Daily Archives: September 3, 2009

Frye Poems


Jeffery Donaldson’s wonderful poem, “Museum,” encourages me to list some of the poems about, featuring, or otherwise related to Frye:

•  Irving Layton, “The Excessively Quiet Groves” in Cerberus: Poems by Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, and Raymond Souster (Toronto: Contact Press, 1952), 55. 
•  R.G. Everson, “Report for Northrop Frye” in Delta [Montreal] (January 1959): 28.
•  J.K. Halligan, “Northrop Frye” in The Belfast of the North and Other Poems (Belfast, Ireland: Lapwing, 2005), 43.
•  Jay Macpherson, “The Anagogic Man” in Poems Twice Told: The Boatman & Welcoming Disaster (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1981), 42.
•  Jay Macpherson, “Notes and Acknowledgements” in Poems Twice Told: The Boatman & Welcoming Disaster (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1981), 96.  This poem appeared in a slightly different form in the original edition (Toronto: Saanes Publications, 1974).
•  Caroline Knox, “Angels” in Massachusetts Review 26, no. 4 (Winter 1985): 579.
•  Anonymous, “Reflections on Spending Three Straight Hours Reading ‘Anatomy of Criticism.’”  A bit of doggerel that circulated among Victoria College students.  Published in Toronto (October 1986): 8. 
•  John Updike, “Big Bard” in American Scholar 70, no. 4 (2001): 40.
•  Florentin Smarandache, “The Philosophy of Psychology”
•  Roy Daniells, Untitled, Enclosed with Daniells’s letter to Frye of 27 April 1976, which is partially in response to the letters Frye wrote to him during the summer and fall of 1976 when Daniells was in Rome [“I dreamed the final Judgment came”].  In the Roy Daniells Fonds, University of British Columbia.
•  Roy Daniells, “On Reading ‘The Varsity’ for October 22nd, 1976 [“How doth our Norrie sit and smile”].  Enclosed with Daniells’ letter to Frye of 16 October 1976.  In the Roy Daniells Fonds, University of British Columbia.
•  Roy Daniells, Untitled, 2 November 1976 [“This envelope has come to hand”].  In the Roy Daniells Fonds, University of British Columbia.
•  Roy Daniells, Untitled, 9 September 1976 [“Dear Norrie, Do not softly swear!”].  In the Roy Daniells Fonds, University of British Columbia.
•  Roger Angell, “Greetings, Friends” in New Yorker (29 December 1980): 35.
•  Richard Outram, “In Memory of Northrop Frye,” in Globe and Mail 16 February 1991, and Northrop Frye Newsletter 3, no. 1 (Spring 1991): 36.
•  Margaret Atwood, “Norrie Banquet Ode.”  Composed on the occasion of the banquet held on the final day of the conference “The Legacy of Northrop Frye,” 31 October 1992, Victoria College, Toronto.  Published in The Legacy of Northrop Frye, ed. Alvin Lee and Robert D. Denham (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 171–73; rpt. in Northrop Frye Newsletter 6, no. 1 (Fall 1994): 38–9.
•  Jeffery Donaldson, “Museum” in Palilalia (Montreal & Kingston: McGill Queen’s University Press, 2008), 17–26.
•  Kildare Dobbs, “On Seeing a Snake at Villa Epidaurus” in The Eleventh Hour: Poems for the New Millennium Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 1997), 68–9.
•  Kildare Dobbs, “Dracula Verses: 1. The governess” in The Eleventh Hour: Poems for the New Millennium Oakville, ON: Mosaic Press, 1997), 88.
•  Finkelstein, Norman.  “A Tomb for Northrop Frye” in Passing Over.  New York: Marsh Hawk Press, 2007): 11–12.

Jeffery Donaldson: “Museum”


Jeffery Donaldson has graced us with this poem about an encounter with a ghostly familiar,  if not a “familiar compound ghost.” Jeffery is currently working on an article about the significance of Frye to a poet, to be published in New Quarterly.  A video of Jeffery reading the title poem from his latest collection, Palilalia, can be found at the end of this post.


But one writes only after one has willed to renounce the will,
and the wisest of poets have always insisted that in the long
run all poetry that is worth listening to has been written
by the gods.

