as the words describing nature are humanized through the musical rhythm of the words. This helps him communicate his message to the reader. Writing “The Skater” in a couplet format he emphasizes each line and each image and supports it by his second line. While at times the rhythm seems forced the fact is most of the time the effect is beautiful helping the readers imagine the glory of nature. His opening lines,
My glad feet shod with the glittering steel
I was the god of the wingèd heel.
are what introduce the reader to the poets enjoyment of nature. Using the word ‘glad’ personifies his feet and gives them a mood and we can literally feel the skater dancing on the ice like a god. The feel of happiness is what comes through to the reader and the rhythm of the two lines with the last words rhyming further intensify this beat that is like a dance.
Initially we see that the poet is in control of his actions. As the skater glides over the ice the surroundings become at one with his actions. The snow, the ice of the lake and the mountains all merge together to create a feel of unity. The skater lets his mind ramble as his thoughts move like the wind,
I followed the lure, I fled like a bird,
Till the startled hollows awoke and heard
…as he skates around and his very silence wakes up his mind. We see how the poet makes his senses come alive with nature. He is alone in a completely free manner. He is free to move like the wind and become a part of nature.
Here the tone begins to change. So far the reader has seen the rhythm of the couplets unite with the imagery and create a feeling of joy and confidence on part of the poet. The skater is joyful and comfortable with his position and this allows his mind to take control.
Initially the imagery was soft and controlled. It gave a sense of soothing. Then the poet breaks this tone to create a conflict through a building up of speed. The reader can feel the excitement of the skater and feel the thoughts becoming jumbled. The imagery changes with words like ‘pain’ and ‘creep’ being used and we can feel the mood of the poem taking a turn. The poet suddenly feels the isolation, feels his loneliness. Where he was once at one with nature he is now, a stranger in a place far from civilization and this creates in him a fear.
His imagination takes over and where nature was first a friend it now becomes foe with the shadows in the Firs creating monsters where none exist. The poet ends the poem with the words,
And I turned and fled, like a soul pursued,
From the white, inviolate solitude.
These words are suggestive of the poet’s state of mind. He is no longer confident and happy and shows that people are capable of creating their own tragedies. As long as the poet believed in his safety he was happy and when suddenly he became aware of his loneliness the safety was threatened. The poem is in a manner a reflection of the poet’s belief that humans consider nature a threat and thus, cannot feel its pervasiveness. We feel the conflict in the poet as he falls in love with nature and wants to remain close but is unable to do so alone. We can interpret this as showing that while reveling in his individual belief, the skater is unable to retain this feelings of freedom, that as his duties, society, and materialistic needs start to interfere he freedom of thought disappears and he begins to feel threatened. The spiritual needs start interfering with his material needs and create a conflict manifesting as fear.
“The Lonely Land,” by A.J.M. Smith is a poem similar in theme to ‘The Skater’. It begins with a clear description of the beauty of landscape,
This is a beauty
of stony strand…
However, unlike Roberts, Smith makes clear the conflict between man and nature early on in the poem through words like, ‘dissonance’ and ‘stony’.
In The Lonely Land Smith creates a landscape that is beautiful and yet, there is to it a feel of dread. He too, uses words to create images with a rhythm that makes the reader love and hate nature. He writes of a “grey and cloud-piled sky” and “jagged fir,” in every description Smith introduces a conflict. The contrasting characteristic of the words create an image that is like Roberts and yet different. Roberts first soothed the senses of the reader and then added a burst of energy of conflict. Smith takes a different road, introducing conflict in every word.
His theme too, is created through a personification to make sure the reader understands the feelings of loneliness and need for survival. The poet writes of the duck calling to her mate and not being heard, the emotional and sensual conflict is creating desperation in the reader to reach some sort of conclusion. Using two syllable words Smith creates a hard beat to the poem that is similar to the end of the Roberts Poem.
Smith finds something in nature that is satisfying,
This is the beauty
broken by strength
and still strong. (51)
Like Roberts, Smith was also a Canadian poet who in a way though the Canadian landscape was a metaphysical transcendence to all belief. He was an imagist who created a reality by conflicting two forces- human and natural. It was written of Smith that he, “always operates to distort [my italics] perception by showing everything to us in relation to something else, in constant action” (Bergson, 1981). Like Roberts he discovered form in nature. Like Roberts saw the shadows in the Firs, Smith revealed a link between the sensual and intellectual and presented it through the imagery and his form of language. The beauty of nature a form of independent thought is corrupted by materialistic reality.
We see in the two poems how Roberts and Smith create a personification of the things in nature. They use different methods, in the same way. While Smith may seem more objective and Roberts more of a Romantic both suggest that the individual need for freedom is many times overpowered by society and its materialism. The conflict between nature and the individual continues and the poets show that any idealism in life is undermined by naturalism and the need for materialism.
There is conflict in both poems, between the land and the individual but each shows the hope apparent. It is the strength of the individual that determines the outcome and this is true for both the poems, showing the Romantic idealism of the poets.
1. The Lonely Land by A.J.M Smith
2. The Skater by Charles Roberts http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-skater/
1. Pomeroy, Elsie, Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, A Biography, Musson, 1943
2. Bergson, John T. Cage, In the Arresting Eye: The Rhetoric of Imagism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1981) 10