—Northrop Frye

Subway, in the middle of my commute,
   I found myself in a dark corner.
The line vanished into the underground
   in two directions, the clack and crow-screech

of steel wheels echoed in recession
   of the just missed five-o-nine
from the tunnel’s depths. Museum Station.
   A chilled solitude widened around me

and water-drops pooled in mimicked snips
   between the rails below. The ceiling lamps’
subdued fluorescence seemed to cast no shadows
   and were like peering through green water.

Exhibits from the ROM in glass cases
   with aboriginal wooden masks descended
like messengers from the real world above,
   whose outsize faces gestured witness and alarm

in the apocalyptic style of indigenous myth.
   Farther up, the February dusk
was tawny, the air tasteless and dull
   as pewter plate. Fog had moved in on

Old Vic’s scrubbed-stone but now vague
   turrets uncobbling upwards to the last
vanished spire, as though parting illusion
   from the epigraph above the stairway arch,

still insisting, after these twenty years,
   that the truth would set me free.
All gone up in a mist now, as far
   as I could see. I pictured them above,

the Burwash quad, Pratt, and residence,
   whose faux-gothic walls hold the city at Bay
like the brim of an empty cup, and where
   the mind-set of college years, memories

of what unwritten words, burn perpetually
   as in a crucible. I wonder now had I known,
those years hiding my fidgets, of the tics
   Touretters spend their days trying to release,

or heard of how the obsessive’s repetitions
   grind every last impulse to its death,
would I have finished more, managed
   the regimental habitus
and got things done?
 Continue reading 

Comment: Frye and Hawken


Clayton Chrusch’s comment on Ian Sloan’s post about Frye and Hawken deserves to be brought forward:

I really appreciate this post because it questions how Frye can be personally and socially relevant, which is what I am concerned about.

Here is my take, based on my limited understanding of Frye.

I think one of Frye’s contributions is as an historian of the imaginaton (that’s not quite the right term, since Frye does not try to make a rigourous historical case for anything). He gives a historical-imaginative context for the kind of changes he and Paul Hawken are describing. In particular, he sees people’s imaginations as being shaped by imaginative cosmologies. By cosmology, he meant simple mental pictures, almost diagrams, that structure almost everything about how we imagine the world. There have been two cosmologies historically (Blake was the prophet of the second one but he also saw beyond it) and Frye suggested that third was on the way. All three can be traced to the Bible.

My understanding is that the first two are vertical cosmologies. The first is the authoritarian cosmology with god/father/king figure and all legitimate authority at the top and the devil/child/slave, and everything legitimately subject to authority at the bottom.

The second is the revolutionary cosmology and it is formally a parody of the first, where the figure at the top is seen as as a tyrant or a fool and the bottom is reservoir of creative (and destructive) energy. The second cosmology informed Freud’s view of the subconscious, and Marx’s view of the proletariat. Frye also mentions Nietzche here. So all the dominant worldviews of the 20th century come out of ideas developed in the 19th-early 20th century, having their origin in this major cosmological shift heralded by Blake at the end of the 18th.

Frye saw the third cosmology as interpenetrative, an Indra’s net where connectedness, identity, and equality within the context of incredible diversity replace the dominance, alienation, inequality, and uniformity of the first two cosmologies. It is a non-ideological cosmology because it is not hierarchical. Because it is non-ideological, it can make primary concerns truly primary.

If I had to make a judgement on the interpenetrative cosmology, I would say that we haven’t discovered its full potential yet, but it is hard for me to believe it is a new mold in which all of our imaginative structures from now on can be formed. I think we still need the first two cosmologies as well as the third. But because the third is new, it will be the source of real and good imaginative innovations that we have not yet seen.

I haven’t read the book by Paul Hawken, but perhaps he is one of these innovators.

Today in the Frye Diaries, 3 September


1942: Reflections on the war, which again, is not going well for the allies: the disaster of the Dieppe Raid on August 19th is becoming increasingly apparent.

[95] Anniversary of the war, so we’re told: see Aug. 19. It occurred to me a short while ago that I never really considered the possibility of our losing the war. I mean by that that I had never sat down and figured out how I could conscientiously go on living if we did. I’m beginning to understand how paralyzed, hopeless, hag-ridden and stupefied the average intellectual anti-Nazi on the European continent must be — have been.

1950: No entry